Nothing signals aperitivo time like cicchetti, small snacks unique to the bars of Venice. This is an excellent way to sample a variety of Venetian specialties without breaking the bank: ranging from about 1 to 3 Euros. Sometimes, however, you will pay extra for your drink and the treats are served buffet style at the bar. Choices vary from one bacari (small, local bars) or osteria (a small, simple restaurant) in Venice to the next. As fish is a staple of the Venetian diet, there are usually many seafood offerings options like fried smelts, shrimp or calamari. Traditional salt cod, baccalà, may be prepared as a salad or spread for toast. Other popular cicchetti items include small sandwiches, plates of charcuterie, meatballs, marinated olives or grilled vegetables, fried cheeses and rice balls called arancini. One could make a whole meal out of cicchetti nibbles, and it will probably be cheaper, better and done in a more local atmosphere than any restaurant in Venice. Servings start around 6 pm so get your cicchetti crawl on!
2. Ombra & Spritz
Don't forget an ombra or small glass of wine to go with your cicchetti (the word “ombra” literally translated means shadow/ shade). The tradition dates to when a portable wine bar scooted with the shadow of the Campanile bell tower across St. Mark’s Square. Stick with a vino bianco, vino rosso or prosecco and simply enjoy the basic house offerings that only cost a Euro or two each. Or, you might want to try another truly Venetian experience: a Spritz. This refreshing aperitif consists of wine or prosecco, sparkling water and liqueur, typically Aperol or Campari. Cin cin!
3. Seppia al nero
Cuttlefish in black Seppia al nero is a classic first dish in Venice. Chefs take the ink sack of the cuttlefish and pour it directly into the sauce where it will then turn a deep black colour. Venetians often grill the meat of the cuttlefish, which is sweet, and serve it on either a bed of linguine or risotto. It’s perhaps not the best dish to order on a date as it turns your entire mouth black and stains your teeth a bit.
4. Sarde in saor
Marinated sardines This is a typical first dish and definitely the most popular in Venice. After the sardines are cleaned and fried, they are placed in a simple agrodolce (sweet and sour) marinade of vinegar, onions, raisons and pine nuts. The combination of sweet and sour put canned versions to shame.
5. Fegato alla venesiana
Venetian liver Known for its simplicity, Fegato alla venesiana is enjoyed even by those who do not typically like eating liver. It consists of finely sliced calf liver that is cooked together with chopped and gently stewed onions, and usually served with polenta.
6. Baccalà Mantecato
Mantecato cod fish A common delicacy served throughout Venetian cicchetti bars, baccalà is codfish that’s boiled, skinned, and literally beaten to a pulp. As an antipasto it is spread on fresh bread, or over grilled polenta, another staple of the Veneto diet.
Spider crab Arranged delicately on your plate, pasta is served with a light, fresh tomato sauce from the spider crab’s shell. Not only is this plate delicious, but it makes for some great artistic photos.
8. Folpetti consi
Boiled baby octopus For the adventurous foodies, these small young octopuses are boiled typically with carrots and celery until tender, and then seasoned lightly with oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. While the flavour is delicious it is probably the texture and appearance that might throw some off.
9. Carpaccio di tonno
Tuna carpaccio This is an excellent light lunch or first dish option. The original version is made with paper-thin slices of beef drizzled with a light balsamic vinaigrette, but since fish is at its freshest in this historic city it is quite common to use steak-like fish such as tuna or swordfish.
There are many who would say you cannot leave Venice without indulging in this dessert, as it is argued that tiramisù was first created here. The original recipe called for custard and only recently has Mascarpone cheese been substituted. The basic ingredients are eggs, mascarpone cheese, Savoiardi cookies (or ladyfingers), cream, espresso coffee, and sometimes liquor like brandy, marsala, and rum. The whole thing is topped with a little bit of sugar and cocoa or shaved chocolate. Creamy and delicious, this treat will definitely give you the energy needed to endlessly wander the labyrinth that is Venice!
Where to go
• For a real fish inspired cichetti experience head to Il Paradiso Perduto. Fondamenta della Misericordia, 2540 Venice, Italy +39 041 720581.
• Whether you want to enjoy some aperitivo while admiring the Rialto or sharing a romantic dinner with that special someone, Taverna del Campiello Remer is a true gem of Venice.
• Be sure to hit up Cantinone gia' Schiavi. This 19th century bacaro is most known for its wine cellar! They have some of the most wildly inventive cichetti like smoked swordfish!
• Charming and intimate, Osteria ai 4 Feri is as authentic as it gets when it comes to local cuisine. Try the pesce fritte.
• If you are dying to try Seppia al nero then head to Al Profeta. Better known for its delicious, large pizzas, this restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes for both the adventurous and cautious of customers. Best part: you can eat underneath the stars of Venice in their backyard courtyard.
• Serving up an abundance of varied cicchetti is the famous Alla Vedova. Do not miss out on the polpettine (little meatballs) or their sepe roste (roasted squid without its ink) and their folpeti consi (baby octopus boiled with vegetables).
• Off the beaten tracks, Osteria La Bottega ai Promessi Sposi serves one of the best sarde in saor – perfect blend of acidity and sweetness.