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Eating Your Way Through Venice
Chowing Down on Cicchetti
There are many places to get a bad, overpriced meal in Venice. Fortunately, these tourist traps are easy to spot – menus with photographs of each plate followed by descriptions in at least three languages are posted on a board just outside the entrance. Sometimes they can be identified by the dishes they serve, such as chicken parmesan or spaghetti and meatballs, neither of which are either Venetian or even Italian creations.
Why not eat like a Venetian? The most common way to eat well in Venice is to do so at a cicchetteria or bacaro. These bars/restaurants serve cicchetti. In the rest of Italy, the word “cicchetti” literally means “shot” in English, as in “a shot of whiskey” or “a shot of coffee”. But in Venetian dialect where the word originated, cicchetti are somewhat like tapas. They’re a small sampling, each one not meant as a meal on its own, but combined with other cicchetti can make a satisfying meal. Many are served on a small slice of French bread. Locals will have a Spritz (Aperol or Select) or a glass of Prosecco, order a few cicchetti, relax, and then move on to the next bar and repeat the process. At the time of this article, cicchetti can cost from 1 to 2 euro each, with the seafood varieties costing fifty cents more. Doing a cicchetti run – going from bar to bar trying the many offerings can be a fun way to experience the city like the locals do.
What can you expect as a selection? Each bar or bacaro will have their own menu depending upon what was fresh at the market that morning. On a recent night we saw:
Baccalà mantecato (dried, creamed stockfish or cod)
Sarde in saor (sardines marinated in vinegar and onions)
Mozzarella in carrozza (fried mozzarella)
Brie with apricot jam topped with a strawberry
Fegato alla Veneziana (Venetian liver)
Involtini di peperoni e melanzane (peppers stuffed with eggplant)
Polenta bianca alla griglia (grilled white polenta)
Polpette di manzo (meatballs)
Polpette di branzino (sea bass)
So how do you find bars with good cicchetti? If the bar is crowded and you hear a lot of Italian, that’s usually a good sign. And if you aren’t happy with the first location, finish your drink and move on.
Want a tried and true method of finding the best cicchetteria or bacaro where locals go? Take one of Monica Cesarato’s cicchetti tours. I’ve known Monica for twenty years. Few locals know Venice like she does. She not only knows where to go, but also when. And she is familiar with the owners, so if the ownership changes and the food or service gets better or worse, she’s on top of it.
Visit her website at monicacesarato.com. And if you can’t do the tour, her new book Andar Per Bacari has an easy-to-follow set of five cicchetti runs you can do yourself, complete with maps.
Of course, there are also many good restaurants in Venice. Trattoria da’a Marisa near Tre Archi in the Cannaregio neighborhood is a great choice for informal dining. The award-winning Zanze XVI in Santa Croce works well for upscale dining, and there is Alessandro Borghese’s newly opened Il Lusso Della Semplicità for very special occasions. Reserve in advance for all evening dining. For Il Lusso Della Semplicità, reserve far in advance.
Enjoy the seafood of the Venetian lagoon. Dine with the locals. And be sure to have a Spritz for me.
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