Venice Food Guide: a City Tasting Tour
It is as easy to find a poor restaurant in Venice as it is to get lost. This mecca of cultured tourism, especially in those weeks when the city plays host to the Biennale of Art and the International Film Festival (this year from the 2nd to the 12th of September) contemporarily, presents plenty of gastronomic tourist traps for visitors in a rush. This is why it is advisable to follow the more reliable secret trails of bona fide Venetians in order to discover the Venice food delights of a cuisine based on a great tradition whose excellent dishes can be traced back to the unique historical and geographical story of the city.
Local cuisine is a fusion of the customs of those peoples with whom the Serenissima conducted its business: for example, spices from the East and dried salted cod from the Baltic routes. Following the discovery of America, corn replaced other more traditional cereals and was used to make polenta, the basic food of all Venetian cooking: a smooth, white and rather runny version is eaten in the lagoon itself, while further towards the mountains, it becomes yellow and dense. The Venetians were introduced to rice, on the other hand, by the Arabs and it was transformed into the city’s most popular dish: risi e bisi, a traditional dish made with rice and peas (click here for the recipe). The Doge, who headed the Venetian Republic, had to eat this dish on St. Mark’s day according to a precise ceremonial ritual.
A nobleman, Pietro Querini, was responsible for introducing dried salted cod to Southern Europe. In Venice it is mantecato (prepared in a creamy sauce) while on the Island of Murano it used to be cooked in glass furnaces in the evening, when the master glassmakers had finished their work. Also on the fish theme sarde in saor is another extremely interesting dish. This sweet and sour recipe from Constantinopolis combines fish with onion, sultanas, pine nuts and vinegar.
Venice best street food and markets
As in the past, early fruits and vegetables from the fertile islands around Venice are still sold on the Rialto market. This is the ideal starting point for any gastronomic tour intent on seeking out the delights of Venice. Under the ancient vaults – every morning apart from Saturday and Sunday - the market offers fish, vegetables and fruit which have been brought in from the lagoon on a ferryboat, such as the highly appreciated purple artichokes from the island of Sant’Erasmo. Here it is possible to buy the best fish in town or even eat it fried on the spot.
The Campo (square) dell’Erbaria is also located in this area. This is where Venetians meet up for their aperitif: white wine or spritz (Campari or Aperol, wine and soda water) and cicheti, appetizers with fish or salted meats. You may pick up this typically Venetian habit at the Naranzaria, an ancient sixteenth century warehouse with touches of contemporary design, offering cicheti and sushi, or at Bancogiro with organic products and fresh fish. It is not unusual to spot cinema stars in town for the festival: both venues look out onto the Canal Grande and the atmosphere here is quite unique.
If your aperitif has made you peckish, you can cross the canal and try out a trattoria that is patronized by very few tourists: Marisa. This tavern with its affordable daily menu is located at Cannaregio, beyond the Ponte dei tre Archi. The locals love it and the menu (based on fish or meat) is decided each day by the first person who calls in to reserve a table. Also at Cannaregio and well off the beaten tourist track is the Anice Stellato, another venue well worth trying. Here it is possible to try all typical Venetian dishes: risi e bisi, baccalà mantecato and Venetian-style liver. If on the other hand you happen to be in the Giardini area visiting the Biennale, Venetians will recommend the Diporto Velico, even though it is in a district unknown to most. We are now on the island of Sant’ Elena and it is worth a trip here just to taste their fried fish.
On the other side of town, at the Zattere, right in front of the Giudecca island, you can stop off at El Chioschetto, and drink a glass of good white wine as you enjoy a spectacular view over the lagoon. You may also like to eat close by at the trattoria La zucca, which offers a mixture of local cuisine and oriental food in the true spirit of this city.
If on the other hand you feel like treating yourself to the luxury of a truly high-class meal in a location steeped in history, you must go to Piazza San Marco. It is here that the historical Caffé Quadri has reopened: one of the most ancient venues in the world and an extravagance of mirrors and velvet, it has come to life again thanks to Raffaele and Massimiliano Alajmo (the youngest chef in the world to have been awarded “three stars” by the Michelin guide which he still holds) of the restaurant Le Calandre, close to Padua. A great piece of news, and a promising one for all those who look forward to the gastronomic renaissance of Venice.