It might sound surprising, but in Venice, Italy pasta is not the star of the Venetian food show. Yes, there is pasta in Venice like bigoli, but the carbs that rule the day are bread, polenta, and rice. It should however come as no surprise that many traditional Venetian dishes shine a spotlight on fish like Bigoli is Salsa, Sarde in Saor, and Baccalà Mantecato. Instead of just sharing what to eat in Venice, we’re going deeper.
What to Eat in Venice
Below are 10 popular dishes to eat in Venice, where you can find them and Venetian recipes videos to try Venetian food at home. Plus, for the foodie geeks who like me are never satisfied with just the “What the Eat” or the “Where to Eat” at the end of the post there is also the “Why.” Meaning if Cod is not native to the Venetian lagoon why is Baccalà part of Venetian cuisines? Ready to get hungry? Here are 10 Venetian food favorites to eat in Venice, Italy.
Thanks to cruise ships, a lot of travelers only have one day in Venice. If you only have one day to eat like a Venetian in Venice, visit a Bacaro (wine bar) where you can indulge in a selection of Cicchetti. Why? Two reasons. Cicchetti are inexpensive (around 2€ a piece) and small providing a quick way to sample many different traditional Venetian flavors in a bite or two. Plus, Cicchetti are the Venetian food Venice is arguably most known for because of the culture surrounding them. Cicchetti replace a formal sit-down meal and are usually eaten while enjoying an aperitif with friends. Headed to Venice for the first time? Here’s how to properly pronounce Cicchetti. Here’s a look at traditional Venetian Cicchetti in Bacari in Venice.
2. Sarde in Saor
Sarde in Saor are sardines that have been floured, fried, and chilled before being preserved in a sweet and sour onion marinade. It might sound a bit odd but, Sarde in Saor are a complex mix of bright and umami flavors. New to Sarde in Saor and not sure about trying it? Be on the lookout for Cicchetti topped with Sarde in Saor at one of the many Bacari in Venice. These small bites offer the perfect opportunity to try this uniquely Venetian preparation.
3. Bigoli in Salsa
Bigoli is the pasta of Venice. Think of a thick spaghetti made with buckwheat or whole wheat flour and sometimes eggs which give the pasta a bit more bite. “In salsa” refers to the way the pasta is dressed or sauced and in Venice Bigoli in Salsa is pasta in an anchovy sauce. The sauce is a simple recipe. Onions and anchovies are sauteed in a bit of olive oil, yet it’s still incredibly flavorful. Although salted sardines are traditional many home cooks in Italy make a version with anchovies for ease like the adorable Grannie in the video below. In Venice, informal Osteria like Osteria alla Staffa are the best places to try Bigoli in Salsa.
Lightly fried and eaten whole Moeche are small green soft shell crabs caught in the Venetian lagoon. Sweet, briny, and perfectly crisp “a delicacy on par with the white truffle.” Ben Tish — The Guardian It can be tricky to spot Moeche in Venice for two reasons. One they get called by many names including moleche, moeche, and moeca in Venetian dialect. Two they are not available year-round. Look for Moeche on menus on the island of Burano come fall and spring. The video below is a look at the crabs themselves.
Here’s a look at the Moeche before my husband devoured them at Trattoria Alla Maddalena.
5. Mozzarella in Carrozza, Venetian-Style
Imagine a deep-fried grilled cheese sandwich made with mozzarella and you’ve got Mozzarella in Carrozza (in a carriage). Although Mozzarella in Carrozza is a traditional Neapolitan recipe from the beginning of the nineteenth century, they are popular in Venetian bacari. The twist? Venetian style Mozzarella in Carrozza are often elevated with the addition of anchovy or prosciutto. They are also larger, puffier, and crispier because Venetians batter Mozzarella in Carrozza before they fry them.
6. Risotto al Nero di Seppia
Across all of Italy, the primo (first course) is usually a filling dish. In Venice, Risotto al Nero di Seppia (risotto cooked with cuttlefish ink) is a common favorite. Nero di Seppia (black squid ink) can be a bit shocking for those unacquainted, but few single ingredients can bring more flavor and fragrance from the lagoon to a dish. In our experience, few places beat Al Gatto Nero in Burano for dishes with Nero di Seppia.
