Mascari: the oldest specialty food shop in Venice
Those of you who read my recipes know that one of my favourite specialty food shops in Venice is Antica Drogheria Mascari, where I am taking you today! Located in Rialto, precisely in Calle degli Spezieri (street of spice merchants), Mascari is a dream store for young and old and every day its windows amuse passersby with their coloured spices, sweet treats and bottles of all sorts.
Mascari has such a rich offer that I don't know where to start from so I'll begin by saying that here you can find anything ranging from dry fruit to high quality spirits, jams, chutneys, marmalades, olive oils, wine, chocolate, ethnic foods and -mostly- wine. Imagine an old style family run business, where everyone wears a white coat and knows everything about every single product, with wooden furniture and shelves covered with delicious foods, which leave no time for modern minimalism. Attention to quality and customer satisfaction is a must and I have to say that the value for money is really excellent.
In Venice everybody knows Mascari and we consider it a sort of iconic place, a truly traditional store that has kept honour to its renown quality. Personally, I find that Mascari and Cantinone già Schiavi are the two places in town that sell the best wines at the best prices; and this is true also with regard to spirits (e.g. whiskey is cheaper here than in Ireland or the U.K.), in fact, every year I buy a special bottle of whiskey or calvados for Vito (he prefers whiskey, but is fond of calvados because it's what The Alligator drinks -one of the characters of Massimo Carlotto, an Italian crime story writer).
I buy a lot of things here, sometimes I buy a special jam or chutney, I like the Wilkin & Sons ones, but the offer is very varied so it could actually take you some time to choose. The selection of honey too is very inviting, not to mention the assortment of dry fruit and different types of nuts... the dry fruit is special, especially the figs, although what I buy more often are raisins (normally I fill a jar with raisins and leave them soaking in grappa, a typical dessert here). If you are into candies and chocolate this is paradise for you, but fortunately for my pockets I am more of a savoury person, so here I -sometimes- buy specialty pasta or rice. Obviously these products are pricier than at the supermarket, but they are of much better quality and anyway affordable (3/5 euros for a kilo) and I work to enjoy life, so a little treat every now and then is a necessity. I also recommend looking at their offer of olive oils, all of excellent quality and to suit different needs. I used to buy the Planeta olive oil, a rich Sicilian oil, but don't be afraid to ask them, they will be glad to help you choose the best product for your specific needs.
Spices deserve a special note: there is no place in Venice where the spices are as good as in Mascari. Really, try their curry and let me know what you think. Addictive.
Spices, in general, are not easy to use, in fact I think that if misused they can ruin a dish, so I always ask for advice and tell them exactly what I want to prepare and they have saved me so many times that I will always be grateful! I do the same with herbs! Anyway, in the end it really all comes to the drinks. The product we buy the most is undoubtedly wine and Mascari has a very conspicuous and interesting selection of wine (and beer too), divided by region. So many temptations in that narrow corridor...
Obviously there are some renown expensive bottles, but if you want to spend, let's say, between 8 and 20 euros, you will find that the quality is really excellent. In this price range the regional wines I prefer are by Serafini & Vidotto, Vignalta, Castelvecchio, Inama and Pieropan.
Spirits too are very inviting. I won't list my favourites, but if you are interested in regional products, I feel I ought to suggest the distillates by Capovilla, by far my favourite distiller located in Bassano del Grappa. The elegance of his distillates is unique, perfect to end a pleasant dinner, and ideal if you are invited to a friend's house and don't want to show up empty handed!
Mascari deserves a visit not only because it is the oldest food specialty store in Venice, but also because it is impossible not to fall in love with this shop: every corner is a temptation and, since you have to sin, you might as well do it properly and choose the best quality! Enjoy!
Address: San Polo, Calle dello Spezier 381, Venice 30125