Strike out from our favourite Smith hotels in Venice and you’ll find hidden food markets, gourmet delis and quirky enotecas – if you know where to look. Part cook book, part travel guide, ‘Venice: Cult Recipes‘ is Italian food writer and stylist Laura Zavan’s new insider guide to eating your way around Venice, packed with local tips and mouthwatering recipes. Here, she shares an excerpt from the book, with her itinerary for foodie walks around the Dorsoduro and Giudecca districts, tips on what to buy, and where to find it…
Head to San Tomà on foot or by vaporetto to visit the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista. This confraternity is one of the oldest in Venice (1261). In Calle San Pantalon is the Tonolo Pasticceria (1), my favourite patisserie in Venice. Tonolo is a compulsory stop for a coffee (standing at the counter) and a pastry. I love their bign (choux puffs) filled with zabaione, the meringhe (soft meringues filled with whipped cream), the cannoncini (puff pastry rolled into a cannon shape and filled with cream) and, of course, the fritole and crostoli during Carnevale! Heading south you come to the great Campo Santa Margherita (2), where Venetians meet to have a drink, standing up or sitting comfortably on the bar terraces (go to Il Caffè, and for a cicheto there’s Osteria alla Bifora; both pictured above). This Campo is one of the few places in Venice (along with the Fondamenta Ormesini and Misericordia) where there’s a bit of life at night! During the day, you will also find fruit and vegetable bancarelle (stalls) and fish bancarelle, including the one owned by Il Signor Silvano.
For other gastronomic discoveries, continue towards Campo San Barnaba (3) after the Ponte dei Pugni. At the quay, Barca, a superb boat filled with magnificent fruits and vegetables awaits you. Campo San Barnaba: a visit to the Pantagruelica food store is imperative. Sommelier Maurizio and his wife Silvia offer the best regional products, wines and rare alcohols… They know all the producers. There you will find the finest hand-made pastas, reserve hams cured for 36 months, Montegalda goat’s cheeses, Sartorelli biscuits, and Orto, the wine of Venice… Go to Grom gelateria in the same Campo and enjoy an ice-cream cone with the flavours of the season.
Take Calle San Barnaba, where you will find friendly little family trattorias that serve traditional regional cooking. La Bitta (9), for example, specialises in meat (in the evening), and La Furatola (10) in fish from the Adriatic. For a focaccia veneziana, the classic Venetian brioche-style cake, go to Nonno Colussi’s pasticceria (11; pictured above) in Calle San Barnaba. Franco Colussi, nicknamed ‘Nonno’ (grandpa), will explain how his focaccia takes 30 hours to make (including three for rising and two for kneading). If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to admire a multitude of foccace hanging from the ceiling. Call to check his opening hours, which change according to his mood.
From Campo San Barnaba, head towards the Fondamenta and the Calle de la Toletta. You can stop at Ai Artisti (7) wine bar and osteria for a midday aperitif or even have lunch there after a tour of the bookstores in the area.
To relax and fully appreciate the view of the Giudecca canal, there’s nothing better than sitting on the terrace of Gelati Nico (8) on the Fondamente Zattere dei Gesuati and enjoying a gianduiotto – a slice of gianduja ice-cream drowned in whipped cream! For a cicheto or to buy sone wine, on the Fondamenta opposite the church of San Trovaso you’ll find the Cantinone-Già Schiavi (9), an historical institution where mamma Alessandra makes her famous rustic cicheti ‘live’ behind the counter – every Venetian knows this place… You could also decide to eat in a lovely location on the Fondamenta Zattere, such as La Riviera (10), with its beautiful terrace facing Giudecca and the Molino Stucky.
If you are looking for a little peace and quiet, go and discover the island of Giudecca. This is an island in the lagoon opposite the Zattere, away from the tourist trail. Take the vaporetto and get off at Palanca, then go left and turn into Calle delle Erbe. Stop at the trattoria Altanella (11; pictured above): you will be welcomed by the fourth-generation owners! In a family atmosphere, Roberto presides over the dining room while his brother Stefano is in the kitchen. I ate the best cuttlefish ink gnocchi of my life there. The rooms are lovely and the terrace is charming; it feels like you’re in the country.
Near the Palanca vaporetta stop, you can do your fish shopping at Fabio Gavagnin’s fishmongers (12). He will give you good advice with a smile! For bread and grissini, stop at the bakery Il Panificio Claudio Crosara (13), opposite the beautiful Gesuati church on the other side of the canal, which is reflected in the window. Finally, stop at Fortuny (14), for some beautiful arts and fabrics. Leave a little room in your suitcases for your shopping (at bargain prices), because you’ll want to buy everything! That way, you’ll be able to continue your gastronomic voyage back home…
THE ESSENTIAL VENICE FOOD-SHOPPING LIST
Venetian foodie finds you can’t go home without…
– A good bottle of olive oil from Lake Garda. It goes without saying that when I recommend an olive oil, it must be extra virgin, first cold pressed and produced from Italian olives. Thanks to the lake’s microclimate, this olive oil is very delicate and refined. It is perfect for dressing fish.
– Ask advice on a good balsamic vinegar that’s been aged for a few years or the traditional balsamic vinegar that is aged for at least 12 years, a real nectar to be used sparingly, in drops.
– I always bring a few kilos of vegetables home with me in my suitcase! In springtime, I buy ones grown on Sant’Erasmo (an island of the lagoon), such as artichokes and the little castraure available in April–May, sweet little zucchini for eating raw, grated in a salad, and sweet and tender peas. I also don’t forget the delicious white asparagus from Bassano and the agretti for enjoying in a salad.
– Make the most of being in Italy by buying a parmesan cheese that’s been matured for 36 months. It will be perfect to enjoy as is or grated over risotto or pasta. I also learned from my mother to use latteria instead of mozzarella on pizza. It has noticeably more flavour than a mass-produced mozzarella.
– White polenta is typical of Venice. It’s made from a very old variety of corn. Ask for Bianco Perla polenta, the variety considered to be the best quality; it’s finer and tastier than yellow polenta. It is the essential accompaniment for the fish of the lagoon.
– Sopressa is a good Italian pork salami. Fresh and tender, it melts in the mouth, and has a full delicious flavour. It is only cut by knife (never sliced in a machine) and is perfect for filling a piccolo panino ( a small sandwich). Ask for it to be vacuum-packed for you.
– Make certain you take home a bottle of Venetian white wine, a real rarity! Also remember some prosecco, an artisan grappa (a grape marc eau-de-vie) and aperitifs (Ramazzotti aperitivo, Select, Aperol…): all essential for a home-made spritz.
– Artisan crispbreads, like the extra-thin figuli from Visnadello (Treviso) or the irresistible grissini bibanesi made from olive oil and kamut flour, sold in supermarkets. Try the very thin artisan Sartorelli biscuits with hazelnuts or almonds… once you start eating them, it’s hard to stop.
Venice: Cult Recipes by Laura Zavan (£20; Murdoch Books) is out now. Featured photography by Gregoire Kalt.