Venetian Wanderings | Episode 10: Orient Experience
During the week there is always the big problem of where to have our lunch break. Obviously, we can't go to a fine restaurant everyday if we want to stay on a budget and snacks aren't enough for me, they keep me going for a few hours but then my stomach starts aching and making rumbles. Even if I'm quite petit...I need to eat!
Both my husband and I work in the Cannaregio district and luckily there are plenty of nice places here. One of my favourite choices, though, is not a Venetian osteria, but a small restaurant called Orient Experience. It opened some years ago, both the owner and the cook escaped from the Afghan war and moved to Italy. Now they have one restaurant in Cannaregio and two in Dorsoduro. A great fusion between middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine.
The staff is really nice and friendly. Just keep in mind that their pace is different from ours, they are less hectic so, especially in the morning, don't come too soon. I was here on a Friday and they opened at 12:45 because I asked them what their intentions were... and the guy smiled at me saying with a really sweet voice "Sorry, please be patient...it's Friday morning!". Ha ha...I found him so cute! And I felt like an old grumpy lady (even if I'm not even 30...).
Anyway, I wasn't in a hurry and actually didn't mind waiting at all. The sun was shining and, because in the last two summers I never really managed to go to the beach and my -already pale- skin is begging me for some vitamin D, I just sat down on a chair and let myself be kissed by the hot sun. As you can see from the picture, in the Cannaregio restaurant there is both outdoor and indoor seating. We chose to stay outside, it's still spring and the lovely breeze made everything more pleasant; inside they have Arabic style floor seating furniture and normal Western tables, while the walls are covered with coloured tiles and beautiful stylised drawings.
The food is flavourful and light and the prices very fair. If you order a mixed dish it costs you 7 euros for just one choice, 9 euros for 2 choices, 11 for 3 and 14 euros for 5.
The dishes are filling without being heavy, which is great at lunch time! Especially if, like me, you have to work and need to be focused or if you want to do things. Remember that in Venice you need to walk all the time, so a nice light lunch will make it easier for you to get things done, like visiting museums and wander around.
I always get some basmati rice with meat and veggies, but they also prepare cous cous and bulgur. I recommend trying, while waiting for your main course, at least one falafel. So good! And their chickpea hummus is also really really tasty. They have plenty of options also for vegetarians and vegans, just tell them and they will be happy to give you the best suggestions possible.
Vittorio normally goes for the puff pastry rolls stuffed with minced meat and veggies, while I'm more into their fresh salads, like the one with zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes. Another must try is the tzatziki sauce. I am also a big fan of their plates: the dishes come from Africa, they order them from a supplier based in Rome. I like them so much I badly want to buy them (they'd be just perfect for my food photos!!!!) but the process isn't so easy...you need to book them and wait for their next order...when will this be nobody knows. I'm not going to move city, so...I'm diligently waiting!
For lunch we generally have a dish wth just two things, we prefer to eat light at this hour of the day. Today I had basmati rice with lamb and a side of pan-fried zucchini, chickpea and tomato sauce, while Vito had basmati rice with saffron, almonds and chicken and aubergines. One of our favourites is the chicken with prunes...Yum!
The tables are close, so be prepared to start a conversation with the people sitting next to you. The owner is quite young and, as previously said, the atmosphere is friendly and easy-going. I remember this place when it opened and I must say they have really made a lot of improvements, especially for what concerns the furniture. I like the way the place is styled, I love their tiles, colourful and with arabesque decorations. The walls are covered with beautiful sentences, both in Arabic and in Italian (some are translated in English too!) and some of these phrases are written by hand on a sort of parchment paper, really nice.
Their sweets are delicious too! With lots of dried fruit, spices and rice. A must is the rice pudding, but Vito prefers the pistachio baklawa.
Today, though, we just had a Turkish coffee with cardamom, characterised by an earthy aftertaste.
I highly recommend this place. It's the perfect spot if you want to enjoy some good food on a budget and appreciate easy-going and friendly places. No rush here, you can take your time and relax. The Orient Experience restaurants are frequented by people of every kind, anyway I have noticed that the people who come here enjoy a nice chat and love exotic food! The staff and the owner are practically locals now, integrated in the Venetian community. Hard and honest workers, lovely people!
A positive business to support.
Address: Cannaregio, 1847, 30100 Phone: +39 041 476 2213
The other restaurants are:
1) Orient Experience (exactly the same style), in Rio Terà Farsetti, 1847, 30121 -Campo Santa Margherita
2) Africa Experience (similar, but slightly different) in Calle Lunga S. Barnaba, 2722, 30123.
My advice: try them all!