Fresh fish on a Sunday? Head to Chioggia and enjoy your lunch on a boat
Venice, really, is all about the lagoon. People that come from the hinterland of the region Veneto lead a country or city life, while we people of the lagoon live in and with the sea. It may seem very strange, this sort of isolation typical of Venice and its islands, but it is what makes us feel free and allows us to keep faith to our traditions. In fact, despite the small size of both central Venice and the other islands, every place has its specific dialect, customs and traditions.
One thing is sure, that most fishermen come from Pellestrina and Chioggia. Even during the times of the most Serene Republic of Venice, Venetians were never fishermen, they could have been Capitan da Mar (Sea Captains) or sailors, definitely not fishermen. If you have the chance to visit the Ship Pavilion, just next to the Arsenale in central Venice, you can see two old fisherman's boats belonging to two families from Chioggia, with beautiful religious paintings and a tiny and covered wooden boat hanging out where they would put the catch of the day in order to keep the fish alive (at the time, one could sell fish only if it was still alive).
A funny thing is that today in Venice, the Rialto fish market is closed on Sundays and Mondays, while in Chioggia it is closed only on Mondays. So to Chioggia we went!
Eating fresh fish was just an excuse, the excursion itself is so much fun that we would have gone anyway. Plus, Venice can get very crowded in this summer period, especially at the weekend, so escaping to somewhere beautiful is always a pleasure for us.
My suggestion is to leave early, mostly to avoid the heat and the big crowds that -rightly- are going to the beach. Direction: Lido. From there just hop on a bus number 11 -directed to Pellestrina- and stay on it until the end. The bus will cross the whole island of the Lido, board a ferry, cross Pellestrina and drop you right in front of the vaporetto for Chioggia. You can't miss it, because there is just one stop. The bus ride is very nice, for most of the journey you will have the lagoon on your right and on your left either the sea or beautiful villas and houses. Overall, it takes about one hour and ten minutes.
From the vaporetto that goes from Pellestrina to Chioggia you will see lots of fishing boats, roads and nets. Please note the statues of the Virgin Mary placed over some rocks in the areas of the lagoon where the stream is stronger, a sign of hope for fishermen out in the sea with bad weather.
Chioggia is small and lovely, once off the vaporetto I suggest to walk straight on and stop for a coffee at Bacaro Le Sirene. The street, called Corso del Popolo, is large and with beautiful porticos on the right, studded with old and new shops and many bars. The fish market is on the left, small and covered with a red waterproof fabric. Smaller than the one in Rialto, the offer is only local (what they fish, they sell) and I can assure you that I was literally mouthwatering... from gourmet treats like oysters and queen scallops, to poorer -yet exquisite- fish like mussels or sardines, everything looked so very inviting.
Not to mention the famous seppioline (baby squids), a quintessential Venetian treat, perfect fried or grilled or in any way you want to prepare them (if only we had a portable kitchen...). We bought a big jar of marinated sardines (not anchovies, but sardines!) that we used to garnish our evening salad, so fat and tasty, incredible! It was the first time I saw sardines like this and I will definitely copy the idea.
After the market we enjoyed another light spritz on the main road and then went off towards the canal. I was looking for a pastry shop called Ruggero, but unfortunately it was closed. It is said to be the best pastry shop in Chioggia and my intention was to ask him about his renown torta chioggiotta, a typical cake made with radicchio (called the rose of Chioggia for its shape), carrots and hazelnut flour.
To recover from the disappointment, we had to console ourselves with other delicious food, so we went to Acquamarina for lunch, my all times favourite whenever I come to Chioggia. Acquamarina is a company of fishermen that in summer use three boats for culinary activities. The two bigger boats sail around Chioggia while people enjoy easy going fizzy table wine and fresh fish, while the one we had lunch in is anchored on a fondamenta (just in case you didn't know, fondamenta is a street with a canal on one side and houses on the other). The boat conveys happiness and positivity from the moment you see it, with its bright blue colour, the sea shells used as decorations and white signs with local sayings and idioms. The boys are very easy going and I think this is what they normally cook for themselves when they are working (this particular boat is open only at weekends) in their fishing boat.
Don't expect anything fancy, no silverware nor waiters in livery, but three well built "boys" that cook simple and fresh food, a big long table where everyone sits together and chats with whoever is sitting next and house wine. If this doesn't bother you, well... be prepared to eat heavenly things. We started with sarde in saor, a typical recipe consisting in fried sardines marinated with sautéed onions and vinegar, which were made in the old traditional way, this is with no pine nuts nor raisins (which had been added in a second moment to satisfy the richer palates of Venetian nobility). Really good! The quality of the sardines was excellent, meaty and tasty. Then we shared a plate of sautéed mussels, made in Chioggia style, thus with onion and not -as we do in Venice- with garlic and, as a main course, we had pasta with seafood and tomato sauce. We drank some fizzy white wine, fresh water and ended our lunch with a limoncello.
I was happy! I got to eat lots of Bussolai Chioggiotti - the roundish breadsticks, to distinguish from the sweet Bussolai biscuits from Burano- and meet a lovely family from a nearby town. We stayed there quite a while, enjoying the atmosphere and the chats and when we paid they charged us 15 euros each. Perfect! A 3-course meal cooked by these fellows, who have even caught the fish, in a unique location, what more could I ask for?
At that point we decided to head back home, but before taking the vaporetto we stopped at Fronte del Porto (not even 2 minutes right from the vaporetto stop) and try a fried cuttlefish. I confess I had seen a tv programme called Unti e Bisunti where Chef Rubio (real name: Gabriele Rubini, ex national rugby player now television host and chef) went there and tried all their absolutely mouthwatering cicchetti and I wanted to do the same! Oh my...
Our day was wonderful, we couldn't have asked for anything better: beautiful places, amazing food and great people. I highly recommend spending a day in Chioggia and try contacting Acquamarina for the full on-boat experience!
Divertitevi e Buon Appetito amici!
How to reach Chioggia from Venice:
Reach the Lido island (from San Zaccaria take either line 1 or 5.2).
In Lido, take a bus number 11 (see timetable) and stay on it. When you get off, a vaporetto for Chioggia will be waiting for you!
Address: Calle Olivotti, 411, 30015 Chioggia VE Try the Chioggiotta cake!
Address: Canal Lombardo, 30015 Chioggia VE
Fronte del Porto
Address: Fondamenta Canal Lombardo, 1429, 30015 Chioggia VE