Venice: beautiful, unique but expensive. So what’s the best way to sample all the variety of Venetian cuisine without breaking the bank?
Simple: go on a Bacaro Tour of the city!
Try the famous Venetian cicchetti (little snacks similar to Spanish Tapas) in the Osterie (also called Bacari), typical Venetian inns where often the decor is basic but the atmosphere is cozy and familiar: the ideal place for a dinner or a quick snack chatting with friends at a price more than acceptable!
Come to Venice and experience the city like a local: go on a Traditional Bacaro tour, a culinary tasting of the best inns in Venice called Osterie or Bacari. Stand up at the counter or comfortably sit down at the wooden tables and immerse yourself in this culinary marathon, sampling some of the most popular traditional Venetian dishes on offer such as baccalà mantecato (creamy salt cod), sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines), folpetti (boiled octopus), sun-dried tomatoes, olives, cuttlefish, polpette (meatballs), uova ripiene (devil eggs), beans and prawns, pesce fritto (fried fish) and much more.
But what does “ciccheti” mean? From the Latin “ciccus”, it means small amount. Venetians eat Ciccheti before lunch or dinner as an aperitif and many times they use it as an excuse to get drunk: you start with an inviting devil’s egg and a glass of white wine, then you take a small anchovy and another glass and so on. The right time to try ciccheti is just before noon and in the evenings between 6pm and 8pm when everything comes out of the kitchen nice and fresh, in a continuous stream.
Know Before You Go: It’s possible to visit all osterie on this tour in one go (all of them are within 5 minutes walk of each other), but you’ll probably want to spread this tour over two or more days to really savor each dish and appreciate each particular Osteria.
Total Cost: approx €40 Euro (Assuming you order the recommended dishes and drinks indicated on the tour. Prices are current as of Fall, 2011 )
Transportation: Walking or using the Vaporetto -Water bus Line 1. All osterie are within walking distance of the Ferrovia water bus stop or Ca D’oro water bus stop or Rialto water bus stop.
Let’s Start our tour:
1- Osteria Al Timon, Fondamenta degli Ormesini, Cannaregio 2754
Telephone #: +39 041 524 6066
Hours: Mon – Tue:11:00-01:00 Wed:18:00-01:00 Thu – Sun:11:00-01:00
(sometime they close during the day without warning)
Just off the Jewish Ghetto, where for the first time Jews were segregated, you’ll find the lovely Osteria Al Timon, on the riverbank of a small canal in one of the largest residential areas of Venice. Walk here any day and, apart from a few tourists, you’ll only meet locals going about their daily business buying the newspaper, shopping or standing chatting to friends and family. The real Venice, away from ship cruise crowds and souvenir sellers.
Al Timon is one of the few remaining true inns in the city, step inside and you’ll be taken back in time, with old wood beams and wood tables and wine bottles lining the walls everywhere. With only 30 seats inside, it’s always pretty packed, so grab your food and drinks and walks outside, sit down at the few tables that are usually placed by the edge of the water or stand up by the canal just like the locals do.
Most of the clients are Venetians, always having a good laugh with the owner, making the atmosphere quite informal and joyous. If you are lucky some evenings there are also live local bands.
Their selection of cicchetti is very large and quite inviting, ranging from delicious small chunks of fresh bread with different mouthwatering toppings (like duck liver patè, juicy sun dried tomatoes and crumbly goat cheese, real Italian mozzarella and fresh tomatoes) to dainty sandwiches filled with local Veneto salame, prosciutto crudo (sweet Parma ham), bresaola (Venetian dry beef) or slices of grilled polenta with fish (a Venetian favorite).
The cost of a cichetto is generally around Euro 1-1,50, and we suggest trying out the bread selection (topped either with salame, Gorgonzola cheese, or liver patè) together with a glass of white wine, preferably Prosecco, the local sparkling wine from the Veneto region, beloved by Venetians, which should cost around Euro 2-2,50.
Tip: You must order you drinks and cicchetti at the counter, pay for them, then you can consume them either standing up at the counter or you can take your food and wine over to the tables inside the Osteria or outside by the canal, which we recommend not matter what the weather’s like outside. It’s truly amazing to sit by the canal sipping a glass of wine, letting people passing you by, the seagulls fly over your heads and looking at the boats sliding in the water. Time just stands still and you’ll feel part of the city.
