The Foods of Venice

Updated on September 7, 2017
Anne Harrison profile image

I fell in love with Florence at the age of 10, and have travelled widely since, discovering new places - but there are always more to find!

© A Harrison
© A Harrison

Traditional Foods of Venice

Venice is defined by the sea. Indeed, it is rumoured her gondoliers are born with webbed feet, to help them walk on water. It is only natural, then, for seafood to feature heavily on any menu.

To see the abundance of seafood in Venice, visit the Rialto markets as the first light of day breaks over the city. Stalls groan under the weight of all the sea has to offer: fish of every size and colour, crabs, shellfish, sea snails, sea urchins, mussels; the variety is truly amazing. I couldn’t recognise much of what was on sale. Besides the offerings of the sea, there are also fresh water fishes (including eels), the best which come, or so the stall-holders told me, from Lake Garda.

Along with the seafood, the vegetable and fruits make a colourful display. Venice might rise from the sea, but the Veneto boasts a large and lush hinterland where market gardens abound, producing an incredible array of vegetables. Some of the more famous are the asparagus from Bassano di Grappa, the deep crimson radicchio, and purple artichokes from the Venetian island Sant’ Erasmo.

With rice introduced from Spain by the Arabs, this is also Italy’s main rice growing region. Giving a lush, creamy texture when cooked, the variety vialo nenano grown near Verona is preferred over the more traditional Arborio rice for risotto,

Should you ever tire of the seafood, cattle, lamb and pork are farmed on these fields. Game is a common feature on the daily specials of a menu. There are also farms for ducks, geese and all types of poultry. Salame d’oca (goose salami) is traditional antipasto fare.

There is always somewhere interesting to dine in Venice (c) A. Harrison
There is always somewhere interesting to dine in Venice (c) A. Harrison

Influences on Venetian Cuisine

Venice rose to power on the basis of her trade, and this is evident in her cuisine. The traditional style of cooking is light and fragrant—for example, fish is usually grilled or poached, rather than covered with heavy sources. The colours reflect the palette of the Venetian artists, and the influence of centuries of trading with the East cannot be ignored. There is the gold of saffron, the use of spices (ginger and nutmeg, cloves, coriander cinnamon dominate), dried fruits such as apricots and figs, as well as nuts and pulses.

With the Veneto bordering on the Alps, there is also an Austrian influence in her cooking. (Most squeraroli – the artisans who build gondolasa – originally come from the Tylrolean area of the Dolomites, for this is where the best boat-building wood is still grown.) Menus will boast sauerkraut, dumplings and goulash, as well as apfel strudel.

Coffee is another important item on the Venetian menu. Coffee arrived in Venice via Egypt in the late 16th century, brought by Arab traders. Initially deemed sinful, this ‘wine of Arabia’ was all too readily adopted by the city’s merchants. The first cafés open in Venice around 1645, and the famous Café Florian in the Piazza San Marco opened its doors in 1720, and remains open today, complete with string quartet.

View from my room, where I watched a grandma cooking for her family (c) A.Harrison
View from my room, where I watched a grandma cooking for her family (c) A.Harrison

Some Venetian Antipasto

Frutti di mare: a selection of fresh seafood, fresh from the morning market

Bagnacauda: a hot sauce heavily flavoured with anchovies. It comes with a selection of raw vegetables for dipping into it.

Or try a platter of dried meats (especially salame d’oca or goose salami), crostini, dried fruits and nuts

Deciphering the Venetian Menu

The menu is divided into Antipasto – literally, before the meal, in which shell fish predominates. This is followed by Il Primo, which is usually a soup, risotto or pasta dish, then Il Secondo (meat, chicken or seafood) and, of course, Il Dolce.

Both vegetables (il contorno) and salad (insalata) are ordered separately. Along with desert, there will also be a choice (or combination) of frutts (fruit) and Il Formaggio (cheese).

A quiet corner in Venice (c) A.Harrison
A quiet corner in Venice (c) A.Harrison

Il Primo: Some Suggestions

Pasta e fagioli: a thick, rustic soup

Polenta: made from cornmeal originally imported from America

Risi e bisi: a risotto with fresh peas and parmesan, sometimes with the addition of ham

Riso nero: a risotto stained blue-black from cuttlefish ink

Zuppa di Cozze: Mussels steamed with white wine, garlic and parsley, and served with crusty bread to soak up the sauce

A floating Venetian market (c) A. Harrison
A floating Venetian market (c) A. Harrison

Alle Veneziane—Not to Be Missed

Brodo di pesce - fish soup (delightfully simple, and varies daily depending upon what is available in the markets)

Carpione - Trout from Lake Garda

Moleche trite - Soft-shelled crabs from the Venetian lagoon,lightly fried.

Sarde in soar - A Venetian specialty of fried sardines on a bed of onions sautéed until they are melting, and pine nuts.

Seppie alla veneziana - Cuttlefish cooked in their own ink

Spaghetti alle vongole - Spaghetti with clams (which are tiny and sweet) One of my favourites.

Tiramisu - (the name means “pick me up”) A classic Italian desert of mascarpone, sponge fingers, coffee and marsala, claimed by the Venetians as their own

Il Secondo

Abbacchio: Baked leg or shoulder of lamb, often flavored with anchovies

Anguilla del pescatore: Stewed eel

Anguilla alla veneziana: Eel in a tuna and lemon sauce

Baccalà alla veneziana: A traditional meal of dried salt cod, often cooked in milk

Bisato sul’aro: Eel baked with bay leaves. This dish originates from Murano, where it was traditionally cooked in the glass furnaces.

