It’s rare that someone says they are going to Venice for the food. In fact, after three visits to Venice, every time I asked friends what to eat and no one could give me an answer. Often people said “I guess, fish?” or of course “Spritz!”. And while it is true the local Spritz comes with an olive, this is definitely not enough to satisfy me after a day of exploring. So how do you eat like a local in Venice?
Well know this, it is tough to eat good and local in Venice if you don’t know what to look for. The city is a tourist hot-spot and many restaurants have cheapened the quality of their offerings to accommodate visitors. But Venice has a local culture that has been around for centuries, so of course, they have some hidden tastes!
What to eat in Venice?
Before we dive in it helps to know a little more about Venice. Like, did you know this was once one of the largest international trading ports in the world? Venice was the gate between the so-called East and West. Spices and plants of Asia were brought to Europe through this port first, and it is one of the first places coffee passed Italy’s borders.
Then of course Venice itself is a floating city, making agriculture difficult, but fishing easy. This means many dishes are in fact fish-based. Some to look out for are: Bigoli in salsa, pasta with anchovies; risotto al nero di sepia, risotto with ink from a cuttlefish; and sarde in saor sardines that are marinated in agrodolce. Another fun local delicacy is moleche, these are little crabs found plentiful in the area. When harvested just right, they have a soft shell, meaning they can be fried and eaten immediately.
Traditional but not local
Another fishy favorite of the area is the baccala, this is actually cod. Cod certainly is not from the Adriatic, but comes from the Atlantic. Yet this fish is a favorite and has long been a traditional dish in the area, particularly enjoyed in baccalà mantecato, a type of pate to be enjoyed with bread.
And out of the sea?
Venice may have been built on the sea, but their lands spanned into the mainland. That means they even get many earth-based dishes. Risi e Bisi is a delicious risotto with peas and pancetta, mozzarella in carozza is deep fried mozzarella, then there is fegato alla veneziana. Fegato being liver, this is a calf liver prepared with stewed onions and served with polenta.
Do locals eat sweets?
Of course, they do! Especially during the beloved Carnevale season, you are sure to find many delicious bites. Some favourites are the fritole. These are sweet fried dough balls made often with raisins and bine nuts.
Another sweet is the baicoli oval-shaped hard biscuits. They originally were made to last long on ship journeys, but today they are made a little more elegant by being topped with zabaglione, cream or dessert wines.
And a personal favorite is the Pan del Doge, a sweet bread made with dried fruit.
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Where to eat like a local in Venice?
When looking for a local spot in Venice, you’ll want to check out bacari, old venetian taverns. Legend has it their name comes from the god Bacchus, as they were great places to enjoy a combination of food and wine. You might want to check out the areas of San Polo and Cannaregio for the most bacari.
Here are a few to check out:
Il Paradiso Perduto – Fondamenta della Misericordia 2540
This is the spot to go for the famous cicchetti, from fried food of all kinds and classics like baccalà mantecato. You might want to book ahead if you plan on sitting for a meal.
Osteria Al Timon – Fondamenta degli Ormesini 2754
This is a great place to eat local Venetian while spending very little. It is a small place, what people love is that you can dine on a boat out the front. This is a great place for cicchetti and fish specialities. There is also a great wine lection.
Cantina Do Spade – Calle delle Do Spade 859
This cantina dates back to the 15th century and legend has it that it was frequented by Casanova. The atmosphere is typical Venetian bacaro, meaning it is a bit small. Call ahead and make a reservation. But for just an aperitivo, swing on by! First courses are about 14 €, while a full meal will cost you about 30 €.
Osteria Al Portego – Calle della Malvasia 6014
A favorite affordable spot in Venice serving tasty traditional dishes. Here you can enjoy a great aperitivo or sit down for a meal throughout the day. The cicchetti are mainly fish dishes, to be accompanied with local wine.