2 – Cantina Vecia Carbonera, Campo Della Maddalena, Cannaregio 2329
Telephone #: +39 0415242388
Hours: 11 am till 2pm / 6pm till 1 in the morning (closed Mondays)
Strangely enough, even though it’s located just along Strada Nova, one of the busiest streets in Venice, always full of tourists, Cantina Vecia Carbonera is one of those places where you usually find mainly Venetians stopping by for a quick drink and a snack. Local university students love to come here because it’s cheap and the food and drinks are extremely tasty. If you want to soak in the real Venetian laid back lifestyle, then you must pay a visit to this place, which is one of the best in Venice for tasting Spritz (the local aperitif) and local Venetian wines like Merlot or Pinot Bianco, for eating polpette (home-made meatballs) just like grandma used to make and relaxing in a very informal and warm atmosphere. Once you’ve ordered your food and drink, it’s best to take it to the back of the restaurant, where you’ll have more space and you can just sit there for ages, no one will send you away! As you walk towards the back of the place you’ll notice a lot of old wine wooden barrels and old memorabilia (old radios, old bottles full of wax, old jugs, old iron tools) spread all over the place as well as soft lights, candles and Hispanic-chic furniture. In the past, and as the name suggests, Vecia Carbonera (Old Coal Warehouse) used to be an area allocated to the storage of coal and shipping tools and the all décor is a clear reminder to that.
This is “the” place to try Spritz, the Venetian aperitif par excellence, still prepared using the right proportions: 1/3 Prosecco wine (sparkling white wine from the Veneto Hills), 1/3 carbonated water, a slice of lemon and last, according to taste, 1/3 Campari, Cynar, Aperol or Select (Italian aperitifs which give the red color to the drink and a slightly bitter hint to it). A Spritz should cost around 2 Euro.
The origins of Spritz are unknown, it seems that the Austrian soldiers, stationed here during the invasion of Venice, used to dilute the Veneto wines with sparkling water to decrease the alcohol content. The use of a similar name drink in Eastern Europe hints that Spritz comes from the German verb spritzen (the act to dilute the wine with the water).
A must here are the little bruschettas (small slices of slightly toasted fresh bread) topped with mouthwatering ingredients which change every day, depending on the season: baccalà mantecato (creamy cod), succulent liver patès, creamy soft cheese and sweet pumpkin, just to list some.
All of the ciccheti cost around 1 Euro.
Tip: Vecia Carbonera used to be an old coal warehouse and the old wood beams, the wooden chairs and table reflects that air of dark and gloomy which was typical of medieval times. Sit by the window at the back of the Osterie, if there are sits available. You can sip on Spritz and eat your food whilst looking at the boats passing under your face!
3 – El Sbarlefo, Salizada del Pistor, Cannaregio 4556/c, Venezia
Telephone #: +39 0415233084
Venetians go on a Bacaro tour to experience great food and wine, without breaking the bank while having a good time surrounded by friends. Do you want the same experience? Then stop at Osteria El Sbarlefo. It’s run by two friendly lovely young men, Andrea and Alessandro and it’s pretty new (it opened in 2010). It’s located a stone’s throw from Campo SS Apostoli, at the end of Strada Nova, the busiest route which leads from the Bus Terminal to Rialto Bridge, right at the edge of a very residential part of Venice. It’s a very small bar (there are only 4-5 high stools to sit on inside) but at the same time it’s also very cozy. Grab your food and take a sit outside, enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city, the continuous stream of locals going around on their daily errands or simply heading home for lunch or dinner. Try their amazing tasty polenta topped with various type of fish, the hot and scrumptious fried mozzarella, ther little yummy bruschettas topped with salame, ham or cheese. Best of all are their succulent and flavorsome polpette di carne (homemade meatballs) and the delicate and soft baccalà with polenta (creamy salt cod on polenta slices). There are two types of meatballs cooked in Venice: those prepared with raw meat,cooked usually with a thick and juicy tomato sauce or those prepared with left over roasted meat and herbs, shaped as balls and deep fried. Venetians generally prefer the latest, hot and steamy, a reminder of the days when food was scarce and nothing was thrown away.
Baccalà is one of the most typical dishes of the Venetian culinary tradition. Since the introduction of salted cod in the 15th century, Venetians saw in it an attractive alternative to fresh fish, expensive and highly perishable. To make Baccalà Mantecato, salted cod must first be soaked for three days in running water (to soften it), then it must be boiled. When cool, bones and skin are removed and the flesh is mixed fast while adding little by little olive oil, making it creamy and puffy. Sometimes it can take more than an hour to mix. It’s best served on a bed of warm soft polenta (a soft maize pudding).
Polenta is one of the main staples in Veneto. Introduced by the Spanish in Europe at the beginning of the 16th century, it soon spread all over the North of Italy, becoming one of the main dishes eaten in Veneto. On its own it doesn’t taste like anything in particular, but once matched to another dish it enhances the flavor of whatever it’s paired with. Polenta can be eaten hot and soft or grilled after it has solidified and cut into slices. The baccalà with polenta should cost you around 2 Euros . You should pair it with a nice glass of white local house wine, a glass of wine should cost around Euro 2.50.
