Few places get the tastebuds going quite like the tiny city of Parma. It's nestled in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy known as Food Valley where many of the delicacies Italy is famous for hail from. Here you'll find local artisans producing prosciutto, pomodoro, lambrusco and parmigiano-reggiano the same way they have done for generations.
The city's colourful streets also celebrate Parma's rich culinary history. Trattoria tables line the Strada Eugenio Copelli serving up local specialities such as tiny pillows of pasta cooked in a rich broth, while delis and street markets straddle the three main piazzas offering students from the famed Alma cooking school and tourists alike a true taste of Italian cuisine. It's little wonder UNESCO bestowed Parma the title 'Creative City for Gastronomy' three years ago — a first for Italy.
Here, your hit list for where to eat, drink and indulge in Parma.
Salumeria Garibaldi delicatessen
Arriving in Parma, you'll be greeted by this bountiful delicatessen just a short walk from the train station. You won't be the first to fall for what's on offer here: wheels of parmigiano-reggiano, slabs of prosciutto di parma, salame felino hanging from the ceiling, porcini mushrooms from nearby Borgotaro, and bottle upon bottle of lambrusco.
Salumeria Garibaldi has been welcoming visitors since 1829 — its current owners, two friends, setting up shop in the 1950s. Take a seat at the high chairs and let the friendly and knowledgeable staff take you on a culinary adventure around the region.
Strada Giuseppe Garibaldi 42, 43125 Parma, +39 0521 235606
Parma's Food Valley
Parma's real gastronomic drawcard, the Food Valley, sits 10km from the city centre. Italians are famously protective of their food culture, and no more so than here where generations of esteemed food-loving families have been producing the finest fare for centuries. As you'll quickly discover, pride, quality and provenance is key.
This is the place to visit to taste parmigiano-reggiano — aged for a minimum of two years — enjoy a glass of lambrusco or malvasia among the vines; and see for yourself the fields of tomatoes destined for Mutti Pomodoro's Polpa, paste and passata.
A brand icon of Italy, Mutti was first established in 1899 by local brothers Marcellino and Ugo Mutti, whose father, Giovanni, had experimented with crop rotation throughout the 1850s — a farming method considered innovative for the times. Every year in the summer harvest period, the company — now headed by Giovanni's great great nephew Francesco Mutti — honour their farmers at the Golden Tomato Awards party, celebrating their now globally-acknowledged product.
Be sure to stop by Mr Mutti and his staff's most frequented haunt, Ristorante Cocchi, for Anolini in brodo (round pasta pockets stuffed with beef and parmigiano reggiano in broth) and trio di tortelli (a sampler of square pasta pockets stuffed with ricotta and spinach, pumpkin and potato with Fragno black truffles).
Pasticceria Cocconi bakery
Those with a sweet tooth are also catered for in Parma, where the colourful shop fronts play host to a number of traditional bakeries.
Pasticceria Cocconi is among the very best, offering 80 different pastries including cannoli, pasticcini and, their specialty, cannoncini (chocolate and cream-filled doughnuts) for just a couple of euros. Pair with another Italian staple; strong espresso, to start your day right.
Strada della Repubblica 22, 43121 Parma, +39 0521 230351
Piazza Ghiaia food market
One of the finest food markets in Emilia-Romagna, if not Italy as a whole, Piazza Ghiaia draws huge crowds on Wednesday and Saturday mornings when the food market stalls are piled high with ham hocks, cheese, aged balsamic vinegar, fresh pasta and produce from across the region.
Parma's architectural significance is obvious here. The market itself dates back to the thirteenth century — local architect Nicola Bettoli added the Doric portico in the late 1830s and the Verona marble staircase was commissioned in 1856 to highlight the city's great wealth.
Piazza Ghiaia, 43121 Parma, 7am to 2pm
Festival del Prosciutto di Parma
The locals are rightly proud of their culinary heritage, so any opportunity to celebrate is done so with gusto.
Food festivals populate the Parma calendar year-round. In June, the Gola Gola Festival pays homage to all aspects of Emilia-Romagna's rich cuisine, while smaller soirees — like Festival del Prosciutto di Parma in September — toast to the provenance of Parma's most-famous ingredients. Check Parma's Tourist Office website for further information.
Largo Calamandrei 1/A , 43121 Parma, +39 0521 246211
Tucked beneath an apartment block in the heart of Parma sits Ristorante La Greppia. Unassuming in size — its narrow layout consists of 16 small tables — it has been a go-to for more than 40 years.
Head chef Marco Aveta and his kitchen serve up seasonal dishes with a clever play on the region's traditional flavours. Small appetisers champion the town's local heroes (prosciutto e formaggio), while primi and secondi feature delicate homemade pasta stuffed with pumpkin or chestnuts, and seafood sensations savoured with truffles, rich tomatoes and potatoes. Opt for a seat by the large glass kitchen window to watch the La Greppia magic unfold firsthand.
Strada G. Garibaldi 39, 43121 Parma, +39 0521 162 7054
This article originally appeared on Gourmet Traveller.