Many people think that the ‘cucina veneziana’, with its traditional, exquisite recipes, is still one of the finest cuisines on earth, but there are others who feel that it has been spoiled by mass tourism. Of course, the admirers and the moaners are both right in a way…
There are still many chefs who create wonderful dishes to tickle the diner’s palate using the great variety of freshly-caught seafood from the Adriatic and fresh, crisp produce from the ‘vegetable islands’ and mainland, but you will equally well find the mass-produced menu turistico at a set price – and often, not a very reasonable one at that. In any case, the Venetian cuisine still has many incomparable specialities, ranging from the dozens of different varieties of pasta to the imaginative frutti di mare and meat dishes and sweet delights from the cake shops.
Those who want to experience everything the gastronomic landscape of the city has to offer, should start off by going to a few bacari (with the stress on the first ‘a’). These simple stand-up bars are the Venetian equivalent of the Spanish tapas bar, the Parisian bistro or the local pub in Britain – an institution, where you can have a glass of wine (an ombra), nibble a couple of delicious snacks (the cicheti), and – first and foremost – have a chat.
Local specialities to try on your visit to Venice:
Carpaccio – Venice’s culinary export hit: wafer-thin slices of raw beef, with a trickle of lemon juice and flakes of Parmesan
Cicheti – Venetian-style tapas: titbits such as small meatballs, tiny fried fish, pickled vegetables, mussels, stuffed olives, slices of polenta, etc.
Fegato alla venexiana – calf’s liver cooked in a white wine and onion stock
Fiori di zucca – pumpkin flowers, usually served stuffed and fried
Fritto misto di mare – fried fish and seafood
Pasta e fagioli – a substantial stew cooked with thick macaroni, white beans and a lot of olive oil and herbs
Risi e bisi – rice with green peas
Risotto nero – creamy, black risotto prepared with squid ink (seppie)
Sarde in soar – a very traditional, very Venetian starter: cooked sardines served cold with a marinade of olive oil, vinegar, wine, raisins and pine nuts
Tramezzini – triangular crust-less sandwiches with cheese, ham, mushrooms, tuna, egg or vegetables and various spreads
BACARI, BARS & OSTERIAS
Locals usually gather in these generally simply furnished, but extremely cosy wine bars to have a chat with their neighbours – usually standing up, to eat a few tasty titbits (in the case of the osteria, this is a real meal seated at a table) and knock back an ombra, a small glass of white wine that is impossible to imagine Venetian life without. The following are some of the more atmospheric places:
A fine selection of cicheti, pizzas and other delicious things, as well as good wines, just a few yards behind St Mark’s Basilica. Soak up the atmosphere at one of the tables outside if the weather is fine. Daily (sometimes closed Wed in winter) | Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo, 4357 | tel. 04 15 22 42 92 | stop: San Zaccaria
Fans of excellent fish – come right in! There is a different menu every day which includes specialities such as spaghetti with scampi or squid, fish gnocchi or risotto, dried cod in salt, and much more. Closed Sun | Calle Ciacinto Gallina, 5401 | tel. 04 15 23 81 53 | stop: Ospedale
This is the oldest bacaro in Venice and has been here near the fish market for over 500 years. Countless pots and copper kettles hang from the ceiling and more than 100 different wines await you at the bar. All of this with many kinds of tramezzini and other snacks. Closed Sun and after 8.30pm | Calle dei Do Mori, 429 | tel. 04 15 22 54 01 | stop: Rialto
Good, home-style cooking – something that sounds as simple as that is almost a rarity in Venice these days. At noon, local workers drop in and choose from the two or three primi and secondi of the day. In the evening, the fare is a bit more upmarket – the fish is excellent. No wonder that it will be hard to find a table if you haven’t reserved. Closed Mon evening and Tue | Barbaria de le Tole, 6671 | tel. 04 15 22 06 19 | stop: Ospedale
The chef in this small restaurant, not even a three minute walk from the railway station, has devoted himself to the preparation of freshly-caught creatures from the Adriatic and from the lagoon. In summer, meals are served outside on the Campo with a view of the magnificent Palazzo Labia. Daily | Campo San Geremia, 307 | tel. 0 41 71 69 68 | stop: Ferrovia
A lovely trip with the Line 13 vaporetto will take you to the island of Vignole. From May to September, you can have a pleasant meal surrounded by greenery after taking a short stroll through the vegetable fields. Self-service, large selection, hearty cooking. Closed Mon | Isola Delle Vignole | tel. 04 15 28 97 07 | stop: Vignole
Creative cooking focussing on sophisticated fish dishes and a list of more than 600 (!) wines draw people to this smartly designed restaurant at the eastern end of the Zattere. Unforgettable: a meal on the wooden pontoon terrace directly over the water. Closed Wed | Zattere/Ponte dell’Unita, 19 | tel. 04 12 41 18 18 | www.ristorantelineadombra.com | stop: Salute
For generations, Venetian gourmands and gourmets have travelled over to Burano to eat in this trattoria that is famous far and near. The splendid cuisine focuses on fish that is cooked here with great care over a charcoal fire. Closed Sun evening and Tue in summer, every evening in winter | Via Baldassarre Galuppi, 221 | tel. 0 41 73 00 30 | www.daromano.it | stop: Burano
There are not many other places in Venice where you can eat as well as here. From risotto to zabaione, from the perfectly grilled steak to the fried fish, the chef really shows that he is an artist. The atmosphere is tasteful but not ostentatious, the prices not low but justified. Closed Wed lunchtime and Tue | Salizzada San Giovanni Crisostomo, 5719 | tel. 04 15 28 52 81 | www.fiaschetteriatoscana.it | stop: Rialto
This modestly furnished restaurant is not easy to find but you will be rewarded with an excellent selection of first-class fish. It takes some time to get used to the fact that the specials of the day are not listed on the menu but rattled off by the lady of the house in Italian. Our tip: trust the chef and order an opulent plate of antipasti. But, be careful: quality has a price! Closed Sun/Mon | Calle del Pestrin, 3886 | tel. 04 15 22 70 24 | stop: Arsenale
This restaurant, with its brick walls and mirrors and minimalistic, elegant atmosphere, only has enough room for a maximum of 13 guests. It is therefore not surprising that you need to reserve well in advance and that Gianni Bonacorsi charges €5 for the coperto. In return, he serves his guests culinary highlights of supreme quality. Of course, there is pasta and rice served with amazing wines every day; the meat, fish and other exquisite ingredients vary with what the market supplies. Closed Thu at noon and Wed | Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo, 4509 | tel. 04 15 20 82 80 | www.ilridotto.com | stop: San Zaccaria
At the western end of the Zattere, the owners Monica and Luca pamper their guests in cosy surroundings, with excellent cooking and fine wines. It is especially delightful eating outside on a sunny day with a view of Giudecca across the wide canal. Closed Wed lunchtime and Mon | Fondamenta Zattere Ponte Lungo, 1473 | tel. 04 15 22 76 21 | www.ristoranteriviera.it | stop: San Basilio
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