19 Best Foods To Try In Venice
From bite-sized cicchetti to heaping plates of fresh seafood, here are the best foods to try in Venice for an authentic taste of the city.
Venice is notorious for lackluster food catered to the tourist masses – from microwaved lasagna to eateries with menus in multiple languages.
But you don’t have to go far off the beaten path for a real taste of some local Venetian delicacies. Wander just a few minutes away from the crowded piazza and you’ll be rewarded with squid ink pasta and lively wine bars.
Here are the best foods you must try in Venice:
- 1. Cicchetti
- 2. Baccala Mantecato
- 3. Sarde in saor
- 4. Bussola
- 5. Aperol Spritz
- 6. Ombra
- 7. Risi e bisi
- 8. Tiramisu
- 9. Bigoli
- 10. Baicoli
- 11. Risotto al nero di seppia
- 12. Risotto de go
- 13. Polenta e schie
- 14. Fritto Misto
- 15. Tramezzino
- 16. Gelato
- 17. Fritole
- 18. Prosecco
- 19. Bellini
Nearly all Venetian restaurants cater to the tourists that pour into the city every day. But there’s a great way to avoid the crowds and enjoy the local food – snacking on cicchetti in Venice.
Venetians love cicchetti (pronounced chi-KET-tee), or small nibbles often paired with wine. Happy Hour can start in the early afternoon and last until midnight. After a busy day, munching on cicchetti at a local bar (or bacaro) is Venice’s way to unwind and socialize.
You can easily spot a good cicchetti bar tucked away in a narrow alley with crowds spilling out the door. Many of the best ones are in Canareggio.
Since most bacaro are small with just a few tables (if any), most patrons stand outside engrossed in lively conversation. Just step up to the bar, point to what you’d like to try, and pay for it on the spot.
Cicchetti refers to the unique hors d’oeuvre-like appetizers served at the bar. These can vary from one bar to the next. But usually they include olives, small crostini, and other small plates and bites skewered with a toothpick. For drinks, have the local wine (or ombra) or the ever-popular Aperol Spritz.
Insider’s tip: Cicchetti usually cost around 1-3 euros each. It’s a great way to try the local specialties like cheeses, seafood, and violet artichokes, when they’re in season. And cicchetti can be filling enough to skip a big dinner.
Most Venetians jump from one small pub to another to mingle and enjoy various cicchetti. With no cars to worry about, it’s safe enough to do a pub crawl with the locals.
Cicchetti bars are a delicious way to experience the local Venetian culture. And there’s an array of food tours too if you really want to dig in.
– Contributed by Lori of Italy Foodies
2. Baccala Mantecato
Baccala Mantecato (above, left) is a type of cichetti that features mashed salt cod spread on top of a slice of polenta bread.
It’s a delectable little Venetian appetizer that’s a great wine bar snack alongside a glass of prosecco.
The paste is fluffy with a mousse-like texture and seasoned simply with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Bar All’Arco serves a wonderful baccala mantecato with wine in a lively atmosphere.
Baccala mantecato is an important Venetian dish that dates back to 1431. It was popularized by Venetian sailor Pietro Querini, who was shipwrecked on a Norwegian island and learned to salt cod from the local fishermen.
Querini brought some stockfish back to Venice and the rest is culinary history.
3. Sarde in saor
Sarde in saor is another classic Venetian appetizer made with fried sardines and cured onions topped with pine nuts and raisins for an extra sweet kick.
You’ll find sarde in saor in any decent wine bar’s selection of cichetti – best eaten in good company with plenty of wine.
Sarde in saor, like many local dishes, has a maritime history. It was invented by Venetian fishermen to keep their food well-preserved on board for long stretches of time without spoiling.
Though sarde in saor was once a more rustic dish cooked with vinegar and oil. The modern version adds raisins to subdue the onions and freshen the breath.
Burano’s yellow s-shaped cookies called Bussola (above, right) make a great treat between sightseeing.
You’ll find piles of Bussolai Buranei at most local bakeries, either the traditional round shape (Bussola, or compass) or in a swirl “s” shape called Esse, which represents the curve of the Grand Canal.
Originally made by fishermen’s wives to give their loved ones a boost during a long day on the water, these cookies are now the island’s signature sweet.
These thick cookies are made with egg yolks, flour, sugar and butter – with a dash of lemon zest sprinkled in for a citrus punch.
Head to Pasticceria Costantini for a taste from a bakery that’s been making these cookies for more than a century.
5. Aperol Spritz
The iconic Aperol spritz famous throughout Italy was actually created in Venice in 1920 – and it’s still the drink of choice of many bacaro-hopping Venetians.
