Venice’s traditions: spriss and cicchetti.
The train plods wearily down rusty rails, grumbling and coughing like a centennial giant. Familiarly known as “Vaca Mora”, it has seen the route Adria – Venezia for over 100 years, running through the idle Venetian countryside in its over an hour long journey. Old train stations follow one another, in a sequence of names soaked in history and rural traditions. Mira, Oriago, Mestre, but it’s when you cross “Ponte della Liberta’, the long bridge that connects Venice to the mainland, that you start glimpsing at the Serenissima’s skyline, the once influential maritime Republic of Venice, and it’s lagoon, dotted with islands.
I’ve been gathering opinion and feedback from friends and family and tried to put them together like a puzzle to write this article – all things considered Venice is my hometown, I don’t want to screw this up. The outcome is impressive though, and extremely consistent. Along with museums, exhibitions, flavorsome food and, of course, wine (Venetians are renowned alcoholic) what everybody mentioned is the unique feeling you get at night, when the city is shrouded by a magical charm and the bright lights of little, ancient windows create a contrast with the bold darkness of walls that are vestiges of a century-old history.
And its from this viewpoint I’d like to start telling what I love the most about Venice.
I must have mentioned that Venetians love wine, haven’t I? Wine, love and “bella vita” – the wise Venetians know indeed how to enjoy themselves. And it’s just before the sun sets over the horizon and the colors of the Serenissima start changing, that the holy ritual of the “Aperitivo” takes place in quaint bars and restaurants.
“Bacaro”, in the old Venetian, is the traditional bar/eatery-on-the-cheap-side perfect as a happy hour spot. People get together to talk and have a “ombra” (glass of wine) or a Spritz, a Prosecco based drink made of Aperol, soda and preferably a orange’s wedge or an olive, accompanied by the unmissable “cicchetti”, snacks to nibble while sipping the most-loved Spritz.
Cicchetti can be anything as long as it’s tasty and it makes you even thirstier, but in Venice it reaches an entire new level, getting sophisticated and particularly delicious. The dried cod-based cicchetti (“baccalà mantecato) hold the first place in popularity, belonging to the city´s culinary tradition for centuries.
Venice, the capital of the aperitivo, boasts a sheer abundance of those happy hour spots and, though it can be wallet-wrecking, it just needs to be treated fairly. Let me be clear: San Marco Square is utterly stunning, one of my favorite places ever, but when it comes to restaurants it is ridiculously expensive.
Caffè Florian, Quadri or Harry´s Bar are historical cafes located in the world´s most beautiful square (I might be a little biased though), and, as much as their history dates back to the 16th century, their list of famous guests is endless, and the service is impeccable, it all comes along with a bill that fits solely big wallets.
The only way to get to know Venice is to explore off the well-trodden path, avoiding the tourists traps that crowd the main drag. Distrust those “three courses for 20 euros” and the “dinner deals” and opt for a more intimate and less popular traditional bacaro.
Another little tip? Make a good use of your Italian, and if you cannot speak a word, well, it´s time to start learning the basis. It is something that I´m personally ashamed of, but I´ve seen tourists being charged double the actual price just because they couldn´t speak the language.
Don´t you despair, here is the list of words you MUST KNOW before heading off to Venice:
- “Na ombra, grassie” – A glass of wine, thanks
- “Na bira, perfavore” – A beer please
- “Un bianco”/”Un rosso” – A glass of white wine/ A glass of red wine
- “On spriss co dei cicheti” – An Aperol Spritz with some snacks to nibble
Venetian cuisine is also something that is definitely worth mentioning: its close proximity to the sea is one of the main reasons of its seafood-based culinary traditions. The already mentioned “Baccalà mantecato” comes along with a great assortment of delicacies such as “sardee in saor”(marinated sardines) or “bisato” (some sort of weird looking eel) and “bovoetti” (little snails that live somewhere nearby the sea).
Okay, this doesn´t sound appealing at all.
Let me re-start.
Venetian cuisine is also something that is definitely worth mentioning, boasting delicacies such as “baccalà mantecato e polenta”, “bigoli in salsa” (traditional Venetian pasta) or “fegato alla Veneziana” (liver and onion) and seafood of any sort, easily found in any traditional restaurants.
If your funds are limited, the best option is to go for some street food, which ranges from “pizza al trancio” (takeaway pizza slices) to the mouth-watering tramezzino, sandwiches prepared with a great variety of fillings and mayo. Tramezzini in Venice are amazing. I just love them.
Well, this is all you need to know about Venice chaps (for now), and as a wise man one said “May the Force be with you “.
Stay tuned for some more tips and the new article: “Bacaro tour: pub crawling in Venice”, coming up soon.
For more info: http://www.visit-venice-italy.com/