Olive Magazine
A beautiful view of a gondola on Venice's Grand Canal sunset

Cook like a local: Venice

Published: August 25, 2022 at 2:38 pm

From sweet-sour and spiced sardines to deep-fried polpette, experience the varied cuisine of this historic Italian city

Want to learn about Venetian food? Looking for Venetian recipes? Read Emiko Davie's guide below, then check out Venice . We also have our Cook like a local: Sardinia, Greece, and Cook like a local: Crete.


Words and recipes extracted from Cinnamon & Salt by Emiko Davies (£20, Hardie Grant).

The cuisine of Venice is utterly unique in the Italian peninsula. Refined yet simple, it has origins that carry the legacy of the Venetian Republic’s immense wealth and multicultural influence. Influenced by wealthy import merchants, ingredients such as sugar from Syria and Egypt, dried fruit, citrus and fried sweets from Persia, and spices from India and Indonesia all became part of Venice’s indispensable pantry. Later came Norwegian stockfish, corn from Central America and coffee from Turkey. At the same time, Venetian cuisine relies heavily on the fresh ingredients proffered by the lagoon environment and surrounding countryside each season. Local fishermen collect soft shell crabs (known as moeche) and tiny grey prawns (schie), while delicate artichokes grown on the nearby islands are pruned early from the plant while still small (castraure).

Cicchetti are a way of life in Venice. Served in bàcari, cicchetti are small morsels, generally small enough to be eaten in one or two bites. You can hold them with one hand while the other holds an Aperol spritz, the classic, jewel-toned aperitif of Venice. Hopping from one bàcaro to the next for cicchetti before wandering home, has long been an economical way to socialise and is suited to the casual Venetian way of life, which is largely on foot.

Venetian recipes

Venetian deep fried meatballs

The deep-fried meatballs at Venice’s Alla Vedova are legendary. I will never forget my first taste of them. Thanks to these, Alla Vedova is considered a culinary institution. Any Venice cookbook offers a version inspired by them, although the original is a closely guarded secret and every recipe I’ve seen is different. Personally, I think the best way to enjoy them is at Alla Vedova. But making these and enjoying them piping hot as they come out of the frying pan comes a close second.

a bowl of fried meatballs in baking paper in front of a stack of white plates on a table

Sweet and sour sardines

Preparing food in saor – the technique of marinating fried food in vinegar and other ingredients – was historically a favourite Venetian way of conserving food for long trips.

an oval platter filled with chunks of sardine, sliced onion and raisins with a fork on a wooden background

Carrot mostarda

Carrot mostarda is a Venetian dish for celebrating the new year. This recipe will make enough for 12 cicchetti but you can also try it out with a roast or on sandwiches.

a round metal ray with a slab of wood inside, with two pieces of bread topped with carrot and ham

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