A feast! Savouring the authentic tastes of Venice

Venetian seafood cichetti

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No trip to Italy would be complete without abundant feasting would it? The problem is where to begin. Luckily Venetian cuisine has a secret weapon in the gluttony stakes – bite sized cicchetti or bar snacks that bear a passing resemblance to tapas. Besides cicchetti there are many delicious local dishes and traditions that are unique to the lagoon city.

Feasting on the traditional foods of Venice

I love the casual grazing style of Venetian cuisine. Sure you can find Michelin starred and formal restaurants but the city’s food culture is built on the bàcaro [small bar or tavern] and osteria [small restaurants focused on local food and produce].

For generations, Venetians have met family and friends in bàcari and enjoyed snacks known as “cicchetti” over a glass of wine or spritz. Heartier Venetian meals are served in osterie where you will find dishes like sarde in saorfried sardines served on a bed of white polenta with onion and raisins – and Venetian style risotto rixi e bixi made with peas and pancetta

Let’s take a tour of the food traditions and local cuisine of Venice bite by bite

 Venetian cake for breakfast

Breakfast in Venice is a casual affair of coffee and cake. We tried a deliciously tart lemon and almond cake at our hotel but there are many pasticcerie to try in Venice’s neighbourhoods. Drop by Pasticceria Rizzardini in San Polo and enjoy an excellent cappuccino and bombolino alla crema – cream filled doughnut. We also liked Rosa Salva, a Venetian institution for pastry lovers that has been in operation since 1879.

Traditional Venetian breakfast of coffee and cake

Try coffee and cake in Venice at:

Pasticceria Rizzardini – Località San Polo, 1415, 30125 Venezia

Rosa Salva – found at Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo and seven other locations across Venice

Bounty from the sea

There is no way to separate the culture of Venice from the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. The city is built on its waters and has fed its people from them for centuries. Visit the Rialto Market and you will find the freshest frutti di mare – from tiny sweet cockles to impressive spiky sea snails, baby octopus, squid and all manner of fish. 

Seafood for sale at Rialto Market in Venice

Beyond the seafood we discovered there is a huge section of the market devoted to fruit and vegetables and especially funghi or mushrooms. I was so disappointed I could not bring some home to make my favourite garlic mushrooms on toast recipe.

Mushrooms at the Rialto market

The Rialto market is found close to the famous Rialto Bridge and is the best kind of local produce market. It is a place full of local character and fresh produce and is at the heart of Venetian food culture. There is some talk of moving the market out of the main tourist zone. This flag of the lion of Venice baring its teeth is the symbol of the traders movement protesting the move.

Rialto market Venice - protest flag

Cicchetti in Venice

Cicchetti by the canal with a spritz

The word “cicchetti” is loosely translated as “small bites”. You could graze all day on these tasty morsels and never eat the same thing twice. Possibly the best known bite is baccalà mantecato or smoked cod fish whipped with cream. We tried this a few times and loved the subtle flavour and smooth texture of the fishy mousse. Of course your snacking should be accompanied by some local wine or a spritz.

Other favourite cicchetto include:

✪ polpette – fried meatballs, we also had some delicious aubergine version

crostini – toasted bread – topped with vegetables, cheese or cured meats like mortadella

local cheeses – asiago and montasio

Asiagio cheese - cicchetti in Venice

Favourite cicchetti bars in Venice

Ostaria Dai Zemei – San Polo, 1045/B, 30125 Venezia
Osteria Al Squero – Dorsoduro, 943-944, 30123 Venezia

Pasta from Venice

Once again, the Venetians look to the sea for inspiration for their take on the national dish. The must try variety of Venetian pasta are made with black squid ink and have a light salty flavour much like the sea.

Black squid ink pasta is typical of Venetian cuisine

My favourite dish is this simple looking “pasta with red sauce” served with lobster at Osteria Al Bacco in Cannareggio – one of the most flavourful and perfectly balanced dishes I have eaten all year.

Spaghetti with red sauce and lobster at Osteria al Bacco Venice

Dessert in Venice

When you think of Italian desserts, I’m sure you immediately think of gelato and tiramisù.  While gelato has its origins in the 16th century I was surprised to learn that tiramisù is a modern dessert.

Tiramisu in Venice bu I Tre Mercanti

First appearing in Italian cookbooks in the 1960s, tiramisù  is made from savoiardi biscuits/cookies dipped in coffee and layered with a mixture of marscapone cream whipped with eggs and sugar. No one can agree on where the dessert was from originally though the best guess is that is from the Veneto region on the mainland. When in Venice you must try the recipe made on site at I Tre Mercanti. You can see chefs make tiramisù every day from their shop window.

We also enjoyed gelato flavours from:

Gelateria il Doge – Dorsoduro 3058/A, Rio Terà Canal, 30123 Venezia

Alaska – Santa Croce, 1159, 30135 Venezia

Food tours in Venice

When you visit Venice I suggest you join a food tour. Not only will you discover some surprising new tastes but a great guide will help you learn about the history of the city and the importance of the lagoon to the lives of its citizens.

