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 saor – fried 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.
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.
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.
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.
Cicchetti in Venice
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you visited Venice? What were your favourite local dishes?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and as always all opinions are my own. Please review my disclosure page for more information on my affiliate policy.
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