What is typical local food in Venice? This was one of the initial questions I researched before my first trip to the city two years ago. I tend toward seeking out regional specialties when I travel, as another dimension of getting a feel for a destination. Plus, the local fare is usually best close to the source. I had some preconceived notions about Venetian food (like seafood, of course), but the surprising part of my research led me to Venice’s version of tapas that I had never heard of before: cicchetti (chee-KETT-ee).
Cicchetti is a word in Venetian dialect to describe small bites like tapas, and takes many forms. The most typical cicchetti you’ll see is some form of topping on small slices of baguette-like bread (think crostini, although I don’t think I’ve ever had my cicchetti bread toasted). Also common are polpette, which are meatballs or meatball-like mixtures made with fish or vegetables, then breaded and fried. You’ll also see a fair amount of battered and fried fare, from fish to stuffed squash blossoms – it depends on the place.
You’ll see locals popping into places for a drink and a few cicchetti all day long, and especially at the end of the work day. Some people treat is as an appetizer, like the Milanese aperitivo, to be followed by a sit-down dinner later in the evening. Or a mid-day snack. Others pick a single cicchetti location where they’ll linger for several hours, during which time they’ll eat enough cicchetti to count as a meal. Or you can always stop into a few different bars as you might do sampling tapas in Spain, consuming a beverage and a cicchetto or two at each place.
Now that I’ve traveled to Venice on three trips totaling a week spent in the city, I’ve tried my fair number of cicchetti spots and have some definite favorites. In general, wherever you are outside the central touristy area, you can spot the locals’ favorite bar by the crowd gathered outside, so keep your eyes open as you stroll around.
TIP! Watch the opening hours and days as some cicchetti places are open late into the night, while others cater more to the breakfast and lunch crowd, shuttering by 7pm or so.
I’ve listed my cicchetti picks overall in order of preference (with my favorite bars first), and also in clusters of places that are close to one another geographically if you’d like to cicchetti bar hop. Here’s where I recommend you check them out:
Close to Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Cantinone Gia’ Schiavi
This spot is off-the-beaten path, but thankfully close to two main art attractions in Venice, so if you’re seeing art in the afternoon, you can pop in here afterward before heading back to other parts of the city. I like it for the old Venice feel coupled with interesting combinations of flavors on their cicchetti, like primosale cheese and radicchio, or less-seen but delicious ingredients for cicchetti, like truffle spread. The cicchetti are on smaller pieces of bread than other places, but this just means you can try more varieties. Plus, it is very affordable, with 3 cicchetti and a glass of wine on my recent visit setting me back only €5.60.
In the Cannaregio area of Venice, east of the Train Station
If you’re going to cicchetti bar hop in one spot, this is the area of Venice I’d recommend you go. In particular, the stretch along the canal walking between the first two places is away from the tourist fray and has a lot of lively spots to pop in for a drink or more formal places for dinner. Or just enjoy the relaxed atmosphere as you stroll between these three spots:
The cicchetti here are both colorful and delicious, and it’s situated in a lovely spot with tables out overlooking the water. Stop by for a few cicchetti, or stay for your entire meal like many others did when I visited. The night I went, there was even a boat tour that pulled up in the water and had one person jump out to grab some cicchetti for the passengers to sample.
Cantina Aziende Agricole Roberto Berti
I did not eat any cicchetti here, although there were several typical ones available. There are only a few tables outside, but this is a great spot for people-watching as it’s along the street that many locals take in the early evening from the train station to this more local part of town. And there is a great wine selection.
Osteria al Cicheto
Don’t let the location close to the train station fool you, this is a spot where locals congregate as well as some tourists. This osteria is down a very narrow alleyway so you may walk past the turn off the main street the first time like I did, but it is worth seeking out for the friendly staff and high-quality cicchetti ingredients. There is a decent amount of table seating as well as spots around the bar, and could easily be a spot for a meal.
In the Santa Croce area, south of the Train Station
Hostaria Vecio Biavarol
This is the closest of the spots to the train station, making it not that far from Osteria al Cicheto (listed above). The cicchetti are also delicious, and they are more than happy behind the bar to steer you in the right direction for both the food and wine choices, and it is in a beautiful location.
Bacareto Da Lele
This is my least favorite of this cluster of three cicchetti spots, although it’s quite popular – you’ll spot it easily by the lively crowd outside. I’d skip the food but possibly enjoy a drink here and soak up the atmosphere right on the water on one side, and overlooking a church square on the other.
Cantina means a wine cellar in Italian, and the delicious wine selections here live up to the name. There are also varied, tasty cicchetti and this place is the most conducive of the nearby spots for staying for an entire meal. People will linger later into the evening enjoying just one more glass of delicious wine.
In the San Marco area, just east of St. Mark’s Square
Magna Bevi Tasi
This is obviously in a very tourist-filled part of town, but is a nice escape from the crowds with some tasty bites and great beverage selection. It’s also nice to sit outside on the busy square and watch the crowds as you enjoy your cicchetti.
In the San Marco area, south of Rialto Bridge
Enoteca Al Volto
If you are going to several cicchetti spots around Rialto (see the several other options below), I highly recommend coming here first – the ambiance is local despite its proximity to high-traffic tourist areas, and the cicchetti are high-quality.
In the San Polo area, north of Rialto Bridge
The three spots below are definitely the most touristy of the list, due to their proximity to Rialto Bridge and to each other. Their doors are filled with stickers of international recommendations, and the clientele reflect that. You’ll hear a lot of English and non-Italian languages, and even see tour groups clustered outside sometimes. But they’re popular by being convenient to where visitors will already be, and if your time in Venice is limited, these may be the places you check out for cicchetti (in addition to the other place close to Rialto listed above):
This is my favorite spot of the three cicchetti bars on this side of Rialto, for its solid cicchetti choices and traditional atmosphere. There is a warmth and a buzz about the place that make it clear how cicchetti became a Venetian tradition.
Another traditional place quite close by, All’Arco tends to close earlier than the other spots, so swing by for lunch or early in the evening for a great wine pour and typical Venetian hospitality.
Osteria Alla Ciurma
I find the cicchetti here a bit greasy, and there are a lot of tourists (and tourist groups) that stop by. While not my favorite food stop, it’s another location quite close to the others mentioned above that has great local wine choices – just ask about the wine in the large container at the bar.
Whatever neighborhood you’re in, there’s no shortage of places to pop in for a glass of wine or a small bite. Which place are you most inspired to try on your next visit to Venice?