Piadina/Piada is a thin, bread like product, typical of Emilia Romagna; Romagna to be exact. Depending on what you are used to, it may look like a Crepe, Pita, Flatbread or Tortilla. It is none of these. It is entirely unique and really fantastic.
The style of a Piada depends on the city it comes from. Rimini is known for a thin style that I particularly love. However, a skip to the next city over may mean that the Piadina is made with lard instead of olive oil. The thickness may become much larger and it can be folded in different manners. It has a long history in Romagna with written records stretching back to the 1300’s.
This past summer The Gf and I stayed in Ravenna for a week doing day trips across the Romagna coast, on the Adriatic Sea. In each city we tried the local style of Piadina. We called the trip the “Piadina Tour”.
What sets Piadina apart from other Italian culinary traditions, is that part of the tradition itself consists of adding anything you want. There is nothing wrong with putting different or diverse additions inside. It is normal for a menu to have a huge array of options; making it one of the few things in Italy where it is ok to mix and match.
Bresaola, Caprese or maybe you want Nutella instead. These are all perfectly justified. It is even eaten plain. In Romagna it is cut up and served alone at aperitivo or in a breadbasket during a meal.
It is fairly recent that Piadina has left Romagna at all. Even Bologna which is on the border of Emilia and Romagna only got its first Piadineria around a decade ago. It has, however, recently begun to spread across Italy. This is probably in part due to the popularity of “Street Food”. Piadina, which is usually served from kiosks to a standing consumer, fits the bill. In addition, it’s customizable menu falls right in line with a modern fast food restaurant while making sure to not piss off any traditionalists. This expansion will most likely continue. I have heard of a Piadineria in Barcelona and met the owner of one in Lisbon. There is also at least one in NYC that looks pretty cool.
After finding my first apartment in Bologna within a week of making the big move, I took a weekend trip to Rimini. It being the first time in a while I was not working and before I started Grad School, I went to enjoy the tailend of the beach season. Rimini is known to many as the “Ibiza of Italy” and is host to huge expanses of umbrella laden beaches and huge nightclub complexes.
However, it is only until I got there that I discovered the super cute historical center. It is a mix of medieval renovations on Roman architecture. Rimini was an early Roman city, founded as the access point to the Adriatic and up to Milan. It is the beginning of the Via Emilia and the end point of the Via Flaminia, connecting back back to Rome. It is here in Rimini, in Piazza Tre Martiri that Julius Caesar gave the speech to his troops before literally crossing the nearby Rubicon River.
Rimini is also where the infamous film director Fellini is from. The Borgo San Giuliano neighborhood used to be where the working class fisherman lived; it is now littered with Range Rovers. It is lovely to walk around since the houses have Fellini inspired art painted right on them. There are also ceramic plaques of the last curmudgeonly fishermen to have lived in the houses.
To get to this area you have to cross the Bridge of Tiberius (Ponte di Tiberio). Built in 20 AD it is still functioning with cars and pedestrians crossing at all times. It even survived the attempt to destroy it by the retreating German army in WW2.
Near the bridge is NudeCrud. The name comes from the local dialect. I was lucky enough to have my first piadina here. This is one of the top places to try Piadina. It is a sanctuary to Piadina. They take Piadina and place it on a pedestal.
The menu has some exceptional choices.
Pidburger, which you can guess. Piditlay, a Caprese of sorts but hosting a whole ball of Mozzarella di Bufala! Finally they have the infamous Piada dell Embassy. It is a classic Piadina that was served at the Embassy, a fancy institution of Rimini. It is basically a roast beef Piadina!
Ravenna is an idyllic seaside town that quietly holds some of the most important historical Roman artifacts. In one day you can visit the grand churches and Roman mosaics that are simply breathtaking. In the latter days of the Western Half of the Roman Empire, the seat of the Emperor was not in Rome but in Ravenna. Surrounded by swamps and fortified at the sea, it was the place where the last generations of Emperors hid away as their army slowly turned into Germanic mercenaries fending off other tribesmen. It is also where the first “German King of Italy” resided and was buried at Mausoleum of Theodoric. Then, when the Eastern Half, otherwise known as the Byzantine Empire, started to take back the peninsula under Emperor Justinian, the seat of power (known as the Exarchate) was ruled from Ravenna. Each of these waves left their imprint on the region.
However, the city was later looted under the ruling Pope’s orders and the city’s remoteness and lack of access to the Via Emilia basically ensured it as a small town with huge Basilicas from henceforth. Today, this means you can do all the sightseeing and beach sitting without the throngs of tourists; it’s perfect.
Profumo di Piadina
In the historical center is a small hole in the wall that has rock bottom priced, simply delicious piadinas made on the spot. The list of possible additions is very long and if you get Bresaola you will have to confirm if you want the beef or horse variation. If you are a student of University of Bologna you get a free bottle of water!
La Piadina da Ale e Titti
Still in Ravenna, if you are coming or leaving by train, make sure to stop at the Piadineria Kiosk. A no-thrills look but the Piada is just super good. They also have the Crescione which is like a piadina that is sealed with its contents and then cooked warming up whatever is inside. This is particularly good for making cheesy creations that also hold in the contents.
Outside of Romagna
Sometimes you have to leave to truly appreciate something. It is also this phenomenon that creates fantastic reproductions that are sometimes better than the original. For instance, the coolest Sherry Bar is probably in Japan, hosting the largest collection and an enthusiastic, learned staff. Until recently the largest selection of Mezcal was probably in NYC or LA. Back in the region of origin, the product is not something cool, it is just what is locally made. It is what boring people drink and eat and is served in normal places.
As Bologna is over the Romagna line, it did not have a Piadina tradition. Even though it is an hour train ride from the seaside, the phenomenon outlined above can take place.
La Tua Piadina
At La Tua Piadina you get to choose which style of Piadina base from the get go. Bertinoro, Riccione, Rimini or even by the type of grain used. It is a very tasty and affordable spot. They have another larger location just on the outside of the center of Bologna with seating that I have not been to.
Viale Tiberio, 27/29, 47921 Rimini RN
Sun-Thur 11-4, 6-12 Fri-Sat 11-4, 6-1
Profumo di Piadina
Via Cairoli, 24, 48121 Ravenna RA
Mon-Sat 9–3 Sun Closed
La Piadina da ALE E TITTI
Piazza Luigi Carlo Farini, 9, 48121 Ravenna RA
Mon-Sat 11–8 Sun Closed
La Tua Piadina
Via Borgonuovo, 17, 40125 Bologna
Mon-Thur 12–3:30, 6:30–10:30 Fri 12–3:30, 7–11 Sat 12–5 Sun 6:30–10:30
La Bottega Piadina
Calçada do Combro 8, 1200-114 Lisboa, Portugal
Sun-Thu 12–11 Fri-Sat 12–12
Bridge of Tiberius (apparently also known as Bridge of Augustus)
Ponte di Tiberio, 47921 Rimini RN
Mausoleum of Theoderic
Via delle Industrie, 14, 48122 Ravenna RA
*There is a pass that will let you into basically all the massive cathedrals in Romagna. Think Pompeii mosaics with Hagia Sofia sized Cathedrals and about as many people as the Mall on a Tuesday afternoon. Note that the resting place of Theodoric is probably the least impressive of the bunch. However it surrounded by greenspace and near the old fortress turned park. It is also one of the few, if only monuments we have left in a unadulterated Goth style. As in the Goth tribe of people that were the nail and hammer to the Western Roman Empire coffin.