Eat Drink Venice

Tourist pizza Venice
It is all too easy to go to Venice (or anywhere in Italy) and sit outdoors at a café, under an umbrella, on a plastic wicker chair – just like at home at a cheap Italian themed chain restaurant. And the food will be as bad (and more expensive) than those same theme restaurants at home. But it doesn’t have to be like that, just watch where the locals seem to go and give that a try instead. Back when I was a young backpacker I was pretty happy with over-cheesy, over-greasy faux-italian, but now I want to find the genuine local food, I want to eat and drink well in Venice.

First: What not to do.

There was a tourist restaurant, right next to my hotel, a block from Plaza San Marco (the Hotel Al Ponti dei Sospiri was brilliant by the way). On my first evening, succumbing to jet lag and sore feet from walking, I decided this would be good enough. It wasn’t. I didn’t make that mistake again for the rest of my stay. If the menu looks a lot like this one above at Trattoria Canonica, if it is headed “Pizza + Soft Drink” and has a special price in a big star, it’s probably best to avoid it.

5 ways to eat and drink well in Venice.
Venice Bacari
  1. The markets. Head to the Rialto markets first thing in the morning and stock up on your own supplies from the fruit and vege stalls and specialty stores. Bread, cheese, cured meats, sweet treats, can all be picked up for a picnic breakfast or lunch, sitting under a tree in cobblestoned square, or watching out over a canal. It’s all fresh, it’s tasty and there’s a huge variety
  2. Caffeine. No surprise that Italians do coffee well, and as I love my coffee black, I was in coffee heaven in the morning, sampling perfect little expresso and ristretto. For the best coffee go into the little ‘stand up” bars, where the patrons order and then drink their coffee while standing up at the bar – don’t look for sit-down coffee shops. A bonus first thing in the morning was finding I was drinking my coffee while standing next to Gondoliers, resplendent in their black and white stripes, who were knocking back their expresso shots and then putting some muscle into getting a perfect shine on the paintwork and gilding of their gondolas- fun to watch while drinking my coffee.
  3. Drinks. Prosecco is my local summer favourite, and of course you can’t be in Venice and not try the Bellini – Prosecco and peach nectar. You can pay a small fortune for bad service at the famous Harry’s Bar, or pay only half a fortune at any flash outdoor waterfront bar on the bigger canals, which is a nice way to watch the sun set in the evening. In cooler months I found there are some great red wines to sample from the surrounding region, particularly the pinot noirs (Pinot Nero).  
    Venice Bacari
  4. Bacari. These are the local taverns, mainly small, hole-in-the-wall places. Many double as stand up coffee bars in the morning. But it’s not just drinks, they also serve a selection of appetisers or small dish snacks, called cichetti in Venetian dialect. (It sounds something like “cheekattee” with accent on “a”.) You can create your own dinner or graze from one Bacari to another. Some may also have tables to sit at, some may have a dinner menu in addition to the cichetti, but most customers will be standing at the bar, ordering their wine and their desired snacks. It’s fair to say that I fell in love this this style of establishment, food, and drink, and sampled far too many of them. The variety and quality was amazing. Here’s some of the cichetti I sampled:
    1. a single boiled egg skewered with an anchovy,
    2. fresh sardines in tomato sauce
    3. Calamari in black ink sauce
    4. numerous versions of bruschetta – tomato, salmon and cheese; gorgonzola and walnut; raw white fish with tomato; prosciutto;.
    5. and the places I ate at included
      1. Al Stagneri on Calle dei Stagneri. It also has an amazing roof inside  – look up from your bar stool.
      2. Osteria De Carla in a laneway off Frezzaria – you’ll see it at the end of the tunnel, the bruschetta selection was phenomenal and went well with a cool prosecco; it also has a sit-down restaurant part but I didn’t try that.
      3. Bar Piccolo Martini, also on Frezzaria, had beautiful dainty fresh little sandwiches.
  5. Restaurants – I was very happy sticking to Bacari for lunch and dinner every day, until I stopped off at a cool wine bar for a late afternoon glass one day. Not only was the wine bar and it’s wine list lovely, but it was part of a cool restaurant with a mouth watering menu. I decided to splash out for the evening. The place was Osteria-Enoteca San Marco, on Frezzaria just west of San Marco Square – it was a modern take on Italian cooking, I can still taste the perfect gorgonzola and asparagus soufflé I had there.

