A guide to eating through charming Bergamo

In October 2019 I found myself lucky enough to be in Bergamo, Lombardy, to judge the Guild of Fine Foods World Cheese Awards, which was an exciting and delicious opportunity — I tasted 50 cheeses tasted in one morning! It was a busy time and surrounded by almost 4,000 cheeses in the industrial outskirts of the city near the airport, I must admit that I had no idea how utterly charming and beautiful Bergamo was until after the awards when I took some time to explore the herringbone streets of the historical town with Sabrina, a native Bergamo chef and an old colleague of Marco’s from the Four Seasons. Thank goodness she was there to take us around her town and introduce us to some of the gastronomic delights as I probably would have missed some of these!

I want to share them here because not only do I think this is a town that should be on your must visit list, especially if you love food, love traveling to lesser known places and adore Italy, but also because they will need people to visit more than ever. Lombardy has been the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Italy, and all of Europe. And Bergamo, a town of 110,000 people lying about 40km northeast of Milan, has been especially hard hit. On April 6, there were over 9,000 cases and 2,245 deaths in Bergamo alone (some, according to Eco di Bergamo, think in reality is actually double this number taking into consideration the entire province). An utter tragedy. While right now we can all only dream of traveling, when this is all over, if you are looking for a lovely place for a “slow” visit, easy to get to, yet un-touristy, authentic and delicious, Bergamo is it.

The very fact that stracciatella gelato – a favourite of mine, delicious fior di latte with chunks of shaved dark chocolate folded through it – was invented right here in Bergamo in 1961 at Pasticceria La Marianna should be enough to make it worth a trip! Below I’ve highlighted some other must tries too, including the little marzipan treats you can see in the top left of the photo underneath and casoncelli, meat-filled ravioli-like pasta typical of Bergamo.

What you should eat in Bergamo

Cheese & Salumi: Amongst the various salumi (local prosciutto and salame) and cheeses from Lombardy that you’ll find on offer in restaurants in Bergamo, cheese is a high point for me and you should look out for taleggio (a strong, washed rind, soft cow’s milk cheese), strachitunt (an ancient cheese from the Taleggio valley called the ancestor of gorgonzola and the descendant of taleggio, it’s made from the raw milk of Brown Alpine cows) and bitto (which comes from the Valtellina Valley and is made from a mixture of cow’s and goat’s milk and is only produced in summer when the cows feast on Alpine meadows. It ages well, sometimes for over 10 years).

Casoncelli Bergamaschi: this candy-shaped filled pasta is the town’s specialty (you can find a version in many parts of Lombardy). Bergamo’s version has a meat (pork or beef) filling and is usually served with pancetta, sage and butter sauce. Yes, wear your stretchy pants.

Polenta: A staple of the region, I particularly love la polenta taragna, which is a polenta of corn mixed with buckwheat, which gives it an earthier, nuttier flavour than regular corn polenta.

Sausage: The local specialty is called loanghìna in dialect, a long, thin sausage, simply rolled up and pinned with toothpicks before grilling to keep it’s shape — served with creamy polenta or in a panino.

Stracciatella gelato: Invented in 1961 at the central pastry shop, La Marianna, this is the creamiest stracciatella (made with fresh milk and cream and studded with dark Lindt chocolate) that you’ll ever have!

Polenta e osei: Literally ‘polenta and little birds’ in dialect, the reference is to a traditional (savoury) dish found in northern Italy of creamy polenta with roasted small birds such as quails and thrush birds, but in Bergamo these are sweet marzipan and polenta treats made to look like polenta complete with little chocolate black birds. You can find them in pastry shops around town, Marianna have them too.

Wine: On our drive back to Florence from Bergamo we made a pit stop on the western side of Lake Garda for some lake fish and a spritz (FYI read my friend Joanna Savill’s guide to Lake Garda for Gourmet Traveller, her husband is a Brescia local), and we popped in to biodynamic winery, Le Sincette, for a tasting and a few bottles to take home.

Where to eat in Bergamo:

For a traditional meal, I turned to Sabrina for suggestions and she gave me these: La Tana, Lalimentari, Mimi La Casa dei Sapori. They were completely booked out so I recommend booking in advance! We did, however, make it to Trattoria Parieti for homely cooking, warm, quirky atmosphere (see the photo above), smiley staff and a plate of delectable casoncelli alla bergamasca and hearty polenta taragna with brasato (braised beef), all very reasonable. We also stopped into Al Carro Ponte, a modern wine bar/bistrot for aperitivo (photo above), it’s not in the historical centre but it’s worth a visit for their extensive wine list, perhaps some champagne, enjoyed with oysters, mini burgers and tartare.

How you can help Bergamo:

Italy Segreta has created a Go Fund Me page to raise money for Bergamo’s hospital, which ends at the end of this week. You can contribute here!


  1. val says:

    It’s as beautiful as it is painful.

Leave A Comment