Casual cicchetti around an old well in Venice - food tour in Venice

We joined a Venice food tour starting at the Rialto Market on our recent trip. Over four hours we were taken on a delicious exploration of Venice including the market and several bacari, and osterie. The tour finished with the tiramisù I mentioned earlier. It was a considerable feast. – Check prices and book the Venice food tour

Food tours are a great way to learn about a city and this tour was brilliant. Not only were we able to try many Venetian dishes and the local wine but we felt like we were on a backstage tour of Venice.

Our guide Rafael shared the history, culture  and details of the city of Venice as we navigated the narrow streets. We followed in the footsteps of Marco Polo, watched a wedding ceremony at an opulent baroque church and were told off by a shop owner as we enjoyed our spritz and cicchetti in front of her store.

More food tour ideas in Venice


The final word on Venetian cuisine

Seafood lovers will not leave Venice disappointed. Since moving to London we have found it difficult to find great value seafood in abundance so it was a treat to find such variety and quality in Venice. It’s important to note that much of the catch comes from the Adriatic or even further afield because the lagoon is not able to sustain industrial scale commercial fishing.

Lastly, I am surprised there isn’t a global craze for bite sized cicchetti. In a world obsessed with “small plates” and tapas, these delicious Venetian morsels seem to have flown under the radar of restauranteurs. Sure London has the Polpo chain of Venetian style bacari but I think there is room for more cicchetti bars and Venetian style feasting everywhere.

Venice | Italy - enjoy the food traditions and cuisine of the lagoon city dominated by fresh seafood and wonderful bite sized cicchetti

Have you visited Venice? What were your favourite local dishes?

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52 thoughts on “A feast! Savouring the authentic tastes of Venice

  1. differentshoresblog says:

    What a gorgeous post Katy. I love the pic of the spritz and the cicchetti: it just about sums up the spirit of the Veneto! I’m also quite taken by the black squid ink pasta. For years I’ve been saying I’ll do a week in Venice out of season but just haven’t got round to planning it. Must do it. This brightened up my dreary afternoon.

  2. Phoebe | Lou Messugo says:

    Why haven’t I heard of cicchetti before? I love bite-size snacking. I also love Italian breakfasts as I have a wickedly sweet tooth and adore doughnuts and cake for breakfast! (Only on holiday of course). This is such a fab round-up of Venetian food, thanks for putting it together Katy.

  3. Clare Thomson says:

    How delicious! I’m a big fan of cake for breakfast when I’m on holiday and I love the idea of snacking on smaller dishes for other meals so you can try lots of different flavours. I can see I’m going to need to plan a trip to Venice soon..

  4. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    Coffee and cake for breakfast? Now that’s my type of Country! Love the idea of cicchetti as well, bite sized pieces are my favourite, it’s like non-stop party food and you’re right, I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on. A food tour around Italy must have been amazing as well, you really did have a foodie time in this beautiful country 🙂 #farawayfiles

  5. Nell@PigeonPairandMe.com says:

    This food looks superb and I just have to pin and stumble this post right now! Any country that starts the day with coffee and cake must have it right. I’m intrigued by the spiky sea snails – I’ve tried snails, and winkles – I wonder if they’re a bit like a combination of the two? #FarawayFiles

  6. Hilary says:

    A food tour sounds fun!! It’s often hard to find great food when traveling especially in new places! This seems like a good way to solve that problem!! Love the seafood photos! #farawayfiles

  7. Alex Muir says:

    We were in Venice a couple of weeks after you! We too had some fantastic food and were really impressed because you read so much about the bad experiences with food around the very touristy areas in Venice. I’m off to raid the fridge now to see if I can build my own crostini as your photo’s have me salivating! #farawayflies

    • Katy says:

      Well Alex, I think you and I are probably similar in that we do a bit of research on these things before we travel. There’s nothing worse than being forced into the nearest dodgy cafe because you are hangry! It’s one of the reasons I write this blog actually – to help people avoid such situations.

  8. aandj8804 says:

    If I could go back to Venice right now, I would try the cake. Since I’ve returned I have heard so much about that cake! It breaks my heart (except not really) that I didn’t try it while I was there. Clearly I need to return. Is that Venice I hear calling my name? 😉

  9. afamilydayout says:

    You had me at the lemon and almond cake for breakfast, I think I could get used to that! The food tour sounds like the perfect way to find out more, I’d love to go on a cooking holiday to Italy one day. #Farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      ooh me too! There’s a 3 month immersion cooking course in Sicily that sounds amazing. I don’t think my 3 year olds would want their mum away for that long though 🙂

  10. Allison says:

    Cake for breakfast is always welcome in our family 😉 And I love gelato. Your post has me salivating. So many tasty things. And I love the idea of cicchetti. Both my husband and daughter are snackers. They never eat large meals but can snack all day. This would be a hit with them. #farawayfiles

  11. Topsy Turvy Tribe says:

    We live in Spain at the moment and are massive fans of tapas but never knew that Venice had it’s own version! The food in Venice sounds delicious, what a great idea to do a food tour! #farawayflies

  12. annette @afrenchcollection says:

    Katy I adore the photos. I love the look of the red pasta with lobster, but the little lobster looks almost too cute peeking out to eat!!

