Food in Venice: Where and What to Eat in Venice, Italy
Have you been dying to try the food in Venice? We’ve got what you need to eat like a local — typical Venetian food, cicchetti, local markets, and more!
Venice, Italy is a city built on water making it a destination filled with the promise of edible ecstasy for seafood lovers, which makes the food in Venice some of the most unique regional Italian food you’ll find in all of Italy.
But seafood isn’t all there is to love. Vegetarians may fall in love with the bounty of fresh fruits and veggies, many of which pair so well with pasta and risotto in typical Venetian dishes.
And if you remotely have a sweet tooth prepare to add a few pounds, and pastry is just the beginning. We were thrilled to see so many unique sweets and treats for the kid in a candy store in all of us.
But for now, let’s start with Venice food and what to eat in Venice, Italy — then work our way up to dessert!
Food in Venice
Foodies heading to Italy may sometimes bypass Venice on their way to the more traditional Italian cities of Florence, Naples, and Bologna, but don’t overlook all the good food in Venice. Local food and Venetian cuisine in general is fresh from the sea.
If you’re not over-the-moon about seafood, don’t worry. The nearby lagoon island of Sant’erasmo produces some of the most iconic food of Venice. For centuries, this agricultural island was known as the Garden of the Doge, and produced staple foods for the Venetian ruling class.
Today, you’ll still find local produce growers, honey producers, grape growers and vintners still working to share their bounty with the city. You can tour the island on a slow travel food tour and check out all the amazing food that this small island grows.
Or just visit the Rialto Market in central Venice and spend your day leisurely strolling this fascinating market that exists, in many ways, as it did long ago. You’ll see the abundance of locally grown produce and locally-sourced seafood from all around Venice and the Veneto.
What to Eat in Venice, Italy
Because of its location in the north of Italy, the cold mountain waters that run off the Dolomites not far from Venice influence the food you’ll find here.
You won’t find the warm weather produce and citrus for example that you’ll see in southern Italy (although the markets will have them, they’re probably not local), therefore the sauces of Venezia food will be heartier — less Mediterranean and more northern Adriatic.
Look for fresh seafood, preserved meats and fish, and cool weather vegetables such as squash and artichokes. Pasta will generally be gnocchi and risotto. Check out the traditional dishes in Venetian cuisine below, but to start, head to the markets in Venice.
What to Drink in Venice, Italy
Veneto is the land of Prosecco, and throughout the Venetian lagoon you’ll find prosecco grapes grown. But move out further north into the Veneto region and you’ll also find other unique regional wines of Veneto like the white Soave and the ubiquitous Valpolicella.
The only winery in Venice is Orto di Venezia is located on the quiet island of Sant’Erasmo, the Garden of the Doges. It’s definitely worth a day trip there — a quick 40 minute ferry ride will drop you off for the day.
Markets in Venice: The Rialto Market
Foodies visiting Venice won’t want to miss a trip to the ever-famous Rialto Market which is located just near the also-iconic Rialto Bridge! The Rialto marketplace is the main food source on the island of Venice itself.
As soon as you walk into the old historic square where families have for generations sold their wares and spent their days building community you’ll be greeted by that history. Still standing in the square today is the old 14th-century clock that once kept time for area merchants.
There’s a piece of architecture there in the square too that will take you back in history. The old currency exchange house is still standing and is still called Bancorgiro. It’s not a currency exchange house anymore though. Today you can go inside and order a meal.
The Rialto Market consists of two main sections, the Fish Market, known as Pescaria, and the fruits and veggie section of the market which is called Erbaria. The Market is located right next to the Canal and the Vaporetto (water taxi) stop.
Given the location, it’s not uncommon to watch boats pull up laden with fresh produce for the market. The market isn’t just a Venetian Tourist attraction, it’s heavily frequented by and depended on by local Venetian residents.
As you might imagine, the fish market is popular year round but especially around the holidays and Lent, when many Venetians still adhere to the no-meat-on-Fridays rule, and also around Carnivale, one of the most famous festivals in Italy.
