• Nicoletta Fornaro

Describing Venice through its food: a visual excursion in the lagoon


Today's post is a little bit different, in the sense that we're not going to a restaurant or an osteria, instead we're going on a trip through the lagoon to discover where our food is produced, sold, eaten and … digested. The idea arose simply because food really tells a lot about a city, its culture and its people and it's only by getting to know things closer that we can appreciate them more.

The first consideration is that the initial fortune of Venice was more than closely linked to food conservation: salt, in fact, played a key role in the expansion of the Republic. Then, with the trade came the exotic ingredients like the spices, some types of fish (suffice to think of stockfish) and meats, cooking techniques and, with the several foreign communities that had settled in the lagoon, international recipes, traditions and costumes.

Venice has always had to rely on commerce and trade to supply the inhabitants of the islands with all the staple foods, but the lagoon too was quite productive and at least until the 70s it was still possible to see the cattle in the Vaccaria in front of the wooden bridge before Santa Marta, while fishing -although it has undergone some serious changes- continues to be an important economic activity and, with regard to vegetables, our islands produce some of the most exquisite and tasty greens, which I am always eager to eat.

VENICE’S FARMS - where the food is produced

1- SANT'ERASMO

Located in the north lagoon, it is often called the vegetable garden of Venice and is known especially for its artichokes. I love this place, defined by my friend Marjorie of Og Venice as the "yellow and purple island", because those are the colours of the spring flowers in blossom. From Venice you can take the vaporetto Linea 13 from F.ta Nove and reach the island in about 40/50 minutes. There isn’t much, just farmland, an apiary, a couple of easy going restaurants and an incredibly magical atmosphere. Pure countryside, but in the middle of the lagoon, with views that range from green cultivated land to water alleys, perfect for a relaxing day immersed in nature. The artichoke plant produces different types of artichokes according to the period, so in early spring we eat the extremely precious castraure, which means cut, in fact from that cut other artichokes will blossom and those are called botoi and are collected from late April to early June. After botoi we have sottobotoi and massette (a curiosity: the renowned fondi di carciofo are the ugly artichokes left on the plant). Personally, I like them all, but I also adore the small purplish aubergines that grow in summer, the peas in spring and all the winter chards and cabbages! I suggest visiting the island on a sunny day, if you wish you can even do your weekly shopping or -if you live here- you can always sign up for the delivery services like the one offered by I Sapori di Sant' Erasmo. For a meal consider stopping at Lato Azzurro (I suggest booking or, anyway, giving them a call before you go), then just enjoy your day, wander around and -most importantly- bring your camera!!!

2- VIGNOLE

Vignole is also located in the north lagoon, behind Murano. Probably this island is even more pure countryside than Sant'Erasmo, here there are really only houses and fields and that's it (not a destination for a day trip). I often buy the produce of Vignole at the Lido market on Tuesday and Friday and find it delicious. Last summer I asked Riccardo if I could visit their farm and he welcomed me and escorted me around the different fields. They grow with the homeodynamic method and use no chemicals, in fact sometimes it may happen that the birds or an insect attack a plant and they just let it go, preferring to lose sales rather than intervening with a chemical treatment. The production, as you may imagine, is very limited but if you have the chance, do go to the Lido market, especially the smaller one on Fridays, because it could really become a great -and authentic- street food experience!

