Venetian cuisine is characterized by seafood, but also includes garden products from the islands of the lagoon, rice from the mainland, game, and polenta. Venice is not known for a peculiar cuisine of its own: it combines local traditions with influences stemming from age-old contacts with distant countries. These include sarde in saór (sardines marinated to preserve them for long voyages); bacalà mantecato (a recipe based on Norwegian stockfish and extra-virgin olive oil); bisàto (marinated eel); risi e bisi, rice, peas and (not smoked) bacon; fegato alla veneziana, Venetian-style veal liver; risòto col néro de sépe (risotto with cuttlefish, blackened by their ink); cichéti, refined and delicious tidbits (akin to tapas); antipasti (appetizers); and prosecco, an effervescent, mildly sweet wine.
In addition, Venice is known for the golden, oval-shaped cookies called baicoli, and for other types of sweets, such as: pan del pescatore (bread of the fisherman); cookies with almonds and pistachio nuts; cookies with fried Venetian cream, or the bussolài (butter biscuits and shortbread made in the shape of a ring or of an “S”) from the island of Burano; the galàni or cróstoli (angel wings); the frìtole (fried spherical doughnuts); the fregolòtta (a crumbly cake with almonds); a milk pudding called rosada; and cookies called zaléti, whose ingredients include yellow maize flour.
The dessert tiramisu is generally thought to have been invented in Treviso in the 1970s, and is popular in the Veneto area.
We are in Campo della Pescheria, in Venice.
It is almost dawn, but you have to be early to the Rialto market if you want to get fresh delicacies.
Today, Rialto Market houses the traditional fish market under the Logge della Pescaria (Fish Market Porticoes) and the fruit and vegetable market in the adjacent Campo de l’Erbaria (Piazza of the Herbs).
The market opens at 7:00 am and closes at 12:30 pm.
A typical modern gondolier on the phone, awaiting the first tourists.
Boats docking near Rialto Market to unload fish, fruit and vegetables.
The market is also a place for exchanging greetings; many tourists go to see the market but those who really know and buy the typical products are the owners of local restaurants.
Greengrocers and fishmongers feel the change of tradition acutely: their products would once be sold out only minutes after placing them on the stall, but now, unfortunately, they remain unsold.
Typical Sant’Erasmo violet artichoke, the “castraùre”, the first bud.
The fishermen do not react when a seagull helps itself to a precious morsel; it is better that someone makes good use of unsold fish rather than throwing it away.
Moscardini are one of the traditional boiled antipasti of Venice.
They are small octopuses, boiled and garnished with celery and oil and served cut in halves. Obviously, the beaks are removed!
And so, from the market stalls we come to the preparation of this excellent yet simple and tasty dish, polenta and octopus. When the sea and the countryside meet.
It may not be nice to look at, but the grass goby fish is a typical traditional Venetian first course (especially in Burano). After boiling for 25 minutes, it is removed and squeezed in a cloth, and the juice extracted is added to the broth, which is boiled until it becomes a concentrate, to which other fish stock is added.
Eel, or “bisatto grande”, makes a succulent traditional Venetian main course. When grilled, it looks almost like a large steak.
Another main course worthy of the lagunar tradition are small, tender grilled cuttlefish. The best time to find them is in October and November.
VENICE lives on antipasti, especially shellfish and crustaceans.
Here we have clams, mussels, scallops, canestrini and razor shells…. grilled with olive oil and garlic. A delicacy!
There is an entire tradition of boiled antipasti: mantis shrimp, prawns, cuttlefish eggs, sea snails known as garusoli, spider crabs (giant crabs shaped like onions) and musky octopus. Here you see the grey shrimp that are eaten fried or with polenta!
The sardines are of the smaller variety and are either cooked Greek style, with vinegar, or in tomato sauce with capers. There is also the recipe mentioned by Goldoni in his book “Servant of Two Masters” from 1746, featuring sardines prepared with candied citron (imported from Asia), raisins and pine nuts.
Fry the sardines in flour and boiling oil, 14 g of sardines = 1 kg of white onions, cooked very slowly with a dash of vinegar in the saucepan; the onion must become sweet. Cover the sardines with the onions, raisins and pine nuts, and a layer of oil for 3 days.
As you can see from their price, Moeche are a very special dish. Moeche are crabs at the change of season, when they moult and shed their shells, remaining without a shell for only 6 hours. The brackish water helps the new shell to recalcify, but this is where the moecante, a trade dating back to the 14-15th century in Burano and Chioggia, comes in. The moecante, of whom very few remain, has the task of knowing when the crabs will moult and must ready to catch them and place them in fresh water, so that the shells do not reform. This is why they are so expensive; it is a small miracle. An interesting fact is that they are also very popular in China and, with the recent increase in Venice’s Chinese population, new recipes have appeared (soft-shell crab).
TYPICAL FISH, DELICIOUS BREADED AND FRIED.
BURANO-STYLE RECIPE: with beaten egg: allow them to absorb the egg while alive, coat them in flour and then fry them in oil.
Here is Marco (my faithful guide, son of Venetian restaurateurs) with a glass of wine and his cousin, who has graciously welcomed us to his “bacaro”. A bacaro (from Bacchus or ‘bacarà’- a racket or party) is a small restaurant where you can drink wine (or now even spritz) and eat a small snack, strictly while standing.
An “ombra de vin” is a tiny glass of wine drunk when it’s time for an aperitif, which for a Venetian can be any time. If you are lucky, you can even find them for one euro each.
It is said that in ancient times, wine was served in Piazza San Marco like sun hats are now sold. The sellers protected themselves from the sun and made sure that the wine remained cool by keeping it in the shadow of the bell tower, hence the name “ombra”.
Here is another, more modern type of Venetian “cicheti”: they are mainly sandwiches, filled with everything you can imagine, for example, mixed boiled meats, mushrooms, shrimps, egg and strictly pink sauce.
Here we opted for a plate of raw seafood! There are also main courses: Venetian liver (beef with onion), small lagoon duck, moeche (soft-shell crabs) fried with eggs…
Here is a classic traditional dish from Veneto, more typical in the Vicenza area, but the stockfish is worth trying.
(stock = stick and visch = fish), or fish dried on a stick.
It is said to have been imported from the northern seas in around the 15th century by the merchant Pietro Querini.
Dried cod, or stockfish, should be rehydrated for 3 days in running water. It can be boiled or steamed, adding vegetable oil, salt and a little garlic. Those who like it creamier can add milk.
Black spaghetti with cuttlefish, bigoli in sauce (strictly to be eaten during the Feast of the Redeemer), served cold with onions and anchovies, rice and peas, and lagoon goby risotto. These are the main first courses.