  13. WanderMum says:

    Great food round-up – I feel sufficiently educated on Venetian food now. I love the look of the lobster pasta and I am so missing the gelato (even in this weather). The food tour sounds great. Thanks for linking #citytripping

  14. Pinay Flying High says:

    I love the squid ink taste and that pasta right there immediately made my mouth water. I can taste the saltiness of it. Ugh! Why did you have to post that? Lol.

    Too bad you can’t bring mushrooms with you. 🙁

  15. Nano @ #TravelWithNanoB says:

    Katy, I absolutely loved your guide of Venice and learned a lot about the casual dining culture in this beautiful city. I visited once and back then my budget was too strict to splurge on any sort of restaurant food, so I’d really want to go back and savor some of the local specialties. Everything you showed looks amazing. Thanks for hosting one more great weekly link-up! xoxo, nano

    • Katy says:

      Thanks so much Nano. It really was not a trial researching this article I have to say 😉 I was an impoverished student on my first visit to Venice too and I must say I enjoyed this trip so much more as I didn’t feel the need to go to the main sites and eat dodgy pizza. Thanks again for joining us on #FarawayFiles

  16. Kat says:

    I remember having a delicious pasta dish in Venice at a restaurant tucked away in one of the alleys. The clams were cooked with white wine – it was fresh and light. That was one of my favourite memories of Venice, aside from the square and the Venetian canals. I’m glad that food tours are the in-thing now – will definitely sign up for one if I return to Venice some day 🙂 #farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      Spaghetti vongole! That’s what that dish is called and it is my husband’s favourite and delicious. Tastes even better in Venice I think.. there’s something about those canals!

  17. daisythebus says:

    You’ve sold me on the food tour. As you mentioned, I imagine that one learns about much, much more than food itself; the tour is a window into a deeper understanding of the local culture. I will definitely have to give it a go somewhere, sometime (soon). Greetings from Luxembourg #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Yes! Do the food tour definitely. You can find some great ones for kids too. I would be devastated if my kids werent too interested in their food and where it came from. Having said that, they know their croissant from their pain au raisin and pain au chocolate and have only just turned 3 so we may have created some culinary monsters!

  18. Elizabeth says:

    I think a food tour in Venice would be a great idea! I only visited Venice as a day trip from Milan, but I was still able to try some of the delicious little sandwiches. Loved those!

  19. Bumble Bee Mum says:

    Awww man… I can have cicchetti ALL DAY LONG. I love how they are small so that you can try a greater variety! #FarawayFiles

  20. Tracy Collins says:

    I have been to Venice a number of times but have never taken the food tour! That is going to be a must next time we go! I love gelato and that is my main indulgence when in Italy. I am not a fan of sea food so that does limit me sometimes but I think I would give some of the foods mentioned a go!


    • Katy says:

      Food tours are the best thing to do in most cities in my opinion. You get a great overview of the city and its history, delicious local food and an opportunity to chat to fellow travelers. It’s a win win win!

    • Katy says:

      We’s going to get along just fine! Food and coffee are some of my favourite things too. Italy should come with a warning though.. you might not leave 🙂

    • Adira says:

      oh woow cake in breakfast, it is so amazing!!! pasta is also one of my favourite..I am great fond of eating different kinds of food..and after seeing your post I can’t control myself to go Venice and taste those mouth watering food..

  21. Juliette | Snorkels To Snow says:

    I think when I visit Venice I will definitely have to do a food tour, it sounds like a great way to get to know Venice! I didn’t know they had the bite sized cicchetti. Tapas has become such a popular way of eating all around the globe now. Salivating after this post though! It all looks AMAZING! #FarawayFiles

  22. Danielle Wisniewski says:

    I really should not have read this post hungry. I just sent the hubs to the store to buy bread, cheese, and olives after reading this. Love the pictures and the details! Saving this for my eventual trip to Venice. 😀 #farawayfiles

  23. fifi + hop says:

    I’ve never done a food tour on vacation and realizing why not? Sounds like the perfect way to see a city. That’s interesting about tiramisu – I would have guessed it has its origins from long ago too. Also, couldn’t help but notice the rooftop pool in the background of one of the photos – looks divine! #farawayfiles

  24. Rajkumar Gaikwad says:

    All the food are just yummyyy !!!
    Even I loveee pasta with red sauce but have never tried with lobster’s, does that really tastes good.
    Keep posting such foodie information really love it.

  25. CatherineRose says:

    I’m looking through some of your Italy posts as I ponder a trip to Venice in January. I would love to explore Venice outside of high season! I’m allergic to seafood, unfortunately (so I’m terribly incompatible with most of my favorite destinations, as I love the sea) but I can just gorge myself on pastries 🙂

    • Katy says:

      My sister in law is also highly allergic to seafood. We even had some trouble on a trip to the hills of Tuscany when she ate some tapenade with anchovies in it. Poor thing. The good news is that there are still plenty of delicious foods to be eaten in Venice that are not seafood. I think it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and if you visit at that time you will miss the awful cruise ships 🙂 looking forward to your posts

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