Last Updated on October 12, 2023 by Laura Teso
Ok, so you’ve finally booked your stay in Venice. And you’re collecting information about what to see, what to do, where to eat, and all this exciting stuff (I really like the planning part). Before a trip, I spend a lot of time online-searching for good restaurants, nice cafés, and pastry shops. And reading tons of reviews, too. I love to try local food. I think it’s part of the travel experience. Venetian cuisine for example is a reflection of the city’s unique geography and history, with a focus on fresh seafood, lagoon vegetables, and rich flavors. So… What to eat in Venice? Let’s find out!
What to eat in Venice, Italy
Venice offers a delicious array of traditional dishes and unique culinary experiences. Here are some foods and dishes you should try when visiting Venice.
Let’s start with appetizers: Cicchetti, the Venetian tapas
Venetian cicchetti (pronounciation “chi-KET-tee”) are small bites of food served at traditional food+wine spots called Bacari, in and around Venice. You can instantly recognize them by their tempting rows of bite-size crostini, sandwiches, fried meat (but also veggie and seafood) balls on display in the window or across the bar.
The most famous are:
- Baccalà mantecato: creamy salted cod served on crostini or polenta slices.
- Sarde in saor (accent on the o): sweet and savory sardines. They are deep-fried sardines, marinated with onions and sweetened vinegar. Sometimes garnished with raisins and pine nuts.
- Meatballs: as I said, there are usually several choices, including vegetarian and fishetarian options.
- Mozzarella in carrozza: literally meaning mozzarella in a coach, they are fried mozzarella sandwiches. Mamma mia, I love them! The filling can be an anchovy or a slice of ham.
- Paninetti: this is the diminutive for panini, meaning sandwiches. So they are small sandwiches with many possibile fillings. So better ask.
- Tramezzini: small sandwiches made with soft white bread (without crust) and filled with anything possibile. For example, ham and mushrooms, tuna and eggs, tomato and mozzarella, usually with a layer of mayo. I so love them!
These were only a few examples, the most common and beloved ones. But there is much more. Plus, every bar has its own specialties and its own display of delicacies. Below, Enoteca Al Volto, Venice.
Now popular aperitivi: What drink is Venice known for?
There are actually 2 typical Venetian drinks for aperitivo. Below you find the description.
Bellini: bartender Giuseppe Cipriani invented it in 1948 at the historic Harry’s Bar. Legend says he got inspired by the pink shades of the paintings by Venetian painter Giovan Battista Bellini (hence the name). So he combined ripe white peaches juice and sparkling wine and voilà!
Spritz: it’s currently one of the most popular aperitivi in Italy, so you can find it everywhere. But its birthplace is indeed Venice. There was a time when Venice was under Austro-Hungarian domination. Finding local wines maybe too strong, the foreign troops started diluting them with sparkling water (calling this mixture in German, gespritzt). Well, it seems that locals began to imitate them, in order to enjoy a less intoxicating drink (probably to drink more with no consequences, or to spend less). So they invented Spritz.
The original recipe included just a part of white wine and a part of sparkling water. But the most common recipe nowadays is 1 third white wine, 1 third sparkling water/selz and the last third of Aperol liqueur (a mixture of 30 herbs, spices and fruits), which gives the cocktail its orange shade. Plus of course a slice of orange. And sometimes 1 olive. You can also choose the version with the local bitter aperitif called Select. Or the one with Campari. How to ask for them? You just have to ask for Spritz Aperol, Spritz Select, or Spritz Campari.
Trivia: A shadow of wine
If you’ve been following me for a while you know I love trivia, etymology, and quirky tales about the past. So I have to tell you something quirky about Venice wine. Well, not about the wine actually. But about the glass. Glass in Italian is bicchiere. In Venetian dialect goto. But in the Veneto region you may overhear people asking for “un’ombra de vin”. It literally means a shadow of wine. Where does this come from?
You have to know that once people used to sip a glass of wine at some kiosks in Piazza San Marco. Those kiosks moved along with St. Mark’s belltower’s shadow, to keep the wine fresh. In time, Venetians started to say: let’s go have a shadow of wine!
Venetian seafood dishes
Venice is known for its seafood, so be sure to try dishes featuring fresh fish, clams, mussels, and more.
Schie con polenta: schie (SKEE-eh) are tiny shrimps of the Venetian lagoon. Fried and accompanied by polenta, they can be an appetizer or as a second course.