Have a spritz with Aperol, the more popular and sweeter option with a spicy orange flavor that’s great on a hot summer day. Or opt for the crimson red Campari, which has a bolder bittersweet flavor with a hint of berries (and a higher alcohol content).
Insider’s tip: Try a spritz with Aperitivo Select, created in 1920 in Venice.
The spritz was first created in Veneto in the 1800s, when lightweight Austrian soldiers asked the local bartenders to spray some water into their wine to make it weaker.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the spritz evolved when it was combined with local bitters like Aperol and Select.
Venice has some great wines that go with almost any meal – you can even pick up a plastic cup of wine at a kiosk to enjoy along the water.
Sip on a glass of red with your ciccheti, indulge in a pre-dinner Bellini and dig into the mouthwatering selection of local sea food that’s perfect with a glass of white (like the locally-made Orto di Venezia).
Walk into any Venetian bacaro (local bar) and ask for a glass of red (rossa) or white (bianca) ombra for a satisfying taste of the house wine.
Ombra literally means “the bell tower’s shadow.” But it’s come to mean a glass of wine because of a local fishermen’s tradition.
The fishermen returned to the city in the afternoon after a long day and ordered a glass of wine in St. Mark’s Square. They sipped their wine in the piazza in the ever-shifting shadow of the bell tower.
Veneto is known for its vineyards and there’s no better place than Venice to enjoy the varieties this landscape produces.
From dry whites to juicy reds, even the most casual eatery will have dozens of wine choices. Ask your server to recommend their favorites and you’re sure to find something you’ll love.
7. Risi e bisi
(photo: Solde, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
This hearty vegetarian dish of rice and garden peas is a Venetian specialty that celebrates spring.
Risi e bisi is traditionally eaten on April 25th, the Feast of Venice’s patron saint St. Mark. It’s known as the “Doge’s first course” and was once served to the Doge to symbolize the abundance of spring.
When Venice started growing rice in the 15th century, the Doge himself promoted risi e bisi as a low-cost and widely available dish.
Insider’s tip: Head to Osteria Alle Testiere for their renowned risi e bisi and great wine selection.
Today, this risotto-like dish is served year-round as a starter or main dish. But it’s especially savoury in spring when the peas are fresh.
It’s often flavored with pancetta, onions, butter and parsley.
Risi e bisi is also a great option for kids who are picky eaters because it’s a very simple dish with familiar flavors.
This decadent coffee-flavored dessert was actually invented in the Veneto region but it’s one of the most sinfully good treats you can eat in Venice.
Tiramisu is made of layers of biscuits soaked in espresso and layered with creamy mascarpone cheese with a dusting of coffee and cocoa powder. Some versions include a dash of rum or brandy.
Tiramisu was invented in Treviso near Venice in the 1960s – and today you can find delectable tiramisu all over the city.
Head to I Tre Mercanti, just a few steps from St. Mark’s Square, for gourmet food, wine and an array of irresistible tiramisu. You can watch more than two dozen different tiramisu varieties (like mango or matcha green tea) hand-made in front of you.
This hearty pasta dish is basically a chunky version of spaghetti served with a delectable fish sauce made with onions.
If you’re a seafood lover, you’re going to love the thick whole-wheat pasta covered in a mouthwatering seafood sauce. The sauce for bigoli consists of onions and salt-cured fish (either sardines or anchovies).
Bigoli was once served on lean holidays like Good Friday. But these days you’ll find it year-round at local cantinas and osterias like Osteria Oliva Nera.
It was once a dish of the working class made with two widely available and cheap ingredients: onions and sardines.
These crunchy oval biscuits are served with coffee and perfect for dipping into a bowl of custardlike zabaglione.
Baicoli are small and slightly sweet biscuits that were once popular with seamen because they packed well for long sea voyages. And today they’re sold in yellow tin boxes that keep them very well preserved.
Baicoli get their name because they’re shaped like sea bass, which is called baicoli in the local Venetian dialect.
When Venice was a great seafaring power, baicoli were crucial for sea rations and kept for weeks aboard Venetian ships. And while the biscuits may appear simple, baking bacoli is very time-consuming.
Today baicoli are usually served with coffee and zabaglione, an airy dessert of light custard.
11. Risotto al nero di seppia
(top photo: Micaela & Massimo, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
This seafood risotto with black squid ink tastes a lot better than it looks – and it’s one of the most distinctive dishes of Venetian cuisine.
The Veneto region grows a lot of rice and you’re more likely to find risotto and polenta here than in the pasta-rich south.
And risotto al nero di seppia is one of the most savory and mouthwatering local specialties. It will leave your lips and teeth stained for awhile but that delicate and tangy taste is worth it (it also easily stains clothes and it’s not recommended for kids).
