Venice, the capital of the maritime republic and the capital of La Serenissima, more commonly known as the Republic of Venice, has always been one of the most important Italian cities. Thanks to its location and the foreign influences that have enriched it over the centuries, Venetian cuisine is one of the most varied cuisines in the world.
The dishes combine the flavors of the sea and earth, creating colorful recipes with a unique taste, which amazes even the most refined palates. And the cuisine is so versatile that a weekend in Venice won’t be nearly enough to enjoy the numerous traditional dishes — maybe even a month won’t suffice.
Venice’s streets are all swarming with historical taverns and bacari — traditional wine bars — where you can wash down some cichéti — traditional aperitifs — with some ombra or shadow, a glass of wine named by the tradition of pouring it under the shadow of San Marco Bell Tower on market days. Venetian cuisine, like the city’s history and culture, is full of tales and amazing flavors. Ready to follow us and get lost in its inviting alleys?
Chicéti are various mini-snacks and side dishes you’ll find served with your wine if you hit a bàcaro — a Venetian wine bar. Like Spanish tapas, chicéti are a great way to taste the city’s traditional delicacies. They can be made of morsels, pickled veggies, or creamed baccala topped on a small crostini toast, combined with bite-sized fried or grilled seafood.
There are no rules in the chicéti game. It usually depends on what’s fresh and, inevitably, the chef’s mood. If you want to learn more about these crowd-pleasing little snacks, take a look at this traditional private cooking class, where you’ll learn how to make chicéti and more.
2. Sardèe in Saór
Sardines in saor (sardèe in saór) is a rustic Venetian dish whose main ingredient you probably guessed right away. But, there’s an unexpected twist. The sardines are deep-fried and left to marinate with onions and sweet vinegar. Raisins, pine nuts, or a touch of cinnamon are commonly used ingredients that add to the complexity of the aroma on top of the already sweet and sour sardines.
This dish is an appetizer (or a cicheto) you’ll find in most restaurants in the city all year round, but during the Festa del Redentore on July 15th, it’s traditionally prepared all around the city, no exceptions. So, no matter what time of the year you’re in Venice, starting with the sardines in saor is a great way to dip in the most authentic flavors of the city.
3. Baccalà Mantecato
Not surprisingly, Venetian cuisine has many seafood dishes, and cod is one of the most popular fish you’ll find. Venetian creamed cod or Baccalà Mantecato alla Veneziana is a simple dish, yet it’s guaranteed to make you beg for more. It’s made with oil, salt, pepper, garlic, bay leaf, and lemon.
The cod pulp is taken out, and the meat is marinated at least for a day. Then it’s boiled in milky water for about 20 minutes until it’s nice and soft. The pulp is minced into a creamy puree that resembles mayonnaise, to which all the other ingredients are added. This type of cod is best enjoyed on warm croutons, which is how it’s usually served in the bacaris in the city.
4. Risi e Bisi
Another traditional dish that shouldn’t be missed in Venice is risi e bisi. Back in the day, this specialty was often cooked in the houses of Venetian peasants, but today it’s traditionally eaten on April 25 in honor of Evangelist Mark, the patron saint of Venice.
The rice used in this dish is Vialone Nano, and while the dish is a cross between a soup and a risotto, it doesn’t belong to either of the two categories. The creamy rice with peas is topped with bacon and parsley, and it’s a great dish to fill you up on a walking tour around Venice in spring. And if you’d like to know more about how real risotto is made, take a look at this risotto and fresh pasta cooking class.
5. Bigoli in Salsa
Bigoli in salsa is a pasta dish that mainly consists of onions and anchovies. Despite the simplicity of the ingredients, bigoli in salsa tastes incredibly good and has won the hearts of even the pickiest of foodies.
Bigoli is a type of pasta similar to spaghetti, but it’s more wrinkled and, unlike spaghetti, it’s made with eggs. The sauce is made with onions that were dried on the stove, preferably from Chioggia (a seaside town south of Venice), and fresh sardines, all cooked together with the onion. It’s like a one-pot meal where everything is mixed with a little cooking water, making for a very creamy sauce that lets all the aromas infuse with the pasta nicely.
6. Pasta al Nero di Seppia
Squid ink is a delicacy known all over the world now, but its origins date back in part to the Venice lagoon. This is why it’s very common to find bigoli, spaghetti, or lasagnette with cuttlefish — squid’s cousin — in the restaurants and cellars in Venice.
Pasta al nero di seppia, or spaghetti doused in dark cuttlefish ink, is prepared with white wine, shallots, parsley, oil, and dark cuttlefish ink. You might have had a similar type of dish outside of Italy, but the Venetian version is the darkest and the strongest in terms of the intensely savory ink aroma. The black color makes this dish an eye candy guaranteed to conquer your taste buds.
Enjoy this Venetian delicacy with some wine and check your lips and teeth before leaving the restaurant, or you might walk around with stains on your face, and your tourist photos will look hilarious.
