What to eat in Venice: traditional cicchetti food
It's easy to see why the tourists flock to Venice. Italy's floating city, it boasts unforgettable sight after unforgettable site: dazzling buildings perched atop rippling waves, colourful gondolas floating through famous waterways and an intoxicating atmosphere unlike anywhere in the world.
Venice is a small town of around 60,000 people, yet every year it attracts over 10 million tourists: and the number is growing!
Whilst it is easy to think this could taint the authenticity of the city, there are still countless ways to explore Venice at its very core. To truly sample the real Venice, and live like a local.
What to eat in Venice.
One of the best ways to do this, is find the hidden gems of the Venetian food scene. Whilst a large proportion of the city's restaurants will be catered to tourists, there are still ways to taste true Venetian cuisine with a strong Italian vibe.
Our suggestion? Take to the back streets and explore the various bacari (local 'pubs' with a homely and thriving atmosphere... picture something between a restaurant and a wine bar!) for some pre-dinner cicchetti!
There are different ideas about where the name "bacari" comes from. Firstly, the word stems from bacaro, a term which itself derived from "Bacchus": God of wine! However, other theories suggest it takes itself from the Venetian phrase, "far bacara", meaning to celebrate. But many also believe that it was the name given (at one time) to the winegrowers and winemakers perusing Venice with their barrels of wine for sale at St Mark’s Square, along with small snacks. All sound very reasonable to us!
What is Cicchetti?
Venice is famed for its delicious cicchetti! Local appetizers that line the counters of bustling bacari around town, they're the Venetian answer to Spanish Tapas! The name itself comes from the dialect term "cicheti" that is derived from the Latin "ciccus" (small amount).
The now popular act of stopping at a bacaro for cicchetti is drawn from many years back when working men would stop off at a osteria for cheap nibbles and an "ombra" (glass of wine) to get an early start on their drinking. This act fell out of fashion before it was given a gourmet makeover: suddenly the wines started to come from reputable firms and the dishes were exquisitely made and irresistible to taste.
This local tradition gained momentum until it became a cultural phenomenon. Now head over at the end of a work day and you'll find a gaggle of people stood at the bars enjoying these delicacies with a crisp glass of wine: the perfect way to toast another beautiful evening in the fairy tale city!
What will I get in cicchetti?
Well, it depends where you go! Every bar offers a different take on this mouth-watering buffet, but you can expect to find treats such as folpetti (small octopus that is perhaps the most typical addition to the menu) deep fried mozzarella, calamari, artichoke hearts, crostini, marinated seafood, stuffed olives and fresh meats and cheeses. But the list could go on... and on... and on!
You'll find that all the luscious options are laid on large platters behind the bar: so even if your Italian is a little rusty, you can just point to your top choices! A portion tends to cost about 2 – 4 euro, so it's ideal for a pre-dinner snack (especially if you are still getting used to the stylishly late dinner times in Italy)!
Wash it down with a glass of their local wine, a light prosecco or even a (much loved) Spritz. Bliss!
What is the best way to enjoy cicchetti?
A cicchetti crawl, of course! Once you've taken to Venice's backstreets (a pleasure in itself – here you will experience the city in its natural state... a lively experience with the locals!), pass from bacari to bacari sampling the different varieties offered at every bar.
Not only will you get to taste the high quality food from a range of different sources, but you will also have the joy of sitting in these quirky bars with a friendly crowd. You can even turn it into dinner itself – the food is substantial enough!
Bear in mind that the bacari don't tend to stay open late, so we would suggest starting early (around 6pm), as many will close by 9pm.
Round it off in your favourite bar, tasting a mixed platter al fresco as the sun sets over this unbelievable city. A true Venetian evening.