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

Sant'Erasmo | Venice day tours
Sant'Erasmo | Venice day tours

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 | Venice's farms
Vignole | Venice's farms

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 | Orto delle Meraviglie

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!)!

Rialto Market | Venice - Italy