Where and How to Eat Cicchetti in Venice
Here you are: finally in Venice!
You have checked in into your holiday accommodation, you have settled down, you decide to wander around the city and take in the sights.
By now your stomach is sending you clear signals, telling you it is time to fill it up with some delicious goodies from Italy.
But you are in Venice and what are you supposed to try, if you want to eat like the locals?
Cicchetti with an ombra in a bacaro, of course!
Let’s start with a bit of the lingo first!
What are cicchetti, ombra e bacaro?
Cicchetti: in very simple terms, are small snacks, similar to Spanish Tapas, even though they are not the same!
It is a centuries long tradition, typical of the city of Venice, which has now extended to the rest of the province and even in some other parts of the region.
From the Latin “ciccum”, the word literally means small amount.
Venetians eat Cicheti or Cicchetti before lunch or dinner sipping a glass of wine or a Spritz, as an aperitif.
Many times this just an excuse to have a good time and get drunk: you start with a small egg with an anchovy on top and a glass of white wine, then you take a bit of polenta with baccalà mantecato 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.
Ombra: walking in Venice, you will often run into a group of Venetians saying: “Andemo bèver un ombra” (Let’s go and drink a shade).
Follow them and you will see them enter in a bar and order little glasses of wine.
What does Ombra mean?
It means shade and it is a typical Venetian word, used for centuries. The legend says that it was 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 of 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 try an Ombra di Bianco (a glass of white wine) o di Rosso (red wine) and grab yourself a selection of fish or meat cicchetti.
But for the real story read Andar Per Bacari, my new book on Ombre & Cicchetti in Venice!
Bacaro or Osteria is the name given to the small bars selling Cicchetti and Ombre.
The origin of the name has been lost in time, but I like the most common idea which links the word “bacaro” to the word “Bacchus”, The God of Wine, since these were the places where Venetians could buy and drink lots of wine.
Many closed during the 80/90s, but now, since “andar per bacari” (going on a pub crawl) has become fashionable again, more and more small little taverns open everywhere around Venice.
Where to Eat Cicchetti with an Ombra?
Well….here below you can find my favourite places, but there are so many more about town.
If you are not sure where to go, well, simply take a Cicchetti Tour with me and experience Venice with a friend!
Osteria Al Timon, Fondamenta degli Ormesini, Cannaregio
Just off the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, where for the first time Jews were segregated, you will find the lovely Osteria Al Timon, on the riverbank of a small canal in one of the largest residential areas of Venice, Cannaregio.
Al Timon is one of the few remaining true inns in the city – step inside and you will 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.
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 is 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.
El Sbarlefo, Salizada del Pistor, Cannaregio
El Sbarlefo, Calle San Pantalon, Dorsoduro
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 is run by Alessandro, Andrea e Lorenzo .
One of the two bacari is located a stone 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 is a very small bar (there are only 4-5 high stools to sit on inside) but at the same time it is also very cosy.
The other one is located near Campo Santa Margherita. Here many evening you can enjoy also live music and they have more seating places!
Both places offer excellent wines!
And don’t forget to try the Cinico, the new drink in town with Prosecco, Lime, Mint and Cinnamon liqueur!
Tips: either bars sell Baccalà Mantecato, the typical most famous Cicchetto.
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).
Osteria Al Portego, San Lio, Castello
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 is run by a bunch of young people 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 prefer 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 is quite nice just to stand outside the front door to eat and chat.
The best dish here, though, is the Sarde in Saor (fried sardines marinated in an onion and vinegar 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.
Basegò, Campo San Tomà, Dorsoduro
One of the new kids in town, this place is simply unique: vibrant, full of locals and with great food and wines!
The name means Basil in Venetian. As you enter, you will notice a continuous coming and going of Venetians – gondoliers, professionals, students – they come in, they greet each other, talk together, laugh, have fun, eat and drink!
Here they pay close attention to the selection of the main products, with an eye to high quality, especially from Italian top producers, with a strong preference for the producers of the Veneto Region.
And this also happens in the choice of wines: always looking for small cellars and particular wines, to be offered to both regular customers and tourists passing through.
The wine of the moment is the Santa Pazienza, from Friuli Venezia Giulia.
Another thing that makes this place special is: the Prosecco Sospeso – suspended Prosecco!
Taken back from the Neapolitan tradition of Caffe Sospeso – suspended coffee, where the consumption of a cup of coffee is given to the benefit of a stranger, here instead a beautiful Prosecco is left as a gift!
Bite Venice, a bit at time!
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