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Episode #148: Dishes to try in the Lagoon city

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Venice’s cosmopolitan past and history of trade have shaped the cuisine of the lagoon city. A mix of traditional dishes alongside modern, innovative cooking – both using the unique ingredients that are found around its many islands, make for a unique Venetian dining scene. Not to mention the famous Cicchetti, where you can have fun bar hopping, getting to try many a delicious morsel. 

Show notes

In this episode, we talk to Valeria Necchio, a food and travel writer, photographer, and author who specializes in Italian culture, particularly that of the Veneto – her region of origin – and of Venice, the city in which she lives and works. Valeria shares with us some of the local specialty foods and dishes to try, as well as about the fascinating tradition and history of wine and coffee in the city.  We talk bar (or bacari) hopping, Europe’s first-ever cafe, and ceilings of cake.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. In Venice’s city center, you have areas that can get very crowded, especially in the daytime, but you also have many pockets of the city that it’s very quiet – that’s usually where you’ll find the locals (hiding!). Valeria lives in a quaint part of town and it’s magical to wander about, especially in the morning, but then she can easily and quickly head over to the center for all it has to offer
  2. Venice has an amazing heritage that involved trading with all the Mediterranean and the Middle and the Far East. The food culture that has built up through the centuries and that makes what Venice is today, is the result of these centuries of exchanging goods and cultures. The cuisine of Venice involves a lot of spices and a lot of combinations of sweet and sour and sweet and savory that make the city’s food unique compared to the rest of Italy
  3. Venice was a gateway to Europe, and is where lots of things first came into Europe – such as coffee – which has created an interesting cafe and coffee in the city
  4. Many classic dishes involve preserved fish, which was first imported long ago when the baccalà. salted cod fish came in all the way from Norway
  5. A classic and a must-try dish of the city is Baccalà Mantecato. This is the salt fish having been softened in water for many hours (from 48 to 72 hours) and then boiled in water, skinned, and deboned. This is then beaten with oil, a bit like mayonnaise, and is turned into a delicious fluffy spread
  6. Lots of Venetian dishes involve sardines because it can be preserved quite easily and has strong flavors. Bigoli con salsa – is fresh, thick spaghetti cooked with a delicious oily sauce and was originally made with sardines, but now more commonly made with anchovies, mixed with onions, turned into a kind of cream that then coats the pasta
  7. There are all manners of artichoke (carciofi) dishes in Spring when they are in season. A very delicious variety that grows in the lagoon is called carciofo violetto, which is an amazing purple color and is a classic to enjoy around Easter
  8. The sweets in Venice often are dry and involve spices and dried fruits and nuts, from the days of trading. Biscuits or the breads are then served at the end of the meal with Malvasia sweet wine
  9. People are generally surprised to learn that there’s a big wine culture in Venice, as it doesn’t seem there’s anywhere for the vines to grow. But the vineyards can be found on the islands, and Venice had a tradition of growing grapes and making wine. The satellite islands of Venice would be devoted to growing grapes and making wine. Many of them would be occupied by monasteries which would, of course, have a vineyard because they were self-sufficient, but also they would produce wine for the city of Venice
  10. The squares in Venice are called campi and not piazza like everywhere else in Italy. Campi means field and we know from historical research that the campi would be planted with a variety of plants, but mostly with vines
  11. There are references to Venice’s wine history all around the lagoon. Campo of San Francisco de la Viña is a church with a cloistered part that hosts a little vineyard. There’s an island called Le Vignole, which means the little vineyard and L’isola San Francesco del Deserto, which has had a monastery on it for centuries, was called L’isola dela Viña in the past
  12. There was also a lot of trade in wine and it was a huge part of its income when it was its own self-sufficient republic
  13. There are a couple of places that make wine in the lagoon today. The main challenge they have to deal with is the unpredictable high tides. One of them is called Venissa on the island of Mazzorbo. There’s a tiny vineyard, less than an acre of a native grape variety called Dorona. That’s a really nice place to do a vineyard tour. On Sant’Erasmo Island, there is another place making wine from international grape varieties called Orto di Venezia. They produce a wine that’s also called L’Orto di Venezia. It’s really interesting to taste how these international grape varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon behave in the lagoon because they give way to a wine that’s quite different from any other blend of these grapes. The lagoon’s salty soil gives very unique aromas to the wine
  14. On the island of San Michele (that also hosts the city cemetery), there’s a research/nonprofit project that’s called Laguna nel bicchiere. They have all sorts of grapevarieties that are historical to Venice – Malvasia, Dorona etc, and they do experiments with them. You can visit there and learn more about winemaking traditions and taste the wine
  15. To go with the wonderful local wines, you have the tradition of Cicchetti, Venice’s small bites, which you can enjoy jumping from place to place trying all the different little snacks
  16. There are so many bacari (bars specific to Venice) that dish out these tempting bite-size snacks. Cichetti traditionally would be small portions of all kinds of things – small portions of meatballs, little squids or hard-boiled eggs. If you compare with Spain, the comparison would be less tapas, but more like pinchos. You have the crostino which is a slice of bread being used as a vessel for all sorts of things, from salumi to cheeses and you have some really interesting bacari and wine bars getting very creative with their combinations
  17. Bacari hopping and trying various Cichetti is a fun activity and you’ll find a convivial atmosphere that’s very unique to Venice. It is also quite inexpensive because you get to try a lot of things and get full up for a great price. The danger of bar hopping is you can get full up and have no room left to later have some pasta or some secondi
  18. Amongst the traditional restaurants in Venice, Valeria’s favorites are Al Covo, Antiche Carampane (great for seafood) and Pensione Wildner, which is the best one you’ll find on Riva Degli Schiavoni, the area set on the water of the Canal de la Giudecca. It is dotted with grand hotels and then you have this tiny Pensione set amongst them that makes utterly fantastic food. Other great traditional options are La Zucca, which is great for vegetable dishes, and Vini da Gigio in Cannaregio. These are great places to try some of the classic Venetian dishes like Bicoli con salsa and Gnocci with wild duck
  19. When it comes to contemporary restaurants, Valeria really likes L’Anice Stellato in Cannareggio, where they have seasonal fare with natural wines – amazing food. Wistèria is also truly amazing and they have recently won a Michelin star. Valeria also really likes what Stappo, a natural wine bar with small plates is doing with their food
  20. If you really want to try some of these amazing restaurants when you’re in Venice, then make sure you’re really organized and book early. But if you don’t do that – there is, of course, always Cichetti!!
  21. When it comes to sweets generally dry biscuits are Venice’s specialty. You would have the buranelli, which are buttery vanilla biscuits shaped either in a circle or in an S. These are just delightful at the end of a meal with some sweet wine
  22. Tiramisu comes from this part of the country and is a Venetian classic, so Tiramisu lovers always have lots of options available
  23. Focaccia Veneziana, is a favorite of Valeria. It is a leavened, sweet bread, a bit like panettone but without all of the raisins and fruit inside, but it’s fluffy and very buttery – you then have your sugar glaze and almonds on top. It’s something that you now find all year round but traditionally it would be made for the holidays like Christmas and Easter
  24. Famous for making the best Focaccia Veneziana in Venice is a bakery called Dal Nono Colussi. In the holiday season, Venetians book for Focaccia Veneziana two weeks in advance because the demand is huge and it’s a very small, family-run bakery. The best part of the experience is that you walk in there and you see the Focaccia being hung upside down on long batons hanging from the ceiling to cool them. They get it down, wrap it in paper and they hand it to you – delicious and fresh
  25. Another sweet you get mostly during Carnivale, are Frittelle, which are like small custard-filled doughnuts
  26. Venetian coffee is especially delicious, though the rest of the country has caught up in recent years. Venice is where coffeewas first introduced coffee to the country (and Europe) through trading had the very first cafe in Europe – the gorgeous Caffe Florian in Piazza San Marco. This is where the whole culture of having coffee orginiated. To begin with, it was just for higher classes and the wealthy but over time became for everyone. The experience of going to Caffe Florian and enjoying a coffee standing at the counter is quintessentially Venetian
  27. There are some great Torrefazione coffee roasters in Venice. One is Torrefazione Girani, located in Castello and they only do the grinding and selling. Then there’s a more modern roaster located in Cannareggio called Torrefazione Cannaregio. In there, as well as buying your ground coffee or beans, you can also have coffee on the premises. They have many, many blends – from espresso-based coffees to all of the different types of extractions, as well as milky coffees. They also have really nice pastries to go with the coffee
  28. Valeria has recently started doing wine and cheese tastings alongside her custom tours which usually include doing some bacari hopping and fitting in some artisan food boutiques along the way. Her Instagram, www.instagram.com/valerianecchio, gives you a dreamy peek into the life of the lagoon city

