Real Holidays’ Chris is taken on an insider’s tour of Venetian street food…
“Aperitivo is not just having a drink – we must eat too.”
So says local guide Simonetta while she leads my street-food-themed walking tour of Venice. Ahead of this, a first visit to the city, I had been determined to avoid the tourist traps and overpriced pizzerias around St Mark’s Square in favour of eating like a resident does. Perhaps unsurprisingly for somewhere built on water, shellfish turns out to feature heavily in Venice’s cuisine – and specifically in cicchetti, Venetian tapas-style bites which accompany almost every glass of wine or luminous (and seemingly ubiquitous) Aperol spritz. “We eat so that we can drink more,” explains Simonetta.
My wife Suzie and I first meet Simonetta mid-morning in Campo Santa Margherita, an attractive square which thrums daily with students and friends meeting for drinks. From there we set off into the quiet lanes of Venice’s central San Polo district.
After visiting the Tintoretto-laden Scuola Grande di San Rocco, we arrive at our first stop. Acqua & Mais is a hole-in-the-wall food stall serving up grilled or fried seafood and polenta in paper cones to be eaten da portare via (to go). The queue of busy Venetians forming outside the open kitchen bodes well, and Simonetta’s recommendation of the signature fritto misto (fried mixed seafood including squid and shrimp) proves well-founded. Lightly kissed by lemons and lacking any semblance of grease, the snack’s fresh taste is exquisite – and this at a €5 price which seems like theft compared to some of the city’s notoriously overpriced restaurants.
We move on to the bustling Rialto Market where, under ancient vaults, vendors hawk fish, vegetables and fruit freshly ferried in from the lagoon. Then comes Osteria Bancogiro, a superior Venetian bacari (wine bar) amid an old warehouse right at the Rialto Bridge’s foot. Superb wines and cicchetti are offered, as well as prime Grand Canal views from the outside terrace.
As we gaze, Simonetta recommends the traditional baccala mantecato – creamy dried cod served on slices of crusty bread with cheese crostini and shaved truffles – which Suzie and I duly devour while vaporetti and gondolas pass lazily by this quiet pier.
Following a brief interruption to our reverie, as we come to the heroic aid of two elderly ladies struggling to disembark their wobbly gondola, our trio now hurry – as quickly as full stomachs allow, anyway – across the bridge to Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Open only since October last year, this converted warehouse turned department store is home to a rooftop viewing gallery which offers visitors free timed tickets to take in panoramic views over Venice to the lagoon and outer islands beyond. It’s a must for all visitors.
How else can we finish our food tour of the city but with a helping of tiramisu? The dessert is said to hail from the Veneto region. Located near St. Mark’s Square, gourmet deli and coffee bar I Tre Mercanti is a true tiramisu paradise; the dish is even prepared live every hour in its shop window. Alongside the classic version, they offer 25 experimental fusion tiramisu recipes including such additions as mango, matcha tea and pistachio. Almost inevitably, there’s also an Aperol-flavoured ‘Spritzamisu’.
Suitably sated, we bid farewell to Simonetta beside the grandeur of St. Mark’s Basilica, sagely jotting down further restaurant recommendations while we have her. We wisely opt to walk back to the hotel, hoping to burn off the afternoon’s excesses. Aperitivo hour is fast approaching, there’s still so much to taste and Simonetta’s advice rings in our ears...
From £565 per person, 3 nights, B&B including flights and guided street-food tour. Contact us for further details.