Sunday, 5 June 2011

The original pop up restaurant - Festa dell’Unita

Imagine a pop up restaurant run mainly by volunteers, and feeding up to 300 customers every evening for a month at a time. That is the centrepiece of the annual Festa dell’Unita – Unity Festival – that takes place in the Two Madonnas Park on the outskirts of Bologna. This is one of hundreds if not thousands of similar events that take place in Italy every summer, creating that risky mix of food and politics.

We went with long time friends Sonia and Cecce and the four of us paid euro 70 for two courses plus wine. We ate excellent tortellini, lasagne and tagliatelle al ragu followed by a fritto misto of fish – OK – and a mixed grill – better. Within seconds of arrival our order was taken and within minutes the pasta arrived.

A vibrant version of zuppa inglese
Waiters and washers up are volunteers with a few professionals brought into the manage the whole affair and oversee the cooking. Out front we were surrounded by groups of all ages including three generation families. Behind the scenes, there were teams folding napkins and preparing trays of cutlery, other teams dealing with the washing up, and then more teams ladling out pasta and grilling meat and fish.

Nowadays, the Festa is one of the highlights of the year for supporters of the Partito Democratico, the centre left party currently in opposition, and a financial mainstay. Originally, the festival was run by the Communist Party whose newspaper, L’Unita, still survives even if it doesn’t. Every suburb, town and village has its Festa dell’Unita, above all in the red belts of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. As well as sampling food, locally produced wines and ice cream, expect to see political debates, families trying their hand at the local version of tombola, children excitedly throwing luminous balls in the air and people of all ages enjoying taking to the dance floor for a rumba or tango. Not unlike an English village fete, a local Festa is the place to go if you want to experience life with the Bolognese. The tourist information office in Piazza Maggiore in the city centre will be able to tell you if there is a Festa taking place anywhere during your stay.

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