It’s all about the day’s catch. “Venetian cuisine,” explain Philippe and Oscar Duboÿ in the Louis Vuitton Venice City Guide, “revolves around the art of preparing fish, crustaceans and seafood, based on the day’s catch from the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea, and sold on the Rialto.” Fish are usually served whole with the head and tail, and the taste “is not masked or modified” by sauces or spices … “no mayonnaise, no cheese, no stuffing and baking: nothing interferes with or overpowers the fish’s characteristic flavor and taste,” writes Sally Spector in Venice & Food.
Venice took its food ideas from all over the world. “The ruling doges created a global network of trading partners and merchants (including Marco Polo) to dominate the sugar, spice, coffee, grain and codfish businesses as well,” writes Monica Larner in the Wine Enthusiast. As a result, don’t be surprised if some Venetian dishes, such as sarde in saor (sardines marinated in a tangy onion marmalade), taste vaguely Turkish or Greek, reflecting these spice route flavours. Polenta (cornmeal), too, has a dominating presence and is far more popular than pasta. It is served fried, grilled, crunchy and creamy and takes the place of rice, potatoes or bread. Get a glimpse into an authentic Venetian kitchen in this video A Mediterranean Taste.
The Rialto Market is Venice’s “beating heart,” writes Jackie De Giorgio in Food Republic. There you’ll find bounty harvested on Sant’Erasmo, the lagoon’s largest and most agricultural island, as well as the day’s catch. Scallops, John Dory, cuttlefish, sardines, sea snails, clams, razor clams, mantis shrimp, mussels, eels and soft-shelled crabs are all on offer. The market is a go-to for any half-decent Venetian restaurant, so it’s worth bearing in mind the fishermen’s boats remain docked on Sunday and Monday, shoud you be dining out on those days. “A morning trip to the Rialto fish market will introduce you to the wide variety of fish,” says Luca Marchiori in Great Italian Chefs, before cataloguing an array of unique Venetian seafood.
It all started with salt and pepper. Venice’s wealth is founded upon “two of the most banal cooking ingredients,” writes Monica Larner in Wine Mag. Salt and pepper, rare commodities in the time of the Venetian Republic, controlled by the ruling doges, who traded extensively to eventually dominate the sugar, spice, coffee, grain and codfish trade. Larner offers this selection of Venetian specialities:
Baccalà: “Dried codfish (merluzzo seccato or stoccafisso in Italian) enjoys a long and prosperous history as one of the Veneto’s main dishes. Baccalà mantecato is puréed cod with oil and garlic.”
Horse meat: “A taboo in many cultures … iIt is cured for carpaccio, made into sausage or steak, or served as a stew (pastissada).”
Radicchio: “Red chicory from Treviso is an enormously popular ingredient with a playfully bitter flavor that works well with creamy risotto or grilled in olive oil over charcoal.”
Sardines: “A popular item at the fish markets of Venice, sarde in saor is a sweet and sour dish marinated with white wine, vinegar and sugar.”
Stracchino: “A spreadable cheese with a sour aftertaste. Its name comes from stracca, or “tired,” because cows were made to walk long distances to be milked.”
White asparagus: “The onset of spring is celebrated with white asparagus, featured in risotto or with shaved egg, across the Veneto (especially Bassano).”
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