The locally grown fruits and veggies available at the Rialto Market in Venice is a feast for the eyes. Just strolling around the market can take the better part of a day.
Depending on the season, and local availability, all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables are generally on offer at the Rialto Market for you to eat while you visit, and take back to your hotel or local apartment to create local and more familiar foods. Additionally, these fresh locally sourced and grown foods are served in local bars, eateries, and fine dining establishments.
You’ll find oranges from Sicily, apples from Basilicata, and tomatoes and bright citrus from Campania.
So what’s local at the Rialto Market? Local zucchini and squash blossoms, artichokes (carciofi), white and green asparagus, Monk’s beard’ or ‘Barbe di Frate/Agretti’ (a grass-like vegetable grown during Spring in Italy), fragola or fragolini (strawberries), fennel, and locally produced honey.
When we say locally grown, we’re referring to produce grown and harvested all throughout the Venetian Lagoon and elsewhere in Italy when specified. This includes the artichokes grown on the nearby island of Sant’Erasmo, about a 30-minute ferry ride from Venice itself.
Venetian Lagoon Seafood
Given the location of Venice seafood and the fishing industry are as integral to the local culture as travel itself. Below is an absolutely nonextensive list of some of the sea-fare feated in Venitian dishes after it’s captured from the Venetian Lagoon. Most if not all of these Frutti di Mare (fruits of the sea) can also be found at the Rialto Market when they are available:
Bisati (eels), Branzino (sea bass), Canocce (mantis shrimp), Cod, Go (grass goby), Mazzancole (shrimp), Moleche (soft-shell crab), Moscardini (small octopus), Octopus, Orada (gilt-head bream), Razor Clams, Rombo (sole), San Pietro Vongole (clams), Schie (tiny grey shrimp), Seppia (squid), Sgombro (mackerel), and many others.
Typical Venetian Food
There are so many wonderful dishes to try in Venice, but be sure and try these more traditional dishes and see the unique twists and variations many local chefs will add to each, taking their Nonni’s recipes up a notch or two.
Venetian Baccalà (Stockfish)
Baccalà Mantecato is a traditional dish in Venetian cuisine made most often with dried Atlantic cod, known more commonly as artisan Venetian stockfish. Venetian baccalà is an unsalted whitefish, that goes through a process wherein the fish itself is preserved using a drying method that actually originated when a vessel full of Venetians crashed into the Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway.
The tradition was passed onto the crew of the shipwrecked Venetian vessel full of spices when the crew was rescued and taken to the Island of Roest. Upon his return to Venice, Captain Querini brought with him 60 Norwegian Stockfish and stories of the Norwegian drying methods, and a new Venetian tradition was born.
Cod is the most widely used variety of fish but baccalà can be made with other types of whitefish including; pollock, haddock, ling, and cusk.
To prepare the dish, the cleaned fish is salted and placed on traditional wooden racks to dry in the cold air until hard. The fish is then soaked for several days in water, and then poached. Finally it’s whipped until reduced to a mousse-like consistency. Sounds simple enough, right? It’s anything but.
The art of producing good baccalà is akin to the art of making a good whiskey, or cognac, or aged cheese. It’s a slow food practice that’s carried out with great pride. The mixture is traditionally spread on grilled polenta or a crispy mini-baguette, and is light and delicious. YUM!
Sarde en Saor
Some say this dish is quintessential Venice — a taste of the Venice lagoon in one bite. It may well be, and the traditional way in which it’s made also speaks the tradition and history of eating in Venice, and in particular eating seafood in Venice.
Sarde in saor is a classic Venetian dish made with fresh local sardines that are deep-fried and then left to marinate with onions in a sweetened vinegar solution. It’s a perfect way to preserve a fish like a sardine which speaks to the history of food in Venice and preserving seafood.
Now, if you like seafood but think that sardines may be a bit fishy or strong for you, I hope you give this dish a try. Being fresh from the lagoon, I can tell you they are not as strong as an American might imagine, since most of the sardines we get only come from a can. Ugh!
