When it comes to Italy, food is everything. If you want to soak up the local flavor of a city, it requires more than just sightseeing – eating well is a central part of the Italian experience. Thanks to the Floating City’s location and history, seafood is king. In fact, the island of Venice (made up of 118 smaller islands) is even shaped like a fish. Take advantage of your time in Venice and feast on these five traditional Venice foods.
The Origin of Traditional Venice Foods
Venice is literally built on the water, so naturally, not only is seafood widely available, but it’s also of the highest quality. Many seafood dishes in Venice are influenced by Middle Eastern cuisine, due to the city’s history of commercial trade. Also, because Venetians were seafarers, they often ate foods that preserved well, like baccalà (dried and salted cod), corn, potatoes and rice. Listed below are five important and traditional Venetian foods.
Cicchetti -Cheap and Tasty
Cicchetti, typical Venetian Antipasti, are small plates or finger foods accompanied by a a glass of wine or Spritz. Think Spanish tapas mixed with aperitivo. Cicchetti is a must in Venice, especially on a Venice food tour (a typical pub crawl). It might surprise you, but eating and drinking in Venice on a budget is actually quite easy. That’s why we want to let you in on a secret, Cicchetti. These small plates of food are Venice’s answer to Spain’s tapas and Milan’s aperitivo. Enjoyed with a glass of wine or a refreshing Spritz, you can find Cicchetti at bàcari (local bars sprinkled throughout Venice). These bites of venetian tradition are both cheap and filling, ranging from about €1 to €3 per plate. The five foods listed below are popular examples of Cicchetti.
Baccalà Mantecato, a dish made of stockfish, is considered one of the most important traditional foods in Venice and dates back to 1431 when a Venetian ship, full of spices, was disrupted by a violent storm and dragged North for days. The surviving sailors ended up on the island of Roest, where they discovered dried stockfish. Eventually, they brought it back to Venice and the rest is history. According to the local recipe, you only need to pair stockfish with few ingredients – add olive oil, black pepper, salt, garlic and lemon juice. Cook the fish until it’s creamy.
Polenta e Schie
Schie are a kind of shrimp you can only find in the Venetian lagoon. Typically and paired with polenta. Polenta e Schie used to be the most popular food for poor Venetians. Nowadays, this dish isn’t so cheap, as the main ingredient is difficult to source due to scarcity. Schie are cooked and seasoned in lemon, garlic, pepper and salt, then served over steaming polenta. Buon appetito!
Sarde in Saor
The last antipasto on our list is Sarde in Saor, a dish that consists of sardines, onions and balsamic vinegar. This one tastes quite strong, but it’s sweetened by raisins, pine nuts and red wine. If you’ve been to Venice, you know how popular and crowded it gets. Avoid the tourist trap restaurants and taste some Sarde in Saor at Il Paradiso Perduto, a scenic Osteria in Venice.
Risi e Bisi
After antipasti comes the main course. Risi e Bisi is a simple meal made of rice and peas. While it isn’t one of the most celebrated in traditional Venetian cuisine, it has a funny and peculiar origin story. The production of rice in Venice started in the fifteenth Century and was largely promoted because of it’s low cost and wide availability. The Doge himself used to stand out in front of Doge’s Palace and salute his subjects by holding a plate of Risi e Bisi. From then on, it became a symbolic dish for the locals to eat on St. Mark’s Day, celebrated on the 25th of April. These days, you can find this dish in any restaurant in Venice.
To end on a sweet note, try some Buranelli, a type of Venetian biscuit that’s sure to please your tastebuds. Buranelli (Buranei plural), is named after the Venetian island of Burano, where they come from. Popular among seamen, these treats were often packed along for long sea expeditions. The original shape was round, but nowadays you can also find them shaped like the letter “S”, which makes them easier to dunk in coffee or mulled wine. For a taste of heaven, visit one of the best Pasticcerie in Venice, Tonolo.
I Want More Italy!
- If you’re planning a trip to Venice and want to try these traditional Venice foods, check out our hidden Venice food tour.
- Are you traveling to Venice and looking for things to do? Watch and read about how to do Venice in a Day for insider tips.
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