Eating in Italy is, on the whole, easy – in my experience, at least, I haven’t exactly struggled to find good, solid food all over the country. Except, that is, in Venice.
Yes, the food scene in Venice is a bit trickier than other parts of Italy. While I ultimately discovered a few restaurants that I quite enjoyed during my time in the city, the truth is that there are SO, so many other places that are unfortunate: super cheesy, poor quality food, and exorbitant prices. Not surprising, given how frustratingly touristy Venice can be.
That’s why, when it came to planning my time in Venice, I knew a food tour would be more essential here than elsewhere. And that is what, in turn, led me to discover a term that was heretofore unknown to me: cicchetti, which are essentially to Venice what tapas are to Spain. As I learned on my Walks of Italy food tour, in a town where high quality sit-down restaurants can be tough to find, hopping from bar to bar in search of cicchetti just may be a hungry visitor’s safest bet.
Cicchetti are served at bàcari, little, local bars hidden among Venice’s winding streets. We visited three bàcari on our tour, plus made stops at the Rialto Market, the fish market, and a cafe for a grand grappa finale.
First up was Al Merca, a tiny bar not far from the Rialto. Here, we tried two sandwiches. One was made with sopressa, a typical local salami. It was good, but the other was the star: it contained San Daniele ham, a soft robiola cheese, and grated truffle, and was amazing – the cheese complemented the meat perfectly. We washed it all down with a local Prosecco, made in the hills around Treviso and naturally fermented (unlike much of the Prosecco you will find in Venice, which is artificially created like sparkling water).
As we made our way to our next stop, we passed through Venice’s bustling Rialto Market (more on that in a later post), wandered along a cute stretch of canal (though, aren’t they all?), and peeked into shop windows (the spice shop was definitely my favorite).
We finally reached our next stop, All’Arco. This bàcaro was all about the seafood: we tried one piece of bread topped with baccalà mantecato (a cod spread) and another with anchovy and gorgonzola. I was initially unsure how I would feel about the anchovy, though this turned out to be a tasty bite, albeit a strong, salty one, especially when paired with a sharp gorgonzola. We accompanied these bites with a glass of verduzzo, a white wine from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.
Keeping with the fishy theme, we next popped into the fish market selling seafood fresh from the lagoon around Venice and the Adriatic Sea. Each stall was fascinating – and more than a little smelly.
Our third stop was Do Spade, a venerable institution dating back to the 15th century; in fact, Casanova even mentioned the bar in his memoirs. While sipping on glasses of merlot, we tried several tasty snacks: mozzarella in carrozza (little fried mozzarella sandwiches with ham or anchovy inside), meatballs with tomato and polenta sauce, and fried calamari.
We finished our walking tour at Caffe Del Doge. Here, we ended our meal with two very strong drinks: grappa (a variety so strong I could not finish my glass) and espresso (paired with an essi, an S-shaped cookie). Talk about ending with a jolt!
I loved learning about Venice’s bàcari; these are exactly the sort of tiny, unassuming places a visitor to the city might easily overlook if they weren’t playing close attention. I was delighted to try a few of them (as was my stomach).