Typical Dishes of Venetian Cuisine
April 25th is a very important date for Venice: on that day St. Mark’s torture is commemorated, to remember the day when he was killed in Alexandria in the second half of the 1st century AD. In the past, at the end of the commemoration procession (which still today takes place in presence of the city authorities,) the Doge looking out on the balcony of Palazzo Ducale would greet the people holding a plate of risi e bisi, rice and peas, the most traditional dish of Venetian cuisine. Peas, being the first fruits of spring, were a sign of good luck.
Rice and peas and strawberries, instead, becomes a patriotic gourmet symbol against the Austrian occupation in the 19th century, representing the white, green and red of the Italian flag. To the cry of “risi, bisi e fragole” gardeners of the Rialto market teased the Austrian police. A bit like the famous ‘Viva Verdi’ written on the walls of the cities of northern Italy, where Verdi was an acronym for Vittorio Emanuele King of Italy.
The traditional Venetian cuisine is very rich in flavors and ingredients. Water, earth and sky in fact contribute to provide the raw materials for a wide variety of specialties. From the sea and rivers come fish and shellfish, from the land vegetables, corn (for polenta) and livestock, and game from the sky. All seasoned with spices and traditions imported over a millennium by the merchants and emissaries of the Serenissima who returned from their travels around the world.
Venetian culinary tradition is as poor as it is rich. The basic ingredients are many and become delicacies on the table with simple elaborations and thanks to spices, such as pepper, cloves and cinnamon. Like good navigators and explorers, Venetians have also learned the techniques of food preservation, from the use of salt to the production of sausages. Among the products that have most influenced the Venetian cooking is cod, which arrives at the Laguna from voyages to the Baltic Sea, corn and potatoes from America, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and turkey from the routes of the southern Mediterranean, rice from the Arab world.
In the Venetian culinary tradition risotto and pasta soups have great visibility: in addition to rice and peas and rice with asparagus (sparasi), there are also pasta e fagioli (fasoi) and the legendary bigoli, long pasta made with wheat flour, water and salt. Among the second course meat dishes, the most famous is Venetian style liver cooked with onions, but very delicious is also the pastissada de manzo with vegetables, cloves and cinnamon and the dozens of duck based recipes both stuffed and sweet and sour.
With regards to second course fish dishes, the choice is practically endless. Don’t miss the creamed cod fish, the bisato su l’ara (eel cooked on stone, a typical dish of Murano,) cuttlefish in black, sardelle in saor (sardines cooked with onions, raisins and pine nuts to be eaten cold,) the caparossoli in cassopipa (sea or lagoon clams,) the cape longhe saltae (razor clams cooked in oil,) the moleche fritte (soft crabs) and then bass, mullet, monkfish, octopus, etc.
Among the side dishes of Venetian cuisine a must is the articastraure impnae (breaded artichokes,) beans seasoned with onions and Venetian potatoes, diced potatoes cooked in oil, vegetable broth and chopped onion.
Finally, among the desserts of Venetian cuisine, don’t miss out on the fritole made with flour batter, eggs, raisins and pine nuts, the baicoli, biscuits served with coffee and eggnog, and spuncioti de caramel skewers with dried fruits and grapes dipped in caramelized sugar.
These are only a few of the dishes you will find on the rich menus of restaurants in Venice and the Laguna islands. To accompany these delicacies the wine lists offer nectar from the 17 wine growing Doc areas of Veneto, that produce, among others, Bardolino, Bianco di Custoza, the Breganze of Vicenza, Valpolicella, Soave, Prosecco Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.