Do you have a favourite spot to eat in Venice -do share!

5 good reasons to get up early in Venice

I am a fan of the holiday sleep-in, but I can be persuaded to be an early riser if the reasons are good enough.

It is a bit of an understatement to say that Venice is popular with tourists. Venice is small (and expensive), many visitors come in on day trips and stay outside on the mainland overnight, therefore from about 9am to 5pm it is even more crowded. If you are lucky enough to be staying in Venice itself, make the most of both ends of the day, and her charms will be easier to enjoy.

5 reasons to get up early in Venice


1.            The Rialto Markets. The markets which are open from 8am – these are the produce markets that the locals still treat as their local grocery store. The stalls are piled high with deliciously fresh fruit, veges and fish, and the surrounding small shops have bread and cheeses and meats of all descriptions. I love how every stallholder displays their produce in beautiful and creative patterns, they take their design ethic seriously here. Getting here early before the crowds means the stallholders have time to chat to you, and offer you tastings of their wares. At 8am only the produce market is open, the souvenir stands open later, and the Rialto bridge is almost empty. And you can stock up on supplies for your breakfast or lunch as well.

2.            Photography. Get your camera and head outside, the light will be softer and your photos will show the tones and shades of Venice so much better than in the midday sun. And there will be less crowds to shoot around.  In a place like Venice, where clichés like “beauty around every corner” seem very true, I am guilty of getting carried away snapping every thing I see, every minute. So to slow down and get some perspective I signed up for a photography tour one morning (starting early). For two hours I had a photo guide show me new ways to capture the iconic views, as well as hidden corners I may never have stumbled on by myself. More than just photography tips, I also learned interesting tales of history, geography, and how it was as a city to live in now. I’d think you would get value from this whether you are a holiday snapper or a keen enthusiast.

3.            Avoid the crowds. Only once I’d seen the shoulder to shoulder crush in St Marks Square at lunchtime did I really understand how unusually good it is to be in central Venice with no crowds. I can see the Bridge of Sighs without peering over someone else’s shoulder (if only it wasn’t covered in scaffolding and advertisements). I can wander around St Marks Square, get right up close with the detail on the arches on the front of the Bascilica, then stand way back and get the whole vista. I can lie on the ground and peer up at the Campanile (not recommended in the months when Venice is flooded). I get to see rows of gondola tied up together in front of the square, gently bobbing in their bright blue covers, and I can step back to get them in a panorama shot without anyone walking in front of my camera. I can watch the city wake up and come alive. And then when the crowds do arrive, I can breeze past them to all the best sights because I have booked my entry tickets and skip the line passes in advance, for the first timeslot of the day.

4.            Gondolier Spotting. I really enjoyed grabbing an early morning expresso in a hole-in-the-wall café, watching the gondoliers turn up in their black and white striped jumpers, see them throw back their own coffee at the counter in front of me, and then head outside to watch them polish up their boats ready for the day. How to find them? Go (early) to the edge of any canal (not the Grand Canal, go somewhere smaller) where there are gondolas tied up for the night, pop into the nearest coffee shop you can see, stand at the counter with your own caffeine fix and they will be there.

5.            Earning my siesta. By the time it’s the middle of the day, crowded and hot, I now feel justified in taking a siesta, or at least a very long lunch under a shaded umbrella with a good view over the canal. I can watch everyone else get hot and bothered, and then by late afternoon I can head out again, all refreshed, as the crowds start to thin.