The next stop on our Eurotrip adventure was Venice. Oh Venice.. I fell in love with it as soon as I stepped out of the railway station and onto the edge of the canal. I had always wanted to go to Venice. Venice has everything by way of beauty down pat – the gondolas, picturesque canals, elegant carnival masks and the sounds of the orchestras playing in Piazza San Marco. This beauty, which attracts a large tourist gathering, seems to be at the expense of traditional delicious Italian food, and it was no competition to Florence food at all.
Given it’s been a while now since I was in Venice (about 6 months – wow time flies), my memory seems to serve two very different perspectives of Venetian food.
On the one hand – the food in Venice was overpriced and was not at the same quality of the authentic Italian food of Florence.
But on the other hand, when I re-read my journal, re-look at my photographs and reminisce, I remember many good meals. Not fantastic, but good.
I think that the only way to reconcile these two perspectives is: the food around the main tourist spots of Venice = bad; anywhere else = good.
Generally, the food we ate near San Marco square and Campo San Bartolomeo was extremely overpriced compared to the rest of Italy and not of a great quality. Most other restaurants we ate at seemed to be reasonably priced (though still more expensive than the rest of Italy) and of somewhere between decent-to-nice standard. A plate of pasta around Italy was consistently 8 euro (about AUD$12), but I guess Venice never got the memo.
From the research I undertook on trusty Google and ever-helpful TripAdvisor (instigated by the lawyer in me), it seems that there are a lot of nicer restaurants (or “osterias”) around the Rialto markets. There was also a strip of restaurants/bars on Fondamenta della Misericordia which seemed to be filled with locals rather than tourists (and thus I can only assume are much better). One of the “done” things is to order a bottle of wine at one of these restaurants/bars and take the bottle and some glasses to sit on the canal outside. To me, that was just so Venetian.
I’m sure that if we travelled even further to visit Mestre (the populated area of mainland Venice where the locals live), we would have continued our streak of perfetto Italian food.
Let me share a few recommendations.
The BF and I wanted to enjoy a romantic meal canalside one night, without breaking the budget too much. We found a restaurant, called Al Vagon, which was a bit further out from San Marco square and which rated pretty highly on TripAdvisor. It was surprisingly quite reasonably priced (for Venetian standards), but was a very nice restaurant with great service. It had a lovely atmosphere (very romantic) and delicious food. I ate gnocchi pomodoro and it was wonderful. Buon pasto!
We also went on a free walking tour around Venice, as we did in most of the cities we visited. The Venice one was by far the best we went on. The tour guide was a university-aged student, who was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about her city. I loved listening to all her stories about Venice, and she even ran about 30 minutes overtime as she was more concerned with giving us a good tour than with the time. She gave us a range of food recommendations, so definitely ask tour guides / hotel staff for recommendations in Venice so you know where to go, as you are less likely to accidentally stumble upon a gem in Venice.
Funny story. Our tour guide recommended we go to Cantina Do Spade, which is near the Rialto markets. Our tour ended at about 2.30pm and we were just starving. We (somehow) managed to locate the restaurant in the maze that is Venice and sat down for a good meal. And we sat. And sat. And sat. We sat a lot. We obviously didn’t quite understand how it worked at this restaurant, because we couldn’t really seem to get any service. Eventually, after lots of sitting, we managed to attract a waiter to our vicinity and keep him in place for long enough to have a conversation. I explained my peanut allergy to him and he disappeared. We sat some more. He came back (eventually) telling us that he wouldn’t recommend I eat there because they use a lot of peanuts. As he said “they have very small kitchens in Venice”, so it was too risky. Luckily the waiter was attuned enough to tell me this. Nevertheless, apparently the food is good so, if you aren’t allergic to peanuts, go there.
Venice also has its own little sub-cuisine that distinguishes it from the rest of Italy, called “cicchetti”. This is the Venetian equivalent of Spanish tapas, which are small snacks or side dishes. The Venetian way is to eat these cicchetti standing around in bars, using fingers or a toothpick. They are usually eaten in the late-morning, for lunch or as afternoon snacks. The BF and I didn’t actually ever eat these. We tried once, but it just didn’t work out. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
Our hotel recommended we try cicchetti at Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso. This seemed to be where all the locals hung out till the wee hours of the morning, socializing, drinking and eating great food. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much on the menu that tickled my fancy and it was quite pricey. It has a great looking interior though, and is a unique hidden gem. It’s a bit tricky to find (it was right near our hotel – if you’ve been to Venice, you know that finding some places in Venice is like being in a maze.) A-maze-ing!
Finally, a few other thoughts:
Firstly, if you are Kosher, visit the Jewish Venetian Ghetto where there are quite a few Kosher food options. We visited the Ghetto during our free walking tour and it was really interesting and moving to hear about the history of Jews in Venice and stories about the Ghetto.
The Jewish Ghetto
Secondly, if you are gluten free or have other allergies which make it difficult for you to eat in Venice, there is always the fresh food option. The Rialto Market has heaps of fresh fruit and veggies, as well as meat and fish. I believe they are open on a Tuesday-Saturday from about 8am-12/1pm.
The Rialto Markets
Finally, go to Burano. It’s the most beautiful place. Wander the streets (including the backstreets) to stumble upon amazing sights. A picture says a thousand words, so I’ll let it do the talking…
Bye for now.
Until next time…
The Allergian Abroad