From history to art and romance, Venice is known for many things. Unfortunately, for us foodies, cuisine is not one of the Bride of the Sea’s specialties. As the city slowly transformed from a wealthy seaport to a tourist destination, the population has shrunk from 170,000 strong in its heyday to a current population of only 60,000 with the addition of 50,000 tourists daily. As the residents have flocked to the mainland, they have taken their food with them leaving mostly eateries vying for tourist dollars with predictable Italian fare.
However, with a little guidance and searching, it is possible to find some of the last remaining cuisine in Venice.
“What news on the Rialto?”
Whether you’re a foodie or not, no trip to Venice is complete without a stroll through the Rialto Market. Foodies will enjoy walking through the open-air market to check out the various vendors selling everything from produce to meat to seafood. I recommend visiting the market first thing in the morning. This is when restaurant chefs and what’s left of the locals buy their food for the day.
For those tourists who aren’t all that into food, Rialto Market is a significant historical site to see. It was once the heartbeat of the city and a center in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, where Shylock said the above quote.
Stop in any bacari that you see
All the aromas and sights of Rialto Market will work up an appetite. Do not. I repeat. Do not find the nearest pizza parlor or restaurant that advertises a menu turistico. Instead, head down some of the seedier side streets around Rialto Market for cafes specializing in cicchetti, Venice’s version of a tapa. Snack on fried fish or finger sandwiches while you sip a glass of prosecco. (Did you really think I was going to say coffee?) In Venice, prosecco and cicchetti are enjoyed throughout the day and often.
I can’t really recommend one cicchetti that you have to try. Instead, I suggest being adventurous. Stop into as many bacari (cicchetti bars) as your stomach will permit and ask the tavern keeper for the house specialty. I recommend Alla Ciurma near Rialto Market or All’Arco on Campo Cesare Battisti.
Most bacari do have a price difference based on whether you sit or stand while you snack and sip. If your legs aren’t too tired from hours of walking, eat like a local and stand at the bar. Standing will also prevent you from getting too comfortable and not visiting the next bacari.
Eat like a doge on Saint Mark’s Square
Most guidebooks will tell you not to eat anywhere that has direct landscape on Saint Mark’s Square. For the budget wary traveler, please heed their advice. Your bill will more likely resemble a student loan payment than the puny sandwich and cappuccino you just ate.
However, if your budget will allow, I recommend dining at Café Florian for the scenery alone. I felt like a movie star as I nibbled on my lunch al fresco in the sundrenched square. Pigeons frolicked, children played, and a bride and groom walked by fresh from their nuptials. All the while, a small orchestra played classical music behind us.
Enjoy Venice no matter where you eat!
As much as my travel centers around food, some cities must be explored regardless of the local (or lack thereof) cuisine. Venice is one of those cities. To truly enjoy Venice, make the focus of your trip around history and art. If you happen to find somewhere that tickles the palate, then your trip is even better!
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