Strolling along the streets of Romagna, you’d be hard-pressed not to notice all the stalls decorated in vertical stripes, a little nod to the typical beach huts that line the Riviera in Emilia-Romagna. These are piadina stalls, the guardians of a rural tradition that is an integral part of the identity of this region.
The piadina, or piada, is a simple, thin flatbread that can be found all over the Romagna region, be it by the sea or in the countryside. The area where this particular bread is made encompasses the provinces of Rimini, Forlì-Cesena and Ravenna, as well as several towns south of Bologna.
Historically, the piadina was a form of peasant food that evolved from the chickpea meal flatbread of Etruscan and Roman origin. In Medieval Romagna, the piadina was the peasants’ prerogative in every respect. This social class did not have access to good quality yeasts or flour and only needed to use a few, simple ingredients to make their piadine. The first written evidence of this bread dates back to 1371.
Skipping a huge chunk of time, we come to the 1970s, the age when the traditional production of the piadina really got under way and the first stalls began to crop up all along the coastline. Although today the Piadina Romagnola is a PGI product, the dough used to make it has never changed: soft wheat flour, water, salt and fat (lard and/or oil), to which raising agents are sometimes added.
The bread can be baked in anything, from an oven dish to a frying pan to a traditional terracotta hot plate. How thick piadina should be is much disputed amongst Romagna locals. Piadine are thin (2-3 mm) in the Rimini area and Riccione, but taller and thicker (4-8 mm) in the Forlì province and Ravenna. To try the thinnest variety of piadina, head to Bellaria, just a few miles from Rimini, for the traditional annual Piadina festival in September.
Eaten hot or left to cool, piadina can be served in a variety of different ways.
In the Romagna region, your piadina is most likely to be filled with cooked, leafy greens (watercress, chicory, chard and dandelion greens), raw vegetables (rocket leaves, salad leaves, fresh tomato slices) or grated vegetables (onion, courgettes, aubergines, bell peppers), and then finished off with charcuterie slices and soft cheese, such as ham, salami, squacquerone cheese or mozzarella. Your piadina will be best enjoyed with a glass of red wine, such as Sangiovese.