Il Tramezzino: the must have Venetian food
The first food any Venetian eats at his return from a vacation is not a fancy fish cicchetto, but a dirt cheap and extremely filling sandwich that we call tramezzino. Tramezzini are small bites of heavenly delight, triangular sandwiches with soft white bread with the crust removed, filled with mayonnaise and a variety of combinations, the most popular of which are: ham and eggs, tuna and olives, ham and mushrooms and shrimps and pink sauce. You will find them in any bar, the average price is 1,50/1,70 per piece and, although I could just keep eating them on and on, two of those probably have the amount of calories of your daily intake!
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Before we delve into tramezzini tasting, a little bit of history. I'll begin by saying that the origin of these delicious nibbles is claimed by more cities, if not even countries, but apparently they were born in England. One version ascribes their origin to the fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, known for his gambling habits, in fact it all happened one evening when he couldn't leave the table that he asked his servants to fill some bread with the cold leftover roast chicken and, the other players at the table, immediately copied him asking for the "same sandwich". According to another version, the invention of tramezzini is due to the Duchess of Bedford, Mrs Anna Maria Russel, who was way too hungry to wait for dinner and started asking for small tea sandwiches filled with butter and cucumber to accompany her drink in the afternoon. What is certain, anyway, is that the name of the tramezzino as we know it today is Italian and was invented by Gabriele D'Annunzio, meaning "the middle morning snack" (tra - mezzo, that is in the middle) and it was created as an alternative to the British tea sandwiches in the Caffè Mulassano in Turin.
Well then, why is Venice so famous for something that wasn't even invented here? The reason is simple: our horrible climate! The dampness that characterises the lagoon is ideal to maintain tramezzini soft and tender, to be washed down with an ombra or a birrino. To be honest with you, until a short while ago I thought that the origin was fought only between Mestre and Venice (about this, and also about how Venetians feel when they are forced to go to Mestre, I suggest watching the Ruga Giuffa episode "Stallo alla Mestrina"), anyway... wherever they were invented, Venice is the best city to have them. Here, tramezzini are a big thing, the fillings are so generous that I have always wondered how is it possible to fit so much food into such a small triangle.
In Venice, most bars have tramezzini and it is nearly impossible for them not to be good, so what follows is the list of places where I usually go to, but each Venetian has its own favourite, so when here...just follow your instinct! The first place that comes to my mind is undoubtedly Rosa Salva, both the one in Calle Fiubera and the one in campo San Giovanni e Paolo. When I was a child, it was my Saturday treat and I would always get two: asparagus and eggs (highly addictive) and tuna and eggs, while my mother always had one with shrimps and one with salmon and a thinly sliced gherkin which -according to her- gives the added kick. In this historical cafeteria and pastry shop, tramezzini are less plump than in other places, but they are longer and delicious. Their assortment includes curious combinations and it definitely characterised by elegance. When we used Rosa Salva as catering service for some small events, we ordered what they call Panettone di Tramezzini, their invention: a whole lot of mini sandwiches, placed one above the other, in the shape of a Panettone, the traditional Italian Christmas cake.
Then I must mention the Bar al Theatro, known by Venetians as Bar alla Fenice because it is just in front of the opera house. This fancy bar is my personal favourite when it comes to tramezzini and my husband agrees. Now, the assortment is endless, but my drug is called porchetta and radicchio. Al Theatro looks very fancy, in fact the restaurant is quite pricey, but the bar is actually an excellent solution for a snack in the Saint Mark's district and whenever I come I usually have 2 tramezzini and one mini pastry (they have recently modernised their offer and, if you are a sweet tooth their dessert window is something to die for).
Toletta is probably the most written about tramezzini bar in all of Venice and I can understand why! The size of their triangular delicacies is enormous and they have been feeding students, locals and visitors alike for at least 50 years, in fact, just next to it there are two high schools (humanities and arts) and between 10:30 and 11:00 am there are long queues of teenagers waiting to sink their teeth into one of their sandwiches. A quintessential culinary experience in Venice, a real must have!
My mother's favourite is Bar Filovia, just before Piazzale Roma. In foreign guides they call it Borgo Molin, but actually that is just the name of a prosecco producer that provided them with the tent! Anyway, it is a tiny bar with very little space but a huge choice of absolutely to die for sandwiches! My mother was pregnant and often used me as an excuse to eat their tramezzini. At the time, the ‘older’ generation prepared everything, while now, you can see fathers and sons…. here, the freshness, the choice of bread and the amazing variety makes standing - sometimes tightly squeezed - well worthwhile! You exit the vaporetto, number 1 or 2 and in front of you on the right before ascending the steps is this corner bar!
Located in Salizada San Crisostomo, one of the busiest streets in Venice from 10 am to 7 pm, this bar has incredibly delicious tramezzini. It is one of my best friend's weaknesses and whenever we meet I know that at some point she will ask me if I feel like a tramezzino... and I never fail to say yes! We come here and stand (although it is also possible to sit), have a birrino, our snack and leave. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that birrini are the tiny glasses (0,10 cl) of beer served only in certain bars in Venice (this because here it's normal to go from one place to the other, so we can't have a pint at every bar!!!!).
BIRRERIA FORST in CALLE DELLE RASSE
At Forst they have revisited the traditional tramezzini with their own, still quite enticing, offer that now, though, has become a classic. Their ones are rectangular, use thicker bread -both white and black- and include spicier flavours like my all-times favourite that is porchetta and mustard. Here the tramezzini cost 3 euros each, but they are bigger and the filling is very very generous. This is the best place for a quick snack close to Saint Mark's and it is also frequented by lots of locals.
MAGO G (real name: who knows?)
Last but not least: Mago G. Okay, okay... with regard to this particular spot, you should first know that it is the only place in Venice open all night...therefore, after a certain hour anyone in need of food goes there and their tramezzini always seem the most delicious food on earth. I have never had them in daytime, so I'm actually not sure about their quality, but believe me that at 2 am in the morning they taste divine! This spot is known to all Venetians, at the foot of the Rialto Bridge on the side of San Bortolo, and what gave the name to the place was the hairstyle of the owner, identical to the one of a famous 80s advertisement (the one you see below) so people started saying "Let's go to Mago G" and the name still remains!
So, if you are looking for a super budget quintessential must have food experience in Venice, go on a tramezzini tasting! Have one in each place (not more than one, they look small but they are bombs) and let me know which was your favourite filling. Buon appetito!