Savouring Venice, One Step at a Time

Gondolas in Venice

Gondolas in Venice

An invitation to join a foodie tour of Venice? Absolutely! Let’s go!

Last week, when Walks of Italy invited me to join their Venice Food Tour of the Rialto Markets, to include cicchetti tasting with wine, I jumped at the opportunity.

Heading into Venice by train – just forty minutes, lucky me – it struck me that many of you will not yet have eaten cicchetti (pronounced chee-KEH-tee) and may never have heard of this great food culture in Venice. Often referred to as “Venetian tapas”, cicchetti are bite-sized snacks eaten with a glass of local wine at any time of the day. The word cicchetti comes from the Latin word ciccus, which means “very small”.

San Daniele Robiola with Tartufo

San Daniele prosciutto, Robiola cream cheese with Tartufo

Cicchetti can be crostini with tasty toppings or small panini with delicious fillings. They can also include fritti (fried fish) or polpette (meat balls).

Polpette with tomato sauce & polenta

Polpette with tomato sauce & polenta

These delicious snacks are served in cheerful “bàcari”. A bàcaro is a type of comfortable wine-bar unique to the winding alleyways of Venice.

Old eatery beside The Rialto

Old eatery beside The Rialto

Here, to accompany your cicchetti – or, indeed the other way around – you will have an ombra, a small glass of local wine. The word “ombra”, which means “shadow”, comes from the days when wine would be served on the shady side of the narrow alleyways; though legend has it that this originated from Piazza San Marco where people would drink their ombra in the shade of the campanile (bell tower).

Eatery beside The Rialto market

Bacaro beside The Rialto market

One of the most popular cicchetti toppings is baccalà mantecato, which is creamed salt-cod. This is absolutely fabulous and a must-try for visitors to Venice. Other favourites include speck, sopressa (salami), prosciutto crudo, robiola cheese mixed with black truffle, and melanzane (egg-plant/aubergine). When you arrive at a bàcaro, you will usually see the cicchetti arrayed temptingly behind glass, displaying labels announcing what, exactly, they contain.

Clearly labelled cicchetti

Clearly labelled cicchetti

Last Saturday morning we duly assembled in Piazza San Giacomo, near the Rialto markets. The group consisted of yours truly and four others, plus our guide Kristina. Kristina is a lovely, extremely well-informed Czech lady with a big smile, who is married to a Venetian and who actually lives in Venice.

Our guide, Kristin, from Walks of Italy

Our guide, Kristina, from Walks of Italy

Diving down the side-streets close to the market, we arrived at our first bàcaro and began our food tour with an aperitivo of Prosecco and two mouth-watering cicchetti each. I chose two panini; one filled with the aforementioned baccalà mantecata and the other with San Daniele prosciutto, robiola cheese and tartufo (truffles). Both panini were unbelievably delicious.

Cicchetti at the Rialto

Cicchetti at the Rialto

Next stop was an in-depth visit to the Rialto markets themselves. The markets are colourful and busy, set in their magical location on the banks of the Grand Canal.

Rialto market in Venice

Rialto market in Venice

Kristina explained how the various fruits, vegetables and fish would traditionally be prepared.

Finocchio (Fennel)

Finocchio (Fennel)

Cadore mushrooms

Cadore mushrooms

Zucchini (courgettes)

Zucchini (courgettes)

Topinambor

Topinambor

Fresh scampi

Fresh scampi

Octopus at the market

Octopus at the market

Cutting swordfish (spada) at the fish market

Cutting swordfish (spada) at the fish market

Beef, rocket and prosciutto on a skewer

Beef, rocket and prosciutto on a skewer

Following our guide down a maze of alleyways, we arrived at a cosy bàcaro for a lunch consisting of two types of polpette with polenta and calamari fritti on a skewer. All of this washed down with a glass of the local Merlot.

Lunch break with polpette and polenta, calamari and Merlot

Lunch break with polpette and polenta, calamari and Merlot

Calamari on a skewer with polpette filled with melted cheese, potato and speck

Calamari on a skewer with polpette filled with melted cheese, potato and speck

Passing the oldest wine bar in Venice, we headed to another bàcaro where we sampled more cicchetti and an ombra of Verduzzo, the popular local white wine.

Cicchetti with Speck, Asiago cheese and melanzane

Cicchetti with Speck, Asiago cheese and melanzane

Last, but not least, it was coffee at an old Venetian coffee-house, where the selection seemed limitless. Kristina told us we could have whatever coffee we wanted, explaining that Rosso was pure Arabica and Nero was stronger; containing 50% Arabica and 50% Robusta. We could have either Rosso or Nero in whatever form we wished: espresso, macchiato, doppio or cappuccino.

Time for a coffee

Time for a coffee

“Make mine a Rosso Macchiata!” I volunteered.

Others followed suit, though one of the group insisted on having a cappuccino, which, as you probably know, is looked on by Italians as purely a breakfast drink. Having a cappuccino after approximately 11.00am instantly labels one a tourist!

Then a bottle of grappa was produced. Truly delicious, but 50% proof. I did as my guide recommended and rinsed the leftover coffee out of my tiny cup with a splash of grappa; this is known as a “grappa rinse” and I enjoyed it greatly.

Grappa & Bussola

Grappa & Bussola

As our tour came to an end, we all said our goodbyes and wandered back into the alleyways of Venice feeling replete and happy.

Venice by gondola

Venice by gondola

Orna O’Reilly

Veneto, Italy

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