• Nicoletta Fornaro

An ordinary Saturday morning shopping and drinking in Rialto


I don't know if you have looked at the weather forecast, but lately it seems as if a black cloud has decided to gravitate over Venice and just stay there, making the days in the city dull and extremely cold. Thank goodness, yesterday the sun came out and shone throughout the day; the wind was strong and the air chilly, but at least those rays of light warmed up the soul and spirit of us Venetians.

I should warn you that in Italy we are all a bit meteoropathic and in winter we can be even worse than the British and complain about the weather all the time.Anyway, Vito had to start at 3 pm, so we took advantage of our free morning to sleep a little later than usual and then do something that, until about 3 years ago, we used to do almost every weekend: enjoy what I call the Saturday of the village in Rialto.

I nicknamed this experience Saturday of the village because this is the only day of the week when most people are off work and have the time to do their proper weekly shopping and meet up for drinks, nibbles and chats. A social ritual that reaches its peak between noon and 1 pm, when we're all merry and need to head home for a power nap (could someone please tell me why power nap? Usually, it makes me feel even sleepier than before...). As you know, I get most of my veg from the Vignole stall or at the weekly farmers markets and -unfortunately- have lost the habit of going to Rialto.

On average, the prices for veg are better when bought directly from the producers and also with regard to certain product, like legumes, I find that I spend less at the organic store (for example, 500 gr of borlotti beans cost 3.00 euros at the bio store and 3.50/4.00 at the Rialto market...), I realise it may sound absurd but it's true (and I assure you that I pay a lot of attention to the cost of food)! Obviously it always depends on the products: Venetian women know well that we have no other option than getting bits and pieces in different places, thus we need to plan the shopping keeping in consideration the number of bridges that separate us from our house, the average weight of the different bags (no easy solution in Venice, just strong arms and energetic legs!!!) and the itinerary to follow to bring home as much as possible in just one go.

Before starting the blog I went more often to buy fish, but now our schedules have changed and at home I'd say that 98% of our diet is plant-based and we tend to leave the animal protein to when we go out for lunch or dinner at the weekend (as you can see from all the Venetian Wanderings series). If we have friends over we normally prepare fish and, in those occasions, Vito wants to go himself to get the freshest fish early in the morning.

Personally, I have three main reference points in Rialto: Antica Drogheria Mascari for wine, spirits, spices and dried fruit, La Baita for olives, anchovies, fresh cheese or Parmesan and for their super yummy baccalà (see my recipe) and NaturaSi for bread, legumes, half-dried tomatoes, specialty olives and a French mustard to die for (so good! My tip: make a warm winter salad with black cabbage, apple, a mix of seeds, walnuts or cashews, a bunch of raisins and a lemon and mustard dressing). Anyway, when I get my greens in Rialto I normally go to the Fratelli Moro stall, but each Venetian has their own trusted supplier, so just follow your instinct and let your eyes guide you! Look at the origin of the produce and, whenever possible, opt for local -or at least Italian- veggies and fish, I promise you won't be disappointed!

I wish I could speak only positive words about the Rialto market, but the reality is that -although still unique and amazing- it is not as lively as it used to be: with locals forced to leave due to the increasing cost of life, but mostly due to the difficulty in finding apartments to rent, people don't spend as much and, for quite obvious reasons, restaurants and hotels buy directly from wholesalers. Hopefully things will change. I'm sure you know that at the chemist in Campo San Bortolo there is a digital screen showing the number of residents in the city and it brakes my heart to see it continuously decreasing (now we are less than 54.000...).

Anyway, it was Saturday, the sun was -finally and miraculously- shining and I just wanted to be positive: time to drink! We met a couple of friends we hadn't seen for ages and felt we had to celebrate, so we went to Osteria Bancogiro and drank a glass of wine, red for me and white for my friends, while savouring two French oysters each. The sort of treat that really cheers me up: good friends, excellent wine and delicious food! Both Vito and I had the oysters al naturale, we like to taste all their saltiness and strong flavours, which result more intense without the addition of pepper and lemon.

At Bancogiro the selection of wine offered by the glass is very interesting and the boys are all very kind and attentive. The cicheti too are very good, I particularly like their sarde in saor and the dark polenta with stockfish, while my husband enjoys the cured meats, especially the mortadella, which reminds him of his mother who was from Modena. We had to stop drinking at that point and head back home. As already mentioned, Vito had to work, thus he couldn't relax too much! Before saying goodbye, we crossed the Rialto bridge and passed in front of what for us is a "usual scene" -this is, the Grand Canal- thinking how lucky we are to live here.

I should have worked at the computer, but I'll immediately confess I took some time off and spent the rest of the afternoon between the bed and the couch, eating the entire pumpkin and chocolate chip loaf I had bought for the week (why do I still believe it will actually last more than 2 days!?!) and leafing through a super cool cookbook you will soon hear more about (It's called Santa Pietanza and all the recipes are inspired by or carry the name of a saint! So original! And great for me, I am already thinking about how I can combine them to my Venetian wanderings series).

So, what I can say is that: if you are free on a Saturday morning, a stop at the Rialto market is mandatory. Nose around the stalls (consider buying little gifts there, like dried tomatoes or other easy-to-carry specialty foods) and enjoy a good glass of wine or a craft beer under the porticos of Erbaria. A great way to be part of a weekly epicurean social rite! Talk to you soon!

P.S. For more suggestions on what to do in the area, have a look at the San Polo - Santa Croce: a culinary discovery post hosted on the Venice Insider blog.

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