Where and How to eat in Venice
A practical guide for your food needs in Venice!
Well, I assume you all have heard about the latest cases of people being ripped off in restaurants in Venice. All international medias have made sure of that.
All over Facebook and Twitter, people have been slagging off Venice and Venetians for overcharging for the food and taking advantage of tourists, blaming it on language barriers and different customs.
Even though I am not a fan of the current Mayor of Venice – let’s just say his diplomatic skills are just slightly superior to those of the current president of the USA and I also am not sure of his real intentions for the future of the city– I must admit that his sarcastic and cold response to the all situation is a bit understandable and reflects in a way the mood which goes around here lately.
Venetians are getting tired of always getting pointed out as been ripped off merchants and having the media acting very superficially, without checking their facts first.
And, before you all go up in arms, let me explain what I mean: I am not saying that in Venice there aren’t any people who are trying to gain as much as they can from the tourist trade, to the detriment of the image of the city, not giving a damn about ripping people off.
What I am saying is: the majority of Venetian people are not like that, so, please, stop generalizing and understand that, like everywhere else in the world, there are bad and good people in Venice. But the majority is good, albeit a bit tired!
Even though it is right to point out who the bad people are, if you want to help the city getting out of the mass tourism trap it is now entangle into, help the good ones emerge, giving support to local artisans and pointing out to the world those people who are doing good for the city.
Hence, my need to write a post of where, but most importantly, how to eat in Venice.
Since ignorantia non excusat, ignorance is not an excuse, (well the real quote was ignorantia legis non excusat, applied to legal situations, but will make do!), and everyone now has access to fast information, whether be it fake or real, if those like me, lovers of Venice and Italy, as well as being locals, are willing to give correct and detailed information, and I stress correct, on how to eat well once you are here….well….if you get ripped off, then it will be only on you!
Let’s start with How to eat well in Venice
Venice is part of Italy, even though we just had a referendum trying to prove the contrary, so the same etiquette rules which apply to the rest of Italy, work here too.
What makes Venice different are the logistics of the city: everything must be delivered by water or by taking carts over the over 400 bridges, bringing the cost of food and wine delivery to much higher prices (double or even triple the normal cost everywhere else), which is then added to the cost of the dishes available on the menus.
And we must remember also the cost of renting locations, which is much higher here than everywhere else in Italy. This is also reflected on the prices on menus.
Let me point this out: mine are only indications, feel free to ignore them, but let’s say if you try to follow them, you might find out your eating experience in Venice will go much more smoothly!
Don’ts – things not to do while eating in Venice
- Don’t go to a restaurant with large (or even small) photos or drawings of the food that they serve…..we are not in Japan!
- Don’t go to a restaurant with a Tourist Menu…if they can serve you a full meal for less than 15 Euros, how on earth can it be fresh? (see my comment above about delivery costs etc.)
- Don’t go to a restaurant whose waiter entice you to go in with his nice compliments and cute appearance. If things are so bad that they must get their waiters to call people inside, do you really want to go to that type of restaurant?
- Don’t go to a restaurant before 7pm in the evening, sometimes even 7.30pm…they will be closed!
- You don’t need to order every course – an antipasto (starter), primo (first course), secondo (second course) with contorno (side dish), and dolce (dessert) – yes, it is a big meal! Even Italians don’t do it anymore, so why should you? Just pick what you like. Do not be afraid to ask how big the portions are and it is ok to share!
- Do not accept any dish which you did not order, unless the waiter specifically indicates that the dish is an Amuse Bouche, a little dish offered by the restaurant, given to clients while they wait for their ordered meal. And trust me, it won’t ever be lobster or oysters! And most definitely not 3.5 kgs of fresh grilled fish!
- Don’t order a pizza, unless you really have to. I am not saying you should never eat it but…first, there are no wood pizza ovens in Venice (strict fire regulations) so the pizza will never taste like that of Naples; second, Venice is in the middle of a lagoon, the main staples of the city are fish, risotto and polenta…Have a go and try the delicacy of Venetian Cooking. Be adventurous for once: you will be surprised on how good fresh fish and fresh ingredients truly are.
- Try to avoid asking for oil, butter and vinegar to go with your bread. That’s not a real Italian thing. But if you really cannot go without, well, ask politely with a smile and apologizing, explain that is your own custom….you will probably get a bit of a commiserate look from the waiter, but he will then bring you what you ask without questions.
- Don’t ever eat bread with your pasta. Bread is only eaten with the second course or to do la scarpetta (literally “make a little shoe”) and mop up the leftover sauce on the plate of your first course.
- Don’t expect a mixed salad if you order Insalata. Insalata will only be made out of green salad. If you want a salad with tomatoes etc., then order an Insalata Mista. If you want something fancier, than check if the restaurant offers an Insalatona, which usually comes with various ingredients, like tuna, mozzarella etc. And don’t expect fancy salad dressings. Italians usually dress the salad by themselves at the table with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
- Do not order a salad with your pasta dish or with your pizza, if you went ahead and ordered one ;)….it is most surely one of the worst combinations of food you could ever do in front of an Italian! Salads must be ordered with your main dish or as a starter.
- Please do not cover your dish with tons of tomato ketchup or mayonnaise, enjoy the freshness of the dishes that will be served.
- Don’t expect to eat cheap if you are going to eat fish! Fish is expensive as a produce, even though there is plenty of it, and it is also more complicated to prepare, therefore this will be reflected on the price. The trick is to eat local fish, like sardines and anchovies. And remember big fish like Sea bass and Sea brim, usually grilled or in a Salt Crust, is usually charged by the weight in grams before cooking (unless it specifically says it is a fillet). So ask the waiter how big the fish will be and remember: the dish will be served with head and tail, you will probably have to fillet it yourself. If you do not know how to do it, no worries, ask the waiter, he will be more than happy to do it for you!