7. Risotto di Gò
Among the typical dishes of Venice, the risotto di Gò is one of the oldest and most popular ones. It was invented in Burano during the 16th century by the fishing communities. It’s prepared with a fish called gò or ghiozzo, known for its very tasty flavor despite its real unappetizing appearance. It’s a native species of the Venetian lagoon, used to prepare a very tasty broth. Then the vialone nano rice, a bowl of Italian medium-grain rice, is cooked inside the broth. The result is a mouth-watering and extremely creamy and tasty risotto.
8. Moleche Fritte
Moving on to the main courses, a typical Venetian dish is the moleche fritte or fried moleche. Moleches are a type of green crab caught during their molting phase, meaning when they shed their outer shell. They are cleaned and fried as a whole — complete with heads and legs — until crisp and golden. There is also moleche col pien, for which the moleche are fed eggs before cooking.
Preparing a moleche dish requires a lot of effort because the molting phase only lasts for a couple of hours. But that’s also what makes them a delicacy, as they’re caught before their new shell has time to harden, making them very soft and chewy. Due to the method of preparation and the unique taste of the dish, moleche fritte is among the most famous specialties in Venice.
It is said that castradina is a dish that has to be on every table, no matter how rich or poor. It’s a very old recipe for a soup made of mutton and cabbage, traditionally brought to the table and enjoyed on the eve of the feast of the Madonna della Salute. It’s a celebration held on November 21st in the memory of a devastating plague that hit Venice in the 17th century. The plague disappeared several weeks after the Doge organized a procession in honor of the Virgin Mary. After hundreds of years, Venetians still show their gratitude to the Madonna with this exquisite, thick, and healthy soup.
The mutton, imported from Albania and Dalmatia, is salted, smoked, and dried in the sun before chefs get their hands on it and add it to different dishes, like this soup. When you go to Venice, you can try it in various taverns in the city to see how a dish with about 400 years of history tastes today.
10. Venetian Liver
Fegato alla veneziana is the most popular traditional dish in Venice. The origins of the recipe date back to ancient Rome — however, the Roman version also had figs which are now replaced by onions. It’s prepared with veal liver cut into slices and cooked with onions, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. Butter is added liberally during the cooking, making it softer and creamier. It’s a dish appreciated by everyone who’s ever tried it and is perhaps the most popular order in all the restaurants around the city.
11. Polenta e Schie
Schie are small shrimp typical of the Venice lagoon, served together with yellow polenta, a simple side dish made of cornmeal. The shrimp are first boiled in water with lemon, salt, garlic, and pepper and then served with creamy polenta. It’s a very simple and quick dish to prepare, which made it popular among the peasants and poor families in Venice in the past. Today, however, you’ll find polenta e schie served even in the most refined restaurants, perhaps with some variations that elevate it.
13. Bonus: Venetian Sweets
Apart from the main course, Venetian cuisine also has many authentic sweets. In fact, you can’t really say you’ve had lunch or dinner in Venice, without finishing your meal with a local dessert.
Gelato: You must have heard of the magnificent Italian gelato. Even though it’s not specific to Venice, you’ll most definitely find some great ones throughout your stay in Venice. And why not take a gelato-making class to make your own gelato and savor it later.
Bussolai or Buranelli: Venetian butter cookies that are sweet with lemony hints. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, bussolai, or buranelli are popular cookies that you can find pretty much everywhere in Venice. They’re perfect with some red wine.
Fritole: The superstars of the Carnival season. Fritole are pancakes made with sultaninas — a kind of grape that’s seedless and very sweet.
Zaeti: A biscuit with raisins and chocolate drops, with vibrant yellow color. Zaeti is the traditional dessert of San Martino, prepared during the November festivities. It’s made from shortcrust pastry shaped like a knight and decorated with icing and candies on top.
Baìcoli: These are very fine and crunchy biscuits with an oval shape.
Easter Fugassa: A traditional Easter cake made with butter, sugar, flour, almonds, eggs, and brewer’s yeast. They resemble a panettone or a colomba, which are also traditional cakes, but Easter fugassa is milder without candy or fruit inside.
Have Fun Getting Lost in the Canals!
Numerous books have been written on Venetian cuisine. Even today, cooking enthusiasts and experts worldwide find great inspiration in the city’s simple yet complex mix of flavors.
Therefore, if you are interested in tasting the traditional dishes of Venetian cuisine, we recommend you set out to discover the Serenissima cuisine hands-on through our cooking classes, such as Maria’s cookery course where you’ll make a pizza margherita, tortellini, meat rolls al limoncello, ravioli, and tiramisù.
Venice has a variety of restaurants that all offer different unique experiences, but it might be hard to pick a place to go to among the vast number of welcoming doors. If you’re a foodie, check out this walking food tour in the Dorsoduro neighborhood that will take you through lots of top-quality Venetian street foods, desserts, and restaurants, or this city tour with cooking demonstrations where you can enjoy a couple of amazing seafood dishes on a boat.
Last Updated on June 12, 2022