Tortellini like Venus’ bellybutton?!

We’ve all heard of tortellini, and if you’re fortunate enough you’ve even tasted them. They are indeed a staple of Italian cuisine, specifically from the food valley region of Emilia Romagna, and are often enjoyed in broth (tortellini in brodo) with plenty of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. So, what does it have to do with a bellybutton?

The birth of Venus by Botticelli
The Birth of Venus by Botticelli

Legend claims that tortellini were inspired by the goddess Venus’ navel. An Italian medieval legend tells how Venus and Zeus, weary one night after their involvement in a battle between Bologna and Modena, arrive at a tavern in a small town called Castelfranco Emilia on the outskirts of Bologna.

After eating a hearty dinner and becoming slightly drunk, they decide to share a bedroom. The innkeeper, captivated after watching them, decides to creep to their room and peek through the keyhole of the bedroom door.

As he is peeking, all he can see through the keyhole is the naval (bellybutton) of Venus. This vision leaves him spellbound, that he immediately rushes to the kitchen and creates a pasta inspired by Venus’ navel. The tortellini are then born.

Re-enactment of the innkeerper spying on Venus

Now, every year during the second week of September, the town of Castelfranco Emilia celebrates this famous innkeeper with a Tortellini Festival (Sagra di San Nicola). Intended to keep the pasta tradition going, people dress in Renaissance costumes and on a stage, the legend is re-enacted.

What do tortellini and Venus’ bellybutton have to do with each other?

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