3- GIUDECCA

Giudecca is located in the south lagoon and its gardens can be visited only by very few people. Two are the realities I wish to talk about, the first one is L'Orto delle Meraviglie, started in 1994 as an educational activity addressed to the female prisoners of the Venice jail and to recuperate about six thousand square meters of terrain, now cultivated with the organic method. It's possible to buy their veggies (they grow around 40 types) on Thursday morning in F.ta Santa Eufemia in Giudecca (to learn more, have a look at the post Giudecca: an island where to find peace) or savour them in some restaurants in Venice. The second reality is the garden managed by the collective group SpiazziVerdi, started about 10 years ago by Michele Savorgnano in Zittelle. A couple of months ago the Italian magazine La Cucina Italiana published a beautiful article (available here in Italian) in which it described it as a magical place, a mix of flowers, rows of vines and crops, all cultivated with a self-renewing method inspired by the Japanese philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, known for his natural farming methods based on the concept of Mu, basically "doing nothing". Thus, the produce is natural and everything can be eaten, even the flowers. Until 2016 the garden used to supply several local restaurants, but from 2017 the main client has become the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, separated only by a small wall. It is not rare to see Davide Bisetto, the Hotel's chef, nosing around their garden and picking the best produce.

4- PELLESTRINA & CHIOGGIA

But, wait a moment, wasn't Venice famous for its fish? Surrounded by water, fish has always been a staple food here and the two islands of fishermen are the tiny Pellestrina and the bigger Chioggia, both located in the south lagoon and both worth visiting. Pellestrina is much smaller and it's ideal for those looking for relaxation and peace. No huts along the shore, just free beach and wilderness. At the far end, Caroman, where the kids like to run fast with their scooters, and the boat for Chioggia. From Venice you need to reach the Lido first, then hop on a bus number 11, which will take you via ferry to Pellestrina. Here you can get off and explore the island, possibly with a bike, enjoy a traditional fish meal Da Nane or Da Celeste, while if you want to go straight to Chioggia, just stay on the bus and then take another vaporetto to your final destination. In Chioggia I recommend to wander around the centre, nose around the stalls at the fish market, savour the cicheti at Fronte del Porto, in winter try a slice of Chioggiotta cake (made with carrots, hazelnuts and radicchio), while in summer have a fun fish meal on an Acquamarina boat.

5- BURANO

Located in the north lagoon, it's probably the most famous fishing community as that is where the women, by mending fishing nets, started their lace making technique. Burano is one of the most photographed islands, known throughout the world for its colourful houses and for the risotto di go, rigorously all'onda (made with a wave-like movement), to be savoured at Trattoria Gatto Nero da Ruggero. Go, as you may know, are small black goby fish that used to be typical in Venice but now are quite hard to find, so if you go all the way to Burano... try them! One last thing: if in central Venice you decide to visit Ca' Pesaro, museum of modern art, take the time to notice the paintings of the so-called Scuola di Burano, a group of artists active on the island from 1910 to (but not with the same intensity) the mid 50s. The most famous representatives were Gino Rossi, Umberto Moggioli and Pio Semeghini.

MARKETS & SHOPS - where the food is sold

If you want to understand a city, visit its market. How many times have you heard this? Well, it's true and in Venice you can learn a lot not only in Rialto, but also in all the little farmer's markets and vendors. Just be aware of the women carrying their precious trolleys (like me!)!

1- RIALTO

The central market, where you can find everything from greens to spices, legumes to dried fruit, meat and, of course, fish. Open only in the morning, the ritual goes beyond the shopping and involves meeting friends, nibbling, drinking and chatting away. Look around the fish stalls for our local varieties, walk around the colourful fruit and veg stalls and then stop at Mascari to get yourself a treat, like some dried fruit, a specialty oil or a delicious snack of dried fruit. The name of the streets and squares will make immediately clear what you can find, in fact it will be fish in Pescaria, greens in Erbaria and spices in Calle de lo Spezier; take also the time to note the patere of the trades of the past, like the ones of the wool and silk makers...

2- FARMER'S MARKETS

Every market is a little bit different, some are organic, some are km 0, anyway, they are all virtuous and the products of excellent quality. The weekly markets are on Monday in Santa Marta, on Monday and Thursday in Rio Tera' dei Pensieri, on Thursday morning in F.ta Sant'Eufemia in Giudecca (only vegetables) and on Tuesday and Friday on the Lido. The producers are different, all located in the nearby territory and offering good, healthy and naturally grown produce. To be fair and democratic, I buy small bits and pieces at most stalls and suggest doing the same. So much deliciousness!