7. Baccalà Mantecato
My husband and I love Baccalà so much we served it at our wedding. Baccalà Mantecato is salt cod soaked and cooked in milk, then mixed with olive oil. The result is a pâté consistency that’s versatile enough to be eaten alone, on top of polenta, or as Polpette. Baccalà might be a dried fish from the north Atlantic, but Venetian society claimed Baccalà as a culinary muse long ago. In Venice Curious why? Don’t miss the Venetian Food History section at end of this article. Head to All’Arco to sample some of the best Baccalà in Venice.
8. Polenta di Mais Bianco
Polenta is often served in the Veneto region as a base for meat and game ragu. In Venice where fish and seafood reign Polenta di Mais Bianco (white corn polenta) is preferred for its surprisingly delicate flavor. In Bacaro Polenta di Mais Bianco is often used in its hard form sliced and toasted. In restaurants, it’s often in its softer more liquid form. Adriatico Mar is a Bacaro in Venice known for its white polenta Cicchetti.
9. Polpette di Tonno
Polpette typically means meatballs, but in Venice be on the lookout for fishballs like Polpette Di Tonno (of tuna) and Polpette di Baccalà. Vegetarians are not left out though. Some of the best Polpette in Venice include vegetarian options like the ones found at Cantina Azienda Agricole.
10. Charcuterie & Formaggio With Natural Prosecco
Since the entire region of Veneto is known for its charcuterie and cheese, Venice presents the perfect opportunity to bring them together with a bottle of UNESCO World Heritage awarded Prosecco PDO white sparking wine! Whenever we go to Venice Paolo and I do nothing more than eat, drink prosecco, walk around, repeat. During each of our trips, we make sure to indulge in as many Charcuterie and Formaggio boards as we can find paired with a bottle of Prosecco. We highly recommend doing the same! My next post includes a roundup of our favorite places to eat in Venice. Subscribe below to get the list and access to a map of Food Recommendations for Venice, Italy. Keep scrolling for a little bit of Venetian Food History.
Venetian Food History
In a way, Venetian cuisine and real estate share one very important principle. Location, location, location. As an island in the middle of a lagoon, Venetian cuisine is flush with fresh fish, crabs, and mollusks. Take for example those Moeche mentioned above. Moeche have been a prized Venetian dish for over 300 years. Historically, fresh fish from the lagoon wasn’t the only location perk for Venice. Salt from the coastal town of Chioggia (a commune of Venice) was another. Nicknamed “White Gold” for its economic impact due to preservation qualities salt helped Venetions grow rich.
This ties into the third location perk for Venice. Thanks once again to location Venice grew to become the heart of the Mediterranean trading scene. Perched on the Adriatic Seashore with the Byzantine Empire and Near East traders in reach, Venice was instrumental in supplying the growing European market with goods. Between fish from the lagoon, salt, and trading Venetians grew wealthy and could afford to buy any food product being traded through the area. They could also build ships to explore. This is how Baccalà Mantecato was first introduced to Venice and ships have been bring
How Baccalà Mantecato Was Introduced to Venice
The story behind Baccalà Mantecato’s introduction to Venice is a complete accident. In 1432 a Venetian merchant named Pietro Querini had a little problem with his ship after he wrecked it off the Lofoten islands in Norway. Local fishermen eventually rescued the Venetian sailors, bringing them safely to the island of Roest. It was here that Pietro Querini and his crew first saw Cod being dried in the open air for preservation.
Fish that is dried in the wind, ends up hard and needs to be manipulated to an edible form. It was the Norwegians that taught Pietro Querini’s crew how to spice and beat dried cod to soften it up. On his return to Venice, Pietro brought dried cod and the technique of making Baccalà Mantecato with him. Ships have been sailing back and forth between Venice and Norway ever since.
If you have eight minutes, the video below does a great job explaining the history of Venice as a trading empire.
So there you have it! The answer to the question “What” to eat in Venice. Plus a little bit of Venetian food history for the “why.” All you really need now is the “Where.” Join us right here on ALOR Italy for our next post which includes a Venice, Italy food map you can tap into on your iPhone for that trip to Venice! Between the What, Why, and Where you’ll be all set to eat like a Venetian in Venice!
Venetian Food References
- The Authentic Venezia Website Locally run resource
- Venetian Style Mozzarella in Carrozza
- The Guardian Venice Moeche Soft Shell Crabs
- Eataly Guide to Veneto
- Venezia Autentica: Venetian Food
- UNESCO: Venice
- Venice and It’s Lagoons
- The Salt of Venice
- Monica Cesarato The Origins of Baccala Mantecato
- Great Italian Chefs: Fish Varieties Venice
- Do Eat Better Experience: Mozzarella in Carrozza Venetian Style