Cozze: Mussles

Fegato alla venetian: Thin slices of calf’s liver, cooked lightly and served on a bed of sautéed onions

Fritto mist: A medley of deep-fried fish, squid and shellfish,

Involtini: Thinly sliced beef, pork or veal, which is rolled around a variety of fillings, then gently pan fried. It is usually served with a tomato or cream based sauce

Lavarelli al vino bianco: A fresh-water fish served in white wine

Pesci al cartoccio: Fish baked in paper

Sogliola: Sole

Ah, Venice (c) A. Harrison
Ah, Venice (c) A. Harrison

Prosecco: The Venetian Bubbles

Prosecco is a sparkling wine from the Veneto. It originated in Conegliano, and may be dry - secco or moderately sweet - amabile. It also comes semi-sparkling – frizzante – and fully sparkling – spumante.

Combining it with fresh white peach juice makes the famous Bellini; with orange – mimosa; red grape juice – Tizano; with campari – Prosecco sprtiz.

What to Drink in Venice?

With the history of wine making in Italy dating over 3000 yrs, one becomes spoilt for choice. The Veneto boasts Italy’s largest production of superior DOC wines. Some reliable producers include Bardolino, Valpolicella, Breganze, Venegazzù and Pieropan.

White wines come from around Soave. Red wines are grown mainly between Lake Garde and Verona, predominantly form the corvine grape, but also from cabernet sauvignon and merlot varietals.

Prosecco is often drunk as an aperitif, while Grappa is drunk as a digestive after the meal—alone with a strong espresso.

And afterwards? Simply wander and enjoy the delights of Venice—preferably with a gelato in hand—or else find a place to sip a glass of prosecco or a strong coffee, and watch the world go by.

Always something different to find in Venice (c) A. Harrison
Always something different to find in Venice (c) A. Harrison

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Anne Harrison

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      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Hi Stella,

        Time to visit your relatives and make a detour to Venice! Glad you enjoyed,

        Anne

      • ladyguitarpicker profile image

        stella vadakin 3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

        Never been there but have family living in Italy. Liked the photos and all that you have shared. Stella

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Hi RTalloni,

        Wouldn't you just love that grandma! Have fun when you get there, and a glass of prosecco for me.

        Anne

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

        Okay, I'm packing. And when I arrive my first sentence will be, "One of each please." Enjoyed the pictures you've shared, especially the view from your room. Not everyone has a grandma like that!

      • Robin Kommer profile image

        Robin Kommer 3 years ago from Australia

        thanks Anne. Im happy to have returned to the "Hub" and enjoying all narratives and dialogues, photos and incentives that people post. Take care Anne

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Nothing like a touch of Italy in your home. Ah, Venice! I'm glad to make you hungry, Robin.

      • Robin Kommer profile image

        Robin Kommer 3 years ago from Australia

        After reading your descriptive narrative, I feel like cooking up a seafood delight in the kitchen. I'm hungry now. We'll done Annie

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Dear ChitrangadaSharan,

        You're right - Venice is truly an amazing place, and I hope to return and try more delicacies. I'm glad you enjoyed my hub.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

        Venice is an amazing place. I had the pleasure of visiting and enjoying most of the foods you have mentioned above.

        Thank you for this informative and interesting hub!

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Dear Raynold P,

        Thanks for your suggestions. There are too many choices to list - not to mention simply buying something incredibly fresh from the local markets or an alimentari. Ah, Venice.

        Thanks for stopping by,

        Anne

      • Raynold P profile image

        Raynold P 3 years ago

        Hello Anne, your hub's very interesting! I could recommend to you this blog about the food and the wine of Venice www.venicewinetour.com/blog/

        You should add two dishes to your list: baccalà alla Vicentina and Bigoli in Salsa.I really loved the sarde in saor and the mozzarella in carrozza, definitely my favourite cicchetti! Thank you!!

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Who doesn't love Venice! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, and I hope I've inspired you to either return to Venice, or try cooking the dishes at home.

      • Anita lesic profile image

        Dream Lover 3 years ago from Zagreb

        Hi Anne :* This is very good hub. Sarde in soar- very tasty dish ;) I love Venice.

      • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

        Jonn Ross Christie 3 years ago from Australia

        Yes indeed Anne talking of simple food how hard would be to make dumplings? I had some for lunch while mum and i were at Erina Fair yesterday very nice too :) And can't wait to go to Italy or France one day and eat my way through food heaven.

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Thank you one and all for your comments. Jonn, the best meals are often the simplest. I've been fortunate enough to travel, which sparked my ever growing love of food.

        billybuc, armchair travel is always a delight, but I hope one day you get to visit some of the places you've read about. I'm honoured if I have inspired you.

        travmaj, the food of Italy is indeed wonderful, and so different across the country. It features heavily in their literature as well. Ah, La dolce vita!

        Thank you for taking the time to read my hub

      • travmaj profile image

        travmaj 3 years ago from australia

        Anne, I love Venice, what a city. And how the Italians love to eat and eat and eat. Most interesting hub love the food descriptions. Thank you...

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I count on writers like you to teach me about the world I have never seen. Thank you.

      • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

        Jonn Ross Christie 3 years ago from Australia

        A most informative and interesting an inspired hub Anne :) wish i could cook thank you for posting this hub

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