Shortly I’m off for a glorious 12 day vacation in Venice, a long-overdue excursion to Italy for the sweetie and I this year. It’s been five years since we’ve visited this wonderful and unique place and I just can’t wait to get lost in its winding streets and canals once more…and of course, to enjoy Venetian food once again!
In my opinion, Venice has a really bad rap among foodies. They will haughtily tell you that there is nothing worth eating in Venice unless you make reservations months in advance and are willing to spend hundreds of Euros…that everything else is microwaved tourist trap chow. Well, I call B.S. on that. Of course there ARE plenty of tourist traps in the city. But if you are willing to explore off the beaten paths, willing to savor simple food with the fishermen and others who just want a satisfying fritto misto or sarde in saor, there is much to be enjoyed in Venice – and a doorway to exploring new culinary delights.
Alas, when we first visited I was just a budding foodie so I did not keep careful notes of every restaurant we visited, what we ate, how it was. But I clearly remember our first meal in a tiny courtyard somewhere lost far from our apartment near San Marco: sarde in saor, a salad of arugula and rock shrimp; fritto misto and small pan-sauteed fish that made me swoon because it really was just like momma used to make – Marcella Hazan’s pan-fried porgies recipe which was a staple in my grandmother’s kitchen as a child. It felt like a homecoming.
On Venice I learned to appreciate a “true” Italian pizza vs. the Americanized, sloppy greasy version so prevalent in the states. A seafood pizza (no cheese, of course!) with mussels still in their shell, breaking open in the oven to release their wonderful juices.
On Venice I enjoyed a perfect, simple grilled branzino in a tiny osteria in Cannarregio, drinking cheap Tocai wine while the owner serenaded us while playing his Casio keyboard.
On Venice, we dined in an osteria where the fisherman came in and sang over toasts of prosecco all night, where I had crab linguine served from the shell of the crab itself.
On nearby Burano, we sampled baby octopus – interesting yet challenging – while marveling as our Italian neighbor spent thirty minutes deboning his fish of the day with the precision of a surgeon.
On Venice, we stumbled into Ristorante Cantina Cannaletto (the only place I remember by name, because I photographed their sign) during torrential rains while hungry, cranky and soaking. While the first room looked dismally like the typical tourist trap, we were (for some reason) lead into the wine cellar instead, where our waiter treated us to an amazing feast of grilled scampi, eggplant-wrapped swordfish and seafood puttanesca. It was one of those meals to remember for a lifetime.
In Venice, perhaps, I first truly became a “foodie” – willing to try new things without question (though I drew the line at Venetian liver, something I’m determined to try this time around.) Whether trying all varieties of seafood or hunting for one of the few remaining cichetti bars, sampling local wines over cheese and sausage and fried rice balls, Venice is a culinary adventure worth savoring if you’re willing to explore with your eyes peeled – and stomach open.
I WILL miss feeding the pigeons, though. 🙁