12 Things You Must Taste in Venice: A Guide to Happy Hour and Dining

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Eating is one of my favorite parts of living; it informs my travels and even my choices of destinations. Italy would have been top of list even if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to work on our Untours there. Over my years with Untours, I have spent a lot of time there, working and eating. Snacking and dining and drinking. Following food trends and sampling the dishes that go back centuries.
Here is the first in a series of food reports. The photo above is of me with my husband at a favorite haunt on Campo San Giacomo dall’Orio for happy hour. It’s tempting to use stock photography and glamour shots of food here. But in these days when everyone Instagrams their meals, I fear we lose the point. It is not the food itself, but the act of people enjoying a meal or a drink that I want to capture and remember.
So that said, here are some of my favorites from Venice.

Snacks and street food

Cicchetti – Venetian tapas, small morsels often served on toothpicks, ordered at wine bars and eaten standing, a hallmark of Venetian happy hour. Common ones include bacala on bread, artichoke bottoms, anchovies, polenta, grilled and pickled vegetables, and various bits of bite-sized seafood.
Tramezzini – Simple, snack-sized triangular sandwiches served on crustless white bread. You’ll find these sandwiches piled behind glass in cafes and bars. Common fillings include tuna salad, crab salad, olives and soft cheese, meats, and more.


Sardines in Saor – Sardines dressed in vinegar with onion and raisins, this is a traditional Jewish dish. Its popularity on menus extends beyond restaurants in the Cannaregio district, site of the Jewish ghetto for most of the 16th-18th century, and a vital center of Jewish history.
Polenta – This is a staple of northern Italian cuisine. “Polenta eaters” is a dubious nickname (slur?) for northerners in Italy. This cornmeal treat can be made soft but it more commonly served stiffer, in slices, sometimes grilled. It is perfect with Venice’s pervasive fried seafood.
Fritto misto – Yes, the pervasive fried seafood. But it is lighter than the American version and more satisfying than most calamari you will find here. Beware, shrimp are rarely shelled before they are fried!
Risotto al nero di seppie – Risotto is another northern staple. The Venetians make it theirs with squid in a purple-black ink sauce. (See photo above.) It is a rich and pleasing dish. Be brave and try it, or opt for one of the less deeply pigmented seafood risottos.
Liver and onions – Yes, really. In this seafood-dominated cuisine, calves liver (fegato) is an old traditional dish here served widely and eaten by locals with gusto.


Spritz – This aperitivo (before dinner drink) is having a moment now, at least in East Coast bars. But Aperol spritz started in Venice. It’s normally a mix of prosecco, Aperol (or some other bitter like Campari), and a splash of seltzer. Refreshing!
Ombra – A small glass of cask wine, drunk at one of Venice’s many bacari or wine bars. These can be found by the wine casks stationed outside their doors. Many serve cicchetti and have a wide variety of wines on tap. Some will fill take-out bottles, and the wine is fresh and affordable.
Grappa – Every culture has its own biting clear schnapps-type alcohol and Italy is no exception. Grappa comes from nearby Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto and is a popular after-dinner drink, or digestivo. Add it to coffee if you can’t take it straight.
Scropino – Alternatively, enjoy this frozen lemon drink that blends sorbet and vodka, sometimes with limoncello and prosecco. It is delightfully refreshing, the perfect end to a seafood dinner.
Caffe Shakerato – You’ll find this at Venice’s nicer cafes (and elsewhere in Italy). This is a particularly nice version of iced coffee: espresso shaken in a cocktail shaker with a little sugar and poured into a martini glass. It comes out frothy and creamy without any milk. Enjoy the show and stand at the counter to watch it being made.
Been to Venice? What did I forget? What are your favorites?

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