- Don’t expect to get free water. In Italy, not just Venice, restaurants always serve bottle water, still or sparkling, and they will charge for it.
- Don’t order a soft drink in a restaurant thinking it will be cheap! On the contrary, a soft drink usually costs the same price as un quarto (quarter litre) of local house wine.
- Don’t expect to pay only for what you ordered when the bill arrives. Restaurants usually charge from €1-2.50 per person for pane e coperto (bread and cover charge). And most probably you will be charged also a service charge, generally 10%.
- Don’t think you are obliged to tip, but do so if you were happy with the meal and the service. If you pay with a credit card, the tip cannot be added to your bill, so make sure that, if you want to show your appreciation, you leave some cash on the table when you leave. You generally round up to the nearest decimal, depending also on the type of restaurant you are in. And remember: tips are usually shared among the staff in Italy.
Do’s – things to do while eating in Venice
- Read about the food culture of Venice; understand the variety of dishes that the city offers. Here in Venice we love to cook with seasonal local ingredients, and although we do not use lots of spices, we generally cook with lots of herbs. Venetian cooking is all about using fresh produce, which is served with only another two or three ingredients, which are supposed to enhance the dish, not to cover its flavor. So, do not expect a lot of sauces, but simple and delicate flavours.
- If you are vegetarian, order a primo (first course, usually pasta, risotto or soup), there is always generally a vegetable option, make sure to ask if they used any carne (meat) for their broth, if you are ordering a soup!
- If the restaurant offers a dish of the day, go for it. It is usually prepared with the seasonal ingredients, which were available that day at the market.
- Understand that here in Venice the terms Osteria, Trattoria and Ristorante nowadays mean the same thing. In the old days, trattorias were traditionally family owned, casual, rustic neighbourhood restaurants serving fresh, unassuming, conventional local food. Osterias were wine bars serving simple meals. Traditionally, they were simpler than trattorias with no menu. The offering used to change daily, according to the market and two or three courses were offered for a fixed price, including wine. For ristorante we meant a full service restaurant, with a host or hostess to seat you. The wait staff usually had experience with food and wine as well as with proper service etiquette. You would have expected complete or à la carte offerings presented on a printed menu with fixed prices. The food would have been prepared by professional kitchen staff and would have presented selections from several ordered courses. However things have changed, and now the difference before the three types is sometimes non-existent! Many Osteria and Trattoria, are only called like that, but are in reality fancy restaurants! And some restaurants are more like an Osteria!
- Order a glass of wine even if only bottles are listed – there is always the option of un bicchiere (glass) or un quarto (quarter litre) jug of the house wine. And ask for the help of the waiter or maître before ordering your wine, and do not just ask for the best wine of the house. Their best wine might not be the best wine for your type of meal! Once a sommelier gave me this amazing tip: decide what you are going to eat, tell me what type of wine you generally like and then tell me your budget….that is how I can give you the best possible wine for your meal.
- Make sure to order your coffee (an espresso or macchiato, never a cappuccino) after dessert, not during the meal.
- Make sure to try out the famous Cicchetti, either by sampling them on your own (see my article on them) or joining a Cicchetti Food Tour! 😉 It is the perfect way to sample local authentic Venetian food, not spending much and making the most of your time in Venice. And you get to try local Veneto wines at the same time. And remember, it will be always cheaper if you eat and drink standing up, rather than sitting down. Anytime you sit down, above all in Venice where space is a huge issue, you will be charged extra, generally a 10%-12% more.
- Always check your bill before you pay…your waiters are only humans and sometimes they can make genuine mistakes! Do not always assume they are trying to rip you off!
Where to eat in Venice, without nasty surprises!
Having highlighted the possible ways of how not to get ripped off in Venice, let’s see where you could go and have a meal and be certain to have a great experience, according to your budget!
Venice on a Budget
As I said before, if money is an issue, best way to eat in Venice on a budget is to go and try the local Cicchetti.
Here are my favourite ones (click on the name and you will get their location in Venice), with also an indication of their specialities and what Veneto wine I would try with my meal.
Aziende Agricole, Rio Tera’ Farsetti. Try their Deep Fried Ball with Bacon, Cheese Potato and Butternut Squash together with an ombra of Raboso or Refosco.
El Sbarlefo, Calle San Pantalon. Try their Baccala’ Mantecato on white polenta with a glass of Lugana.
Al Portego, Calle Della Malvasia. Try their Seppie in Nero with a glass of Malvasia.
Basego, Campo San Toma’. Try their Vegetarian Cicchetti with a glass of Ribolla Gialla.
Enoteca Al Volto, Calle Cavalli. Try their fish grilled cicchetti with a glass of Valpolicella Ripasso.
A nice good meal in Venice
For a nice meal, either for lunch or dinner, middle range, I would go to:
Vini Da Gigio, Calle della Stua.
Antico Panificio, Campiello del Sol
Osteria Al Duomo, Murano
Osteria Alla Frasca, Campo della Carita’
A meal for a special occasion in Venice
If money is no issue and you want to really experience the best that Venice can offer in regards to food, or want to celebrate a special occasion, well go and splash at:
Al Covo, Calle Della Pescaria
Corte Sconta, Calle del Pestrin
Osteria Al Museo, Piazza Galuppi, Burano
Al Gatto Nero, Burano
Ristorante Do Leoni, Hotel Londra Palace
Ae Cravate, Salizada San Pantalon
Local, Salizada Dei Greci
I hope to have helped at least some of you in understanding of how to make your way around the labyrinth of food and restaurants in Venice, but any of your comments will be more than welcome!
Enjoy Venice and have a good meal!
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