Tip: Ask Andrea or Alessandro to help you choose the best wine to taste with your cicchetti. They have a very good knowledge of the wines they offer and they will be proud to share it with you.
4 –Un Mondo DiVino, Salizada San Canciano, Cannaregio 5984/A
Telephone #: 39 041 5211093
Hours: 7 days a week from 10 am till 2.30 pm, 6 pm till 10 om
Mondo DiVino is one of most famous Osterie in Venice, opened since 2007. It used to be a famous butcher shop and the sign on the outside of the Inn is a testimony to that. As they name says (a world of wine) wine is their main trade and they are so many to choose from: over 45 types of wine offered by the glass with prices ranging from €1.50 to €4. You’ll be able to try local Venetian wines like Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Bianco as well as South American and French wines. But don’t worry if you find you are spoiled for choice because Andrea and Sabina, the people who run it, are always pleased to help, always ready to suggest the right wine to be paired to the food you are eating. And their selection of cicchetti, cooked vegetables and skewered meat is incredible.
The interior is really small and the decor is at the same time typical (wood counter and stools), modern (a big wide screen TV hangs on the wall just by the counter) and particular: a really big selection of terracotta jugs hangs from the ceiling (in the old days wine was served in those jugs in the osterie) and lots of old black and white photos of Venice are all over the place. It’s always buzzing with students and young people in general (they are always pretty good at spotting the right places for good food at affordable prices), but don’t be put off by the crowds, just walk in, order your food and drinks and walk back outside just like everybody else does. Walking in Venice, you’ll often run into a group of Venetians saying: “Andemo bèver un ombra” (Let’s go and drink a shade). Follow them and you’ll see them enter in a bar and order little glasses of wine.
What does Ombra mean? It means shade and it’s a typical Venetian word, used for centuries, born in Saint Mark’s Square,Venice’s top meeting place. People loved to stand in the square just to talk. But standing in the square under the sun made them thirsty, so local wine sellers offered small glasses wine from their stalls! To keep the wine fresh and in the shade, despite the summer heat which suffocated the whole city, they used to move their stands around the Bell tower, following the shade of the Campanile. Hence the name Ombra. So get an Ombra di Bianco (a glass of white wine) o di Rosso (red wine) and grab yourself some delicious grilled skewered chicken with some home cooked grilled peppers, sit at the table outside and enjoy.
Tip: Do not just stop at the skewered chicken and do try some more food: they have got one of the biggest selection ever of delectable verdure fritte (fried vegetables), yummy verdure grigliate (grilled vegetables), mouthwatering formaggi (various cheeses like Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Asiago), soft creamy patès, traditional polpette di carne (meatballs), tasty polpette di tonno (tuna balls), juicy olives and much much more.
5- Osteria Al Portego, San Lio 6015, Castello
Telephone #: +39 041 522 9038
Hours: Open 7 days a week, from 11 am till 10pm
Osteria El Portego is one of favorite places among the students in Venice. The food on offer is really good and cheap and so is their wine! It’s run by a bunch of young people led by Carlo, the owner and it has been opened since 2003. The atmosphere here is vibrant, always very busy but at the same time very warm and welcoming. There are only 4 or 5 tables inside, so the majority of people just prefers to eat outside at the little tables or just standing up. The restaurant is located within a small courtyard where not many people pass by so it’s quite nice just to stand outside the front door to eat and chat.
Here they offer a very wide selection of fish cicchetti: try the Tonno alla Livornese (tuna in a spicy tomato sauce), the baccala alla Vicentina (salted cod in a milky sauce), the Seppie al Nero (black ink squid), the crab and also their bean salads. The best dish here, though, is the Sarde in Saor (fried sardines in an onion sauce), prepared following the original recipe and which should be savored with a nice glass of Prosecco. The birth of the recipe of Sarde In Saor (sweet and sour sardines) goes way back in Venetian history: it was the method of preservation that Venetians fishermen used during their travels – they had the need to preserve food aboard the ships for a long time or at least as long as possible. The sardines, once fried, were placed between layers of onions, vinegar and oil in earthenware containers. Over time the recipe has acquired more “aristocratic” tones, adding raisins which were used to aid digestion and sweeten the breath and also pine nuts. The fishermen ate the sardines in sauce after it had been preserved for a long time but because of the preparation, even though the color of the dish was no longer fresh, the flavor and the aroma remained fresh and real.
El Portego offers the original recipe of this dish, which taste just amazing. Remember though, it’s a very particular dish: you either love it or you hate it. The strong sardines flavor can be overwhelming and so the strong flavor of the onions and the vinegar.
Tip: Try to go there just before 12 and around 6pm, that way you should be able to get a sit inside and have a taste of all their fish ciccheti, which are some of the best in the area, before the local students storm in and clear all of the food on offer.