Moscardini: boiled musky octopus, often served as cicchetti or antipasto. Sometimes they can also be seasoned with tomato sauce and served as a second course.
Granseola: it’s the Venetian lagoon spider crab, served as an appetizer or in a sauce to season a pasta dish.
Scampi alla busara: large prawns cooked with tomato sauce and chili peppers. It seems that the recipe is of Istrian-Dalmatian origins. The name busara refers to the earthenware container once used on ships to cook. These shrimps can be an appetizer but also used as a sauce to season a delicious dish of spaghetti.
Moeche: fried and served as an appetizer, moeche are tender crabs from the lagoon. This Venetian delicacy can only be tasted twice a year. You can only find them for short periods in spring and autumn, therefore they’re quite expensive. They can also be a little off-putting, as you can see in the photo below, cause you eat the crab, whole as it is. (I was at Trattoria Bandierette, Castello, Venice).
Venetian seafood pasta dishes
Bigoli in salsa: bigoli are a kind of fresh egg pasta. To the eye, they look like very, very thick spaghetti. In salsa means with sauce. The sauce in question is made with anchovies and white onions. I must confess I don’t like this dish, though. Some time ago I decided to try it but for me it was a big NO. Too salty.
Nero di seppia: it means cuttlefish ink. Venetians make an exquisite sauce with this black ink, that can be used to season a dish of spaghetti, tagliolini or risotto.
Risotto de gò: gò is the diminutive of ghiozzo, a fish that only lives in lagoon areas. You can find it in Burano at the Trattoria al Gatto Nero. I have been there but I couldn’t resist a dish of spaghetti alle vongole (see just below).
Spaghetti alle vongole: meaning spaghetti with clams. I love them with all my heart. Usually with no tomato and with part of the clams still in their shells to grant freshness. Below, spaghetti alle vongole at Paradiso Perduto in Cannaregio.
Venetian seafood main courses
Seppie con polenta, i.e. cuttlefish with polenta. Usually sasoned with tomato sauce. Or you can find them seasoned in cuttlefish black ink. Delicious in both ways.
Grigliata di pesce: mixed grilled fish. Probably with pescato del giorno, catch of the day.
Calamari ripieni: stuffed squids, filled with a mixture of breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, olives, and capers.
Frittura: it is a deliciously crispy plate of mixed fried seafood with or without fried vegetables. It’s often served as an appetizer or main course. The frittura below was at trattoria Busa alla Torre da Lele in Murano.
What to eat in Venice if you don’t like fish?
Risi e bisi: meaning rice and peas, it was one of the Venetian Dogi’s favorite dishes, eaten during the celebrations in honor of Saint Mark, on April 25. By tradition, it should be quite brothy.
Other risotti: you can often find other kinds of risotto, depending on the season. For example asparagus risotto in spring or radicchio risotto in winter.
Pasta e fagioli: meaning pasta and beans, it’s a thick soup perfect for cold days.
Fegato alla Veneziana: one of the most classic dishes of the city, Venetian style calf liver with sweet and sour onions.
Bigoli all’anatra: the above mentioned bigoli pasta can also be paired with a duck sauce or with ragù (bolognese sauce).
What desserts to eat in Venice
What desserts is Venice known for? There are a few.
Tiramisu: a famous dessert of the Veneto region, beloved for its delicious layers of coffee-soaked ladyfingers, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa powder.
Zaeti: popular Venetian cookies prepared with corn flour and raisins.
Baicoli: I’m not sure you can find them at restaurants. But you can surely see them at Venice food shops, sold in tin boxes. Very thin and dry cookies, perfect to dump in coffee or in zabaglione. For my taste, not great though. I have a sweet tooth and I prefer more creamy or rich sweets.
Buranelli or Bussolai: traditional Venetian butter cookies, often shaped like an “S.” They’re a sweet treat perfect for dipping in coffee or enjoying on their own.
Frittelle: available only during Carnival, they are delicious solf fried pastries that can be filled in different ways: custard, raisins, apples, zabaglione, etc.
What is the most famous food in Venice?
Well, overall the most famous and typical Venetian dishes are: cicchetti, especially sarde in saor and baccalà mantecato. As first courses, spaghetti alle vongole and risi e bisi. As second courses seppie and fegato alla Veneziana. Of couse, you can find them all above in the previous sessions.
So, next time you ask yourself what to eat in Venice, you can take a look at my article.