3- BOATS

Every neighbourhood has the local stalls that are open all day long and offer greens at a (bit) higher price, but what really impresses people is buying their greens from a boat. The two most known are the ones located in Via Garibaldi in Castello and the one in San Barnaba in the Dorsoduro district, which is open also in the afternoon.

4- BOAT DELIVERIES

If where you live you get your food delivered directly at home at the time you decide, well, here it's different. It would be unimaginable for a boat to stop at every house, thus the delivery is usually once a week at a set time and place, a sort of shared community experience. When the boat arrives, the men take out their list and start calling everyone by name! How cute! I sometimes order the greens through the above mentioned I Sapori di Sant'Erasmo and sometimes through Donna Gnora, located in the nearby mainland, which delivers to a specific place where one can pass by at the most convenient time of the day.

5- ORGANIC STORES

There is one organic store in particular - the Rialto Biocenter- that has totally conquered my heart (and palate) with their selection of bread made in Zerobranco and Mira, both in the province of Venice. The story behind these bakeries and the flours adopted is very interesting and will be soon featured on the blog, so stay tuned!

OSTERIE - where the food is eaten

The best part of it all I suppose, where we finally get to sink our teeth into a delicious treat. In Venice we have our cicheti, nibbles, in different osterie, accompanied by a small glass of house wine (have a look at my Venetian cicheti and street food post to learn more about the variety of traditional nibbles and the best places to savour them). A must have experience about which you will have surely read in all food guides about Venice is Osteria all'Arco, which, despite suffering of its own success, truly is an authentic place serving local, super fresh and well prepared cicheti. My husband always has the fried baccalà and a slice of bread with butter and anchovy, while for me Matteo usually prepares an assortment of seasonal veg (so good! and thank you for preparing fresh veggies everyday!). Other two super traditional and written about places I love are Trattoria alla Vedova, with their garlicky meatballs, and La Vecia Carbonera, where you can even sit down and take your time. Of the (way too many) new bacari that have opened I must mention at least Salvmeria in Via Garibaldi in Castello, which recuperated an old and abandoned butcher's and transformed it into a cool and fancy -yet easy going and friendly- wine bar serving mouthwatering fish and veg nibbles, small sandwiches and local wine, and Ossi di Seppia, located at one minute from San Giovanni e Paolo and offering quality food and wine and a friendly and warm atmosphere! The last advice I want to give you, in case you'd rather sit down and take things easy, is to check out two of the best wine bars in Venice: Cantina Arnaldi and Adriatico Mar. These are the places for natural wine lovers and casual gourmets, in fact the platters of cured meats and cheese and also the veggies are of more than excellent quality and by virtuous producers! Another way to get a taste of the best that Italy has to offer is to stop at the Enogastronomia Pantagruelica in Campo San Barnaba for a tasting (25.00 euros in total for 2) and possibly buy a super good present for a friend to bring home, like a quality pasta, rice or whatever you wish.

IN FRONT OF A VIEW - where the food is digested

A perfect culinary experience needs a perfect ending and to conclude a day of wanderings we must treat ourselves to a view. It is not necessary to be rich to enjoy a stunning skyline, dawn or sunset, in fact one of the favourite things I like to do in the warmer months after dinner is go out for a walk with Vito along the Riva degli Schiavoni and Riva dei Sette Martiri, get a gigantic ice-cream at Gelateria Il Pinguino and sit on a bench facing the lagoon. This can be done in all districts and areas and from 5 pm on, when most day trippers have returned elsewhere and the city becomes suddenly calmer, everything seems to be sugar coated in a sort of elegantly flossy aura and letting yourself go will be so easy... you may become addicted to Venice!

I hope you enjoyed this brief excursion, I would love to learn about your experiences too.

Enjoy the weekend and talk to you soon!

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