Every traveller has a story to tell and every traveller often believes their story is the ‘real deal’ and that their piece of travel advice is not only true and correct, but the only piece worth considering. Ah yes, travel information is a competitive beast and Venice brings out the beast in many travellers! Venice of course is under attack from the boatloads of tourists that empty out on St. Mark’s square, determined to see and understand a 1,600 year history in a day! The Venetians themselves are happy to accommodate such visitors, up to a point, but will lament at days end over an ‘ombrette’ (which in Venice can be a glass of red or white wine and literally means, ‘a pick me up’), about the ruination of their once fabulous city. Venice will survive of course, but as each new generation of visitor that graces this most remarkable and beautiful of all the cities, determined to write a new and definitive chapter to how best to enjoy this city, it’s up to old stagers like myself to remind you of a few things when you are here, amongst the fading brilliance of this delicate town.
Firstly, try to eat where the grumbling locals do; yes, I know you knew that, but try doing it around 6.00pm when you will enjoy the fresher, full range of ciccheti. And pretend not for a moment that a local bar selling the Venetian version of tapas, lends itself nicely as a restaurant or an acceptable osteria; most don’t or pretend to. The locals come to these bars and cafés, these cichettere, scattered about the less trampled quarters of Cannaregio, Castello and San Polo, to enjoy a pick me up, munching on delicious bite sized, impromptu meals. A slice of bread dripping with an oily mix of artichoke and white bean, washed down with the house Soave – delicious. And that’s exactly the point; to enjoy a mixed array of these local delicacies that often includes seafood toppings with just the right number of ombre, moving on to the next locale to enjoy another mouthful, another conversation, another slice of Venetian life! Venice is not New York and come 9.00pm it will be time to head back to your hotel, happy and fulfilled, waxing lyrical about the city, its people, its problems and profound history, convinced you have a handle on it all, and for a fleeting moment, you will!
Perfect Traveller suggests you cut your teeth on this small selection of cichettere convinced that you will stumble across others that you will enjoy just as much.
Ai Promessi Sposi, 4367 Calle dell’Oca, Cannaregio (Closed Wednesday and in August) is well known amongst the local crowd. It’s white polenta of Venice is excellent as are its meatballs and baby artichokes from San Erasmo in the lagoon.
La Cantina, 3689 Strada Nuova, Cannaregio. Open from 10.00am to 10.00pm (Closed Sunday) is a new comer to this old Venetian tradition but is much frequented and much liked about town. Cichettare means to eat informally with friends and for me this is one of the great joys of life! So is their fine slivers of air-dried lamb loin and speck fanned out on a wooden board as presented to your table. Their crispy polenta with goat’s cheese and Sardinian blue cheese isn’t bad either. They have a 150 bottle wine list as well so you could be here until closing time!
Osteria Al Portego, Calle della Malvasia, Castello (Mixed opening times so best to phone first on: 041 522 9038). Enjoy their delicious cod sandwiches (I am a sandwich man after all!) and fried zucchini flower when in season. Baby octopus and marinated sardines are consistent throughout Venice but here these dishes are divine. This is a place to visit at 6.00pm to enjoy their best food.
The Venetians will tell you, “Dio te varda da un magnador che no beve” (God saves you from an eater who does not drink), so pass me the bottle and let me share a plate with you in magical Venice!