The jet-black dish is made by adding squid ink to a seafood-based risotto. And since squid ink (nero di seppia) is so popular in the region, you can also get the spaghetti version of the dish (spaghetti al nero di seppia) at eateries throughout the city.
12. Risotto de go
This seafood risotto was invented by Burano fishermen in the 16th century. And today it’s a mouthwatering Venetian classic that makes the most out of a tiny lagoon fish.
Risotto de go is made with goby fish that are native to the Venetian lagoon and found plentifully in its waters. The goby is used to prepare a savory broth and then cooked with tender vialone nano (medium grain) rice.
The go (ghiozzo) fish aren’t very attractive but they make for an aromatic and decadently creamy risotto.
13. Polenta e schie
(top photo courtesy Orazio 1957)
Polenta e schie is a gorgeous dish made of Venetian shrimp laid over a bed of creamy polenta.
It’s made with tiny shrimp found only in the Venetian lagoon and served with yellow polenta, a velvety side dish made of cornmeal.
This quick and simple dish was once popular with the Venetian working class. Eaten by the peasantry of yore, it was widely regarded as a poor man’s dish.
Though these days, the tender schie are more scarce and not easy to fish in the lagoon. So the dish isn’t as common as it used to be. And it’s now served even in the most upscale restaurants as a delectable appetizer.
14. Fritto Misto
(photo courtesy Splendid Venice)
Fritto Misto is a delectable mix of fried seafood and a must-try for any seafood lover in Venice.
You can order a heaping dish of fritto misto at any Venetian restaurant as a juicy main course.
Or grab some fritto misto from a food stall, wrapped in a paper cone (cartoccio) as it was originally invented.
It’s a great Venetian street food to snack on as you’re wandering down the canals.
The mix of deep fried seafood in fritto misto usually includes fresh shrimp, sardines, various small fish, calamari rings and seasonal catches from the Adriatic along with a handful of veggies. It’s served hot with a squeeze of lemon and covered in a crisp batter.
(photo courtesy Al Cason)
This light and airy sandwich is another great Venetian snack that’s often eaten standing at a bar with a glass of wine.
Tramezzino is made with two pieces of white bread (with their crusts cut off) packed with an array of generous fillings. Tramezzino can be stuffed with anything from tomatoes and mozzarella to tuna mayonnaise, ham and cheese with artichokes and egg.
This simple sandwich, like cicchetti, is served at casual eateries where locals mix with tourists to eat tramezzino with a spritz.
There’s nothing like a scoop of gelato on a hot summer day – and Venice has lots of mouthwatering flavors that will tempt any ice cream lover.
And while gelato was actually invented in Florence, the Venetian merchant Marco Polo is credited with bringing back a sorbet-like recipe to Venice after his travels across China.
Today Venice takes its gelato very seriously. You’ll find a gelato shop on every major canal, including many artisanal gelato makers with their own special recipes and unique ingredients.
Head to Venchi, a historic 19th-century chocogelaterie, for gelato made with Piedmont hazelnuts and exquisite chocolate in an opulent setting. And don’t miss the elegant and ever-popular Gelatoteca Suso for flavors like mascarpone with fig and walnuts.
(top photo: Massimo Telo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
If you’re in Venice around the Carnival season, don’t miss this tasty fried doughnut packed with raisins and orange peels.
Fritole is a popular Carnival treat made with a rich batter and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It can be stuffed with pastry cream, zabaione and more unique varieties like apple or chocolate custard cream..
The Fritelle Veneziane variety are unfilled but packed with lots of pine nuts and liquor-soaked raisins. Don’t miss them stacked high in bakery shop windows during Carnival.
Dating back to the 14th century, fritole was once the official desert of the Venetian Republic – and a business that was passed down from father to son.
This sparkling white wine grown across the Veneto region is wildly popular in Venice and goes perfectly with a plate of cicchetti.
Light, aromatic and vibrant, prosecco is a must-try in Venice – whether it’s with snacks in a standing-room wine bar or with fried seafood at a restaurant overlooking the canals.
The region that produces prosecco is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And some of the best prosecco in the country is made just outside Venice.
This legendary cocktail of peach puree and prosecco was invented at Harry’s Bar, the favorite Venetian hangout of Ernest Hemingway.
The sweet and fruity mix is now a favorite at bars across the city – and a must-try for all cocktail lovers especially in the summer.
Invented by bartender Giuseppe Cipriani (who also invented carpaccio), the Bellini is now a beloved Italian classic.
The cocktail got its name after Cipriani noticed its unique pinky hue was reminiscent of a 15th-century painting by Venetian artist Giovani Bellini.
READ MORE ON VENICE:
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18 Must-See Hidden Gems In Venice
12 Best Things To Do In St. Mark’s Square
11 Best Things To Do In Burano (And Hidden Gems!)
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