One of the most fun things we’ve done in Italy was a cicchetti tour in Venice. Venice is known for its cicchetti bars (bacari), which serve small snacks, like tapas, throughout the day. Venetians stop at bacari at all times of the day for a snack and an ombra, a small glass of local white wine. When we were on Murano in 2006, we watched the locals drinking prosecco and eating cicchetti at 10 a.m. on a freezing cold day. Seems like a good custom to me!
You won’t find bacari on the main tourist streets of Venice; you have to get off the beaten path to belly up to the bar and enjoy the cicchetti scene. Because most bacari close around 8 or 9 p.m. and because most of the good cicchetti go fast, it’s important to start your bacari crawl early. Don’t be put off if you can’t get into a bacaro—just order your food and drink and join the locals outside.
Before we left Rome, we found an Urban Adventures cicchetti tour on the web and signed up for the 5:30 tour on Thursday night. A group of eight tasters, most of them about Kate’s age except for Michael and me, joined our leader, Cecelia, for the three-hour tour, which began in Cannaregio. We stopped immediately for our first cicchetti (a selection of bruschetta) and white wine and then wandered through the streets of Cannaregio before hopping on a traghetto for a quick ride across the Grand Canal to the fish market in San Polo.
Our second stop was my favorite, Pronto Pesce, which was just across the street from the fish market. We ate fabulous fish cicchetti, including an amazing bruschetta with bacalao (salted cod) cream, gorgeous sweet anchovies, and other lovely, fishy treats, which were paired with a crisp, dry, white wine. Yum!
We stayed in San Polo for the rest of the tour, which included stops at Cantina Do Mori (one of the oldest bars in Venice—it opened in 1462!), Osteria al Sacro e Profano, and Osteria all Ciurma, which all served good food and wonderful red wine. At our last top, in addition to cicchetti and red wine we had a sweet dessert wine and cookies to end the evening. We had to eat and drink outside there, because the inside was packed with happy people. It wasn’t raining (or snowing), so we didn’t care.
Cecelia had tons of energy, a great sense of humor, and lots of knowledge about her adopted city (she’s Portuguese) and made the night really fun and special. At our last stop she annotated my map of Venice with 20 or so of her favorite restaurants and cicchetti bars, so we must visit Venice again and give them a try. I’d do this tour again, especially if Cecelia led it.
We had other great food in Venice, too. In Cannaregio we had lunch at Osteria la Bottega Ai Promessi Sposi on Thursday, where I had delicious mussels and Michael had scrumptious calves liver (fegato), one of the most famous Venetian dishes. Cecelia was so excited that we’d found Ai Promessi Sposi because she said it serves the best calves liver in Venice. We agree! I don’t like mussels in the United States, except those served at Bertha’s in Baltimore, but I LOVE mussels in Tunisia, Italy, France, and Belgium. They’re smaller, sweeter, and more tender, and if the menu offers steamed mussels, I’ll probably eat them. I wasn’t disappointed.
After waiting for an hour we had lunch at Impronta Café in Dorsoduro on Friday. It was well worth the wait. My starter was a caprese salad made with the best mozzarella I’ve ever eaten and served with prosciutto. For my main course I had roasted rabbit in a wonderful sauce. Even though we had made dinner reservations that evening, I ate every bite of my lunch. I took only a few bites of my dinner, but I was happy!
And speaking of food, one of my favorite places in Venice is the fish market. I don’t know why. Many cities around the world have fish markets, and they’re all fascinating with their displays of local fish, but I especially like the Venice’s Mercato del Pesce. It is just across the Rialto Bridge from our hotel, and we visited it a couple of times. You’ll find some photos below.
Ahhhhhhh, Venice! I’ll be back soon! Save me some liver!