Venice is famous for its canals, gondolas and bridges that connect a cluster of islands, a total of 118 of them. This sinking city is also dubbed one of the most romantic cities in the world, but little did you know it is also a foodies’ heaven. We decided to spend a week to get lost in this beautiful city, submerged ourselves in the local food scene to discover some of the best food this city has to offer. Here is a list of 11 foodies must-dos in Venice.
1. Join a food tour in Venice
Venice is a cluster of 118 small islands, separated by canals and linked by bridges. The city is a maze itself, most tourists will get lost within the first few days, let alone trying to hunt down all the eateries. The best thing we did in Venice was joining a food tour on our first night. Throughout the tour, we were led from island to island, checked out a few local haunts (about 8 or 9 places in total), tried a few local delicacies and also with a bit of history thrown in. First stop, Cantina do Mori, the legendary local hangout dating from 1462 for some delicious cicchetti and cheap home brew wine….
2. Eat all the Cicchetti
Almost every day we stuffed ourselves on Cicchetti for lunch. It means “little things”, they are the Venetian version of small bites, similar to Spanish tapas. Typically locals like to hang out at small bars, eating Cicchetti as a light snack before lunch or dinner and wash it down with a glass of wine. But there are so many options to choose from, so we were pretty much bars hopping each day and tried as many as possible and had them as lunch. You will find a few local classic dishes have been transformed into Cicchetti including Baccala (creamed dried cod), Sardine in soar (onion and pine nuts).
3. That lurid orange Aperol Spritz
Cicchetti and Spritz go hand in hand. A cheap (2.50EUR = AUD3.70!!!) , refreshing, an easy drinking (perhaps too easy!) cocktail that can be drank any time of the day. Originated from Venice, this wine-based cocktail is prepared with prosecco (Venice is very close to the prosecco region), a dash of Aperol (or Campari) then topped with sparkling mineral water. As you can see, we drank a lot of this stuff! Another Spritz con Prosecco for me!
4. A stroll at Rialto Market
My favourite pastime is to have a wander around the local wet market. Rialto Mercato is definitely worth checking out where all the fresh seasonal Italian produce put on a colourful display. It was the only time I missed having a kitchen to cook all these gorgeous vegetables. It is time to stock up dried porcini mushrooms.
5. Wine time, any time
Apart from all the Aperol Spritz we drank, there were also a lot of Italian wines to be sipped and appreciated. Drinking wine is a pastime activity in Italy, so it is not uncommon to see locals sipping wine as early as 10am. Who can blame them when the wine is so cheap, as low as EUR3.50 (AUD5.20) per glass (try the cheap wine at Cantina do Mori). We found the best bar to taste some good Italian wines and people watching was at Vino Vero, they have a great selection of wine changes weekly plus a full shelve of carefully curated Italian wines that you can buy and take home. Their cicchetti was also delicious and more ‘gourmet’.
6. Have a pizza, or two
Okay, pizza is definitely not a Venice thing, but when in Rome…. I mean Venice… I mean… never mind, just eat a pizza. There are many trattoria pizzeria in Venice especially around Saint Mark’s Square, but most of them are tourist traps, so don’t have high expectations. If you want good pizzas, then check out Da Mamo, not far from Rialto Bridge. Tucked in a narrow laneway, this tiny candlelit restaurant served up some real good pizzas. Not your traditional thin base pizza, but a puffy, pillowy soft base filled with toppings of your choice. They cleverly named 12 pizzas according to star signs is a marketing genius.
7. A paradise for seafood lovers
Venice is a seafood lovers’ heaven. First thing you must do is to check out The Rialto fish market. Being on the north tip of the Adriatic Sea, there is always bountiful of fresh seafood on offer. A few must-try local signature dishes are Seppia al nero, the jet-black squid ink pasta or risotto are often eaten as primo; fritto misto, basically a school of deep fried seafood including baby octopus, white bait, small shrimps, fish, calamari and a few veggies thrown in; Granseola the spider crab is a delicacy in this region, Schie con polenta, is briny tiny shrimps served on creamy white polenta. Now, where can you try these dishes? That leads to our next must-do.
8. The best seafood restaurants in Venice
Seafood restaurants are everywhere in Venice, but the best two we’ve tried are Osteria Alle Testiere and Osteria di Santa Marina. Alle Testiere no doubt is one of the best seafood restaurants in Venice. This tiny, charming osteria is serving simple, unpretentious Venetian dishes with the freshest catch of the day. Not to mention the friendly service was impeccable when we were there. You definitely need to make a booking in advance to score a table. Trust me, is worth it. Osteria di Santa Marina is where tradition meets creativity, many classic dishes are given modern twists, perfectly executed with beautiful presentation. Again, best to book in advance.
9. Have a Tiramisu marathon
Tiramisu is The Pom’s favourite Italian dessert, hence we set ourselves a mission to look for the best Tiramisu and have had countless of this sweet coffee-flavoured dessert during our time in Venice. Many believe that Tiramisu was invented at a restaurant in a town called Treviso which is not far from Venice. We’ve had a few good ones and some were pretty much a soggy mess. As a rule of thumb, just avoid restaurants around the wharf.
10. Have a coffee at the Caffe Florian
Casanova’s favourite hangout back in the 1700s, this cafe is set within Piazza San Marco, Caffe Florian is the oldest continuously operating cafe in the world. The Neo-Baroque splendour will wow you; the sweet, thick mint chocolate drink will swoon you over while you indulge in decadent, flakey pastries. It is world famous, so expect to pay a little more. If you have read my previous post, it is the place where The Pom proposed to me.
11. Never too much Gelato
One word – GELATO! Okay, gelato came from southern Italy, but you will still be able to find a few good gelato stores in Venice. Gelataria Alaska is popular by pushing the envelope, serving unusual flavours like rocket leave, artichoke, fennel. However, I found their gelati a little on the ‘icy’ side and not as smooth. Another place worth checking out is Gelateria Nico, which is on the other side of Grand Canal, but offers the best view in town. The gelato sundae is the way to go if you want to try a few flavours without breaking the bank. Suso, was possibly the best gelato we had in Venice. Don’t let the modern decor fools you, their gelato is soft, creamy and smooth, with all the classic flavours.
Bonus Tip – Day trip to Mount Dolomites
Here is a bonus tip for you, take a day trip to Mount Dolomites from Venice and experience powdery snow and jaw-dropping panoramic views of the Italian Alps. You will also be heading into Prosecco wine region along the trip, so drink up! It wasn’t really skiing season when we were there, but still plenty of snow and the lake was frozen. We had a very pleasant lunch at a restaurant called Quinz. We tried a couple of local signature delicacies, beetroot ravioli with smoked cheese and also a big platter with roe-deer sausage and venison burger patties served with polenta cakes to share between two.