About our guest – Valeria Necchio

After earning a BA in English and Cultural Studies, and a MA in Food Culture and Communications, Valeria left her native Veneto for London, where she worked in communications and marketing in the food industry. All the while, she pursued writing and photography professionally, contributing stories on matters of food, culture, and travel to a variety of publications.

Her words and images have appeared in Monocle, The Guardian, Suitcase, The Art of Eating, National Geographic Traveller, and Corriere della Sera, and D di Repubblica, among others. Her blog, Life Love Food (now closed), was seen on Food52, Kinfolk, Design Sponge, and more.

Valeria’s debut cookbook, Veneto, a recipe-book-slash-memoir on the food of her origins, was published by Faber in 2017.

Today, she keeps creating culture-rich stories in which she recounts people, places and flavours through words and visuals for editorial and commercial projects alike.

You can find Valeria on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

Food & Drink

  • baccalà – salt cod. The cod that has been preserved by packing in salt and drying
  • Baccala Mantecato – Venetian – an appetizer of whipped salt cod. The name itself means “whipped salt cod spread” or “creamed cod”
  • Bigoli con salsa – a Venetian pasta dish made with whole-wheat bigoli pasta, onion and anchovy
  • carciofi – artichokes
  • Malvasia – grape variety which a sweet white wine is made from that the Venetians have with sweets
  • Dorona – the centuries-old Venetian grape variety that was thought lost
  • Orto di Venezia – wine from Sant’Erasmo
  • Laguna nel bicchiere – the Lagoon in a Glass Association has the primary purpose to recover the vineyards located in the historic center of Venice and in the Estuary
  • cicchetti – small bites of food you get in bars (bacari) across Venice
  • gnocchi with wild duck – classic Venetian dish
  • buranelli – buttery cookies with vanilla from Burano, served at the end of your meal with coffee or a sweet wine
  • Focaccia Veneziana – traditional cake of Venice. Leavened and enriched with crystalized sugar and nuts
  • frittelle – or fritole are Venetian doughnuts served only during Carnival
  • Torrefazione – a style of coffee roasting 

Resources

  • campo(plural campi) –  is a square in Venice, as opposed to being called piazza. Campo means “field” and originates from when the land was agricultural
  • Serenissimo  – meaning ‘most serence’, is a nickname for Venice
  • Carnival – annual festival held in Venice

Resources from Untold Italy

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