Food in Venice
Traditional Venetian cooking is very basic. Local products tend to be primarily shellfish and fish from the lagoons, fresh vegetables from neighbouring farm islands, risotto and polenta, and local game animals. Most dishes consist of only a few fresh ingredients, and the flavours have influences from Venice’s connections to the East, which accounts for many of the spices you’ll taste in Venetian dishes.
Farm-fresh vegetables abound. Every day at the market you’ll see a wide assortment, in particular artichokes, pumpkin, radicchio, and mushrooms in season. Other staples on the Venetian table include polenta, which is made from corn meal, and of course risottos, containing all varieties of vegetables, prawns and mushrooms.
Shellfish – prawns, clams, crab, mussels, squid, cuttlefish (‘seppie’) and octopus are local favourites, as are other types of fish such as Branzino and Orata. A trip to the fish market will astound you with the huge variety of possibilities.
Traditional dishes to try
Common traditional dishes you will find in local restaurants of Venice include:
- 1. Baccala mantecato – a mousse of dried salt cod that has first been soaked, then whipped with oil until it is the consistency of tuna fish, served on a bed of soft polenta. As an appetizer, it may be served on a crostini or a small rectangle of grilled polenta.
- 2. Bigoli in salsa – Bigoli, a traditional whole wheat pasta of the Veneto region, is a larger, fatter spaghetti-shaped pasta. This dish has a unique sauce of anchovy and onion.
- 3. Sarde in saor – fried sardines layered with marinated onions, pine nuts and sultanas, giving the dish an almost sweet and sour’ taste. You may also find the same ‘saor’ recipe with prawns instead of sardines.
- 4. Spaghetti con vongole – tiny local clams sautéed with white wine, garlic and parsley, tossed with spaghetti.
- 5. Seppia nero – cuttlefish cooked with a sauce made from the black ink of the sepia. Served with either spaghetti or a side dish of polenta. While this doesn’t look appetizing with the black sauce, it is delicious. Definitely a dish to try.
- 6. Fritto misto – a lightly deep-fried mix of sardines, prawns, squid and scallops coated in flour, seasoned with salt. In years gone by, there were street vendors selling fritto misto wrapped to carry away in your hand, wrapped in a paper very similar to British fish and chips. Today you can still find a few places where you can get take away fritto misto.
- 7. Fegato alla Veneziana – tender veal liver cut into tiny pieces, fried with onions, oil and butter served over polenta. Fegato is the favourite meat dish in Venice.
- 8. Whole grilled or baked fish (Branzino or Orata) – sea bass or sea bream either grilled or baked , often served with roasted potatoes, tomatoes and capers.
- 9. Risi e bisi – rice with fried bacon, peas, onion, chopped parsley and cheese, almost like a risotto. This is a traditional spring dish.
- 10. Tiramisu – the favourite local dessert of Venice. Layers of lady fingers laced with coffee, and mascarpone cheese.
Most of these dishes are also easy to make yourself, and worth giving a try, especially if you have that kitchen in your Venetian apartment just waiting for you!
A trip to the famous Rialto market in the morning is an absolute must for anyone who rents an apartment and also loves to cook while in Venice. For just a little while, you get to pretend to be a local, browsing through all of the vendor stalls in the produce area, the Pescheria (fish market) and the butcher’s. Don’t plan ahead too much, just go see what is fresh that morning and then concoct your meal based on what you find that morning. What an adventure! It’s an everyday event for local Venetians, and hopefully it will become part of your mornings while in Venice as well.
Before leaving the market area, be sure to browse the neighbouring streets where you will also find shops selling fresh breads, cheeses, and spices.