In the food-heaven that is Italy, if you’re going to get a meal which leaves you disgruntled or angry, chances are that it will happen in Venice.
Sure, you only have to read the comments in the Venice restaurants section on Tripadvisor to see that. Often even the higher ranking Venetian places to eat will have plenty of mixed reviews, with some customers having quite different experiences than others. (We’ve developed a theory about this; more later.)
Thankfully, help is at hand.
To introduce you to the highlights and traditions of eating in Venice, Walks of Italy has a wonderful Food Tour that will stuff you full of eats, drinks, and ideas.
This interesting & tasty tour is lead by a local insider, and we found, yes; it really will help you find your way amongst the maze that is Venice & Venetian food.
The Walks of Italy tours start from Campo San Giacomo di Rialto, a central area near the Rialto bridge; nice, because it is easy to find, but not as completely crowded as St Mark’s Square. This campo is home to Venice’s oldest church, a beautiful 15th century clock, and this area was a very important banking centre in Venice’s heyday, with bankers coming from all over Europe to learn their trade. We got the background of the square from our friendly guide Kristina before she brought us around the corner for our 1st stop– which involved drinking prosecco at 10.45 a.m. It’s a hard life living the Venetian way 😉
This first stop also involved learning about & trying some of the cicchetti (small snacks or side dishes) that Venice has to offer. Not only did we learn about the types, but we discovered what is best in each place we visited, and even the best types by whom in the establishment has made them!
Only The Best
Case in point- at one of our stops Kristina asked if the ‘Mamma‘ was back from her holidays, because it was she who made the very best sardine based cicchetti. (I believe it was the sarde in saor. For more info on the traditional Venetian foods, check out this post from Walks of Italy.) She wasn’t back, so Kristina told us she would wait to have hers for when the mamma came back, and maybe we’d like to, too. Italian food culture is like that– simply wanting the best and knowing what is best when, where, and by whom. With Kristina we had the Venetian insider‘s knowledge!
One of the cicchetti we probably wouldn’t have tried without the stimulus of being on the Walks of Italy food tour was bacala mantecato, a whipped salt cod topping. It sounded quite strange to our ears, but as it also has added garlic we were convinced 🙂 It’s fascinating how some dishes are so simple, but actually involve a fair bit of work– bacala mantecato a case in point. Here’s a video I found that demonstrates this, and how you can make this traditional Venetian food.
Beautiful Meats–but, Donkey?
In addition to several stops in places to eat (all so good!) we also were shown some butcher shops with beautiful looking meats. There was also an equine butcher shop, which you may also find unusual depending on where you are from. A food step too far for me was the idea of donkey meat products. Aww, nooo; donkeys are just too cute…I’m not sure I’d eat horse, but I definitely couldn’t eat donkey unless it was an emergency. Luckily we were all just looking at these, not stopping & sampling. It was interesting.
More to my personal taste was being guided around the Rialto Markets— Veg & Fruit, and the Fish Market. This is where Terry just about had a breakdown 😉 We had a tight budget on this 5 day trip (booked & paid for when I was still working,) and so had just been eating sandwiches made with items bought from the grocery shop, a few cicchetti, take-away pizzas and some gelato for the past 2 days. Poor Terry was starved for protein & a big, filling meal. (As a fitness trainer he has larger than normal requirements in this regard.) At the seafood market he was salivating even though he’s not normally a fan.
That reaction is easy to understand–everything was presented beautifully and looked so fresh. It was here that we decided that next Venice trip we’ll rent an apartment so Terry can cook most of our meals. Doing so saves money, and with such wonderful food products, using them is part of the joy of Venice if you enjoy cooking. In fact, Walks of Italy do have cooking classes, but none in Venice yet.
If you visit the markets, you will likely be tempted, too, and with the benefit of a Venice food tour expert to guide you, you’ll get the scoop on freshness, what fish/shellfish/produce is in season & best for what uses. Class!
I could go on & on about what we saw, learned, ate & drank on the food tour, but that may just be cruel as to how hungry it will make you 🙂 I’ll finish up with 3 more reasons we loved the food tour, and why I think you will, too.
1. The inside info & tips on where to eat. As we had a tight budget, we were wary of blowing it on mediocre yet rather expensive meals out. With Kristina’s fantastic guidance we were confident in choosing restaurants, and she also let us in on a few local secrets— like the place serving seafood risotto as good as someone-who-shall-remain-nameless-for-their-own-safety’s Venetian mamma!
2. We were introduced to the Doge’s Coffee, a Venetian coffee shop that also sells packaged Venetian-roasted coffee. I don’t think we would have found it otherwise. The coffee was lovely, and we bought some to bring home to Ireland. You’ll get a coffee there as part of the tour, and a grappa; be warned– that grappa is not for the delicate 😉
3. All the other little places you’re likely to see & learn about: the spice shop, traditional cobbler, bakers–and just traipsing down all the little lanes is magical. Bring your appetite, your curiosity, and your camera. Enjoy! We sure did!
Oh yes, and as for our own little theory for getting a meal in Venice that won’t leave you disgruntled- we found that as well as going to recommended places where locals also go, going for dinner not long after opening was a plus- it seemed that you’d get much better service before the place got busier with diners. So many Tripadvisor reviews grumbled about service even in the better rated spots! We only ate sit down meals twice ourselves, but developed this theory after a frustrating try (!) for dinner at a busy place, a fair bit of restaurant-watching as we sat in nearby bars nursing a drink & having a few cicchetti, and our 2 successful meals. Have any of YOU got tips in this regard? Please do share in the comments below.
In future posts I’ll tell you more about the good places we ate, and the fab Airbnb room & area where we stayed.
If you’d like to find out more about the Walks of Italy Venice tours, click here
Also handy are some tips on eating in Italy from Walks of Italy.
Disclosure: Terry & I were guests of Walks of Italy, but I always give my honest opinion. If I didn’t, what’s the use of me giving recommendations!