These beauties are fresh and delicious. Then the slight fry gives a bit of crunch. The vinegar marinade melds all the goodness together with the stewed onions for a completely unexpected sweet fish concoction you never expected.
So many layers of flavor, texture, and goodness, sprinkled with raisins and pine nuts to boot. It really is Venice in one perfect dish!
Polenta e Schie
Polenta e Schie (cornmeal with shrimp) is one of the traditional Venetian dishes we fell in love with. Schie are small gray shrimps from the waters of Venice that are served on a bed of soft, creamy polenta. The shrimp is typically fried and crispy or stewed.
Americans might recognize this dish as being similar to Southern-style Shrimp and Grits, though polenta is made from yellow corn and much more common in Italy.
Risi e Bisi (Rice and Peas)
The further north you travel in Italy, the more unique the starches become. Gone are the heavy rice (risotto) and traditional pasta dishes that become more common in the regions of Veneto and Lombardy in northern Italy. In Venice, this simple dish is found on many a Venetian menu. And like any dish featuring green peas, it’s always brighter and tastier with peas fresh from the garden.
We mentioned seafood in Venice right? Well this little local crab is one of the seasonal specialties of Venice.
Moleche (or Moeche in the local dialect) are young soft shell crabs that have shed their baby shells and have yet to grow their new adult ones. This molting season happens for just a few weeks every spring and fall in the Venetian lagoon and the process takes just a few hours, a small window for foodies who salivate waiting for this time of year!
Chefs use a simple egg wash and dusting of flour before they toss them in hot oil. If you love soft shell crabs, you might want to think about planning your trip to Venice during Moleche season!
Castraure (Baby Artichokes)
Ah, sweet carciofi, food of the Gods! If you love them like we do, you have to try the small violet artichokes known as Castraure. The entire artichoke is tender and edible, with no toughness at all. You’ll often find these fried or simply sauteed with a drizzle of lemon.
Some cicchetti bars will serve single chokes marinated in oil. Like most good Italian food, these baby artichokes are simply prepared and some of the most flavorful food in Venice.
Bigoli is the Venetians’ version of local Italian pasta. Similar to bucatini pasta (a hollow spaghetti) with a small hole in the middle, bigoli is also slightly darker because it’s made with whole wheat flour. And you know what that means? It’s healthier!
Cicchetti and Bacaro Bars
Looking for cheap eats in Venice with a spritz? Eating Cicchetti in Venice is one of the best things you can do to experience Venice like a local! The term cicchetti refers to the Venetian tapas served as a small plate (tapas) or finger food at bars known as bácaro, or bacari (plural). Cicchetti is budget-friendly and traditionally served with a little round shaped glass of wine called an ombra or an Aperol Spritz.
The best thing about Cicchetti is that you can buy a plate for as little as €1. These tasty hors d'oeuvres are served at Venetian bacari (local hole in the wall type bars) and small casual eateries known as osterie for an average of anywhere from €1-€3 with the more expensive options being as high as €6.
If you’re in the midst of a Venice pub crawl, or just meandering through town, visiting different establishments, Cicchetti is a really budget-friendly way to taste the most traditional and culture-filled offerings in Venice while perhaps getting a teensy tiny bit tipsy trying various ombra in the process.
These small-plate treats can range anywhere from crostini with toppings as described below, to deep-fried mozzarella cheese with tasty dipping sauces. Other favorites include gorgonzola, calamari, and artichoke hearts with sliced hard-boiled eggs.
There’s no limit to the marinated seafood offerings served often with small plates of olives or prosciutto with melon. These treats are so popular with tourists you can actually book a dedicated Venice Cicchetti tour, a very popular food tour!
You’ll find all sorts of bites, nibbles, and small plates at bacari bars in Venice. Some of the more common Cicchetti dishes available in Venice include baccalà mantecato, sarde in saor, fritto misto di mare (mixture of fried seafood), or buranelli biscuits for a more sweet taste.