One of my favourite parts of travelling, especially in Venice, is the food. Bowls of delicious pasta, freshly caught sea food from the lagoon, creamy risotto which has been fondly nurtured by its chef, crisp pizza bases with oozing cheese, all washed down with a glass of pinot grigio or an Aperol Spritz with an olive.
Eating in Venice can be flamboyant and expensive. In fact, Venice is famed for being an expensive city on the whole but especially when it comes to food. The Grand Canal and the many squares of the city are lined with expensive and regal looking restaurants with gold leaf ceilings, white table cloths and fine china with menus which boast some unarguably magnificent dishes alongside an even greater bill. When it comes to eating out (anywhere in the world) I stand firmly against the saying “you get what you pay for” based entirely on the fact that I don’t feel comfortable dropping upwards of 250 euro on a meal for two, especially not when there are tasty morsels to be found in the small osterias found in the back streets (or calle) just a small walk from one of the ornate and grand restaurants.
You’ll see on many a travel guide that one of the number one tips is to avoid restaurants which boast a tourist menu (menu turtisco) or have photographs of uninspiring spaghetti bolognese on the window.
“Follow the locals” the guides will say, eat where they eat, drink where they drink and not only will you eat some real local dishes, you’ll also save yourself a few euro.
Look instead in the calles in the more residential areas of the city where you’ll find a crowd of local Venetians huddled come lunchtime or the small restaurants which emit a subtle yellow glow from its windows onto the cobbled streets come dinner time packed to the rafters with its diners slugging red wine from carafes and talking animatedly. These restaurants serve the tastiest local cuisines at a fraction of the price of the bigger restaurants without scrimping on flavour and often come with a better ambience.
Often these little restaurants shy away from a set menu and prepare their dishes based on whats hot and whats not at the Rialto Market that day so be sure to ask your server whether they have any specials
Some particular favourites of mine are La Cantina, Paradiso Perduto, Trattoria Alla Madonna and Ristorante Al Paradiso.
The best way to eat on a budget as you explore Venice is Ciccheti. In fact, it will actually help you explore Venice.
I’d heard of Ciccheti (pronounced chee – ke – tee) when I’d visited the city previously, but the awkward tourist in me felt out of sorts strolling into one of the many eating haunts of the locals and gesturing animatedly at a number of dishes and displaying my poor attempts at Italian. Nevertheless, armed with a brother with a foodie background and limited but passable knowledge of the Italian language (mainly the names of food), we joined our first crowd of locals to partake in what is known as a cicchetti crawl. Similar to a pub crawl in the UK but trading beer and bar nuts for small serving of local delicacies with a glass of wine or a spritz, a cicchetti crawl allows you to sample a number of different dishes as well as discovering the different neighbourhoods around the city.
Cicchetti is small snacks or side dishes usually served in bacari (wine bars) or osterias/cichetti bars and typically consists of “crostini” (slices of bread topped wit Vento meats, cheeses and vegetables), “polpette” (fried meat balls), the “sarde in saor” (sardines cooked with onion and raisins), the “baccalà mantecato” (creamed salt cod), plates of olives or other vegetables, meatballs, small servings of a combination of one or more of seafood, marinated artichoke hearts or polenta. These small snack sized plates can be purchased for a couple of euro a piece and can quite easily satisfy the rumblings of a hungry stomach after a few hours walking and are the perfect excuse to put down your travel guide and watch the everyday life of Venice go by.
Our Ciccheti Crawl
We begun our cicchetti crawl after leaving our apartment in the Santa Croce district and made our way across the Scalzi bridge by the Santa Lucia Train Station, into the Jewish Ghetto of Canneregio and then out onto the bustling Strada Nuova, down to the San Marco side of the Rialto Bridge and over into San Polo, we would stand at the bar (there is no service charge when food is eaten at the bar) or outside to watch the world go by with a Spritz, made from Aperol, Proescco (or a dry sparkling white wine), a splash of soda water and garnished with an olive or a glass of wine. Cichetti is most often enjoyed with Ombre (Italian for “shadow”), a small white glass of wine which is said to take its name from the time when locals would enjoy a glass of wine on the now tourist busy St Marks Square. To be enjoyed at it’s best, white wine must be served cold and as such the shade is where the wine would be served and such, the name “ombre” was coined. We spent between 15-20 euro in each Cichetti bar for four people including a drink, these local small plates are a cheaper alternative to sitting down for a full meal.