With thousands of years of rich history, architecture, and some of the most beautiful geography in Europe, it’s truly remarkable that Italy is best known for its incredible food. Pasta and pizza are world-famous for their comforting and delicious flavors, but there is so much more to Italian food. There is an underrated regionality to Italian cuisine, with several distinctive cultures throughout the northern foothills of the Alps, the peninsular mainland, and various islands that comprise modern Italy.
One of these regions is Veneto, which is home to Venice and surrounding villas. There are several regional delicacies that call Venice home. Many of them reflect the charming cultural heritage of Venice, especially when it comes to seafood. Also, the street food scene in Venice is particularly lively, with so many vendors and cafés serving casual bites in piazzas. That’s not to say there aren’t fine dining options in town. In recent years, the city has also become more inclusive to travelers with dietary restrictions. If you fall into this category, you'll want to check out our list of the best vegetarian restaurants in Venice.
One thing discerning travelers want to avoid is tourist traps that serve Americanized Italian food. So doing a little bit of research beforehand can point you in the right direction for finding the most authentic cuisine and traditional food. So drop your luggage at a Bounce bag storage, and go track down the best dishes on your own food tour of Venice!
Venice Food: Baccalà Mantecato
This appetizer is one of the most iconic Venetian dishes, despite being made with entirely foreign ingredients. Sailors originally brought salted cod from places like Norway, but the locals really took to it. Baccalà mantecato is made with dried and salted cod from the North Atlantic that is poached and then whipped with olive oil into a mousse. The fluffy consistency is light and resembles a crab dip or salmon salad (common in the US). Baguette pieces are toasted and dipped, but baccalà mantecato can also be served with polenta.
Venice Food: Buranelli
If you want a crispy, crunchy little sweet treat to pair with a coffee or walk with in the afternoon, look no further than the Venetian biscuit common in cafés and bakeries. Buranelli were originally packed as a snack for sailors during their long voyages. Since then, these little S-shaped crisps are the go-to dippers for coffee around Venice. Find them at any café or at street vendors at the piazza.
Venice Food: Cicchetti
This is a traditional Venetian dish that is essentially a snack that goes with an aperetivo, red wine, or white wine. Like Spanish tapas, Cicchetti are deep-fried croquettes, deep-fried olives, or individual baguette slices topped with olive oil, cheese, balsamic vinegar, meat, and a sauce. While this may seem overly simple, it's because it is. These are merely small plates that most restaurants serve with wine or beer before a larger meal or even as a side dish.
This popular Venetian food is served at wine bars and even the great restaurants in Venice. It's sort of ubiquitous, but it is one of the most authentic things you can eat, and they only cost a few euros. There are Venice food tours that will help you find the tastiest Cicchetti in the city.
Venice Food: Fegato alla Veneziana (Venetian Style Liver)
Fegato Alla Veneziana is one of the truly quintessential Venetian dishes and potentially one of the most repulsive to those not familiar with Venice food traditions. It's comprised of calf liver and stewed onions. There is a complexity of the liver meat that compliments the sweetness of the caramelized onions. When paired with white polenta, it's a magical dish, as any Venice food guide would tell you.
Venice Food: Fritole
During Carnival Season (Carnivale), it will be almost impossible to avoid fritole, which are little fritters made with a rich batter. It's exceptionally simple, with some flour, milk, sugar, eggs, raisins, and most importantly, pine nuts. These are molded into balls and deep-fried and served to hungry festival-goers and on the street. They're a perfect little sweet treat and are served at popular food destinations like Rialto Market (which is more than a tourist trap).
Venice Food: Gelato
There is nothing more Italian than gelato. Well, maybe pasta. Regardless, there are dozens of gelato shops in Venice that make for an amazing afternoon treat or dessert. Just about any Venice food tour will conclude with a stop to eat gelato. It's not some ancient dish that owes its origins to Roman sailors, it's simply an Italian tradition for anyone with a sweet tooth! There are very few places in Venice that serve bad gelato, so just about anywhere will serve you something delicious.
Venice Food: Nero di Seppia (Squid Ink Pasta)
Nero di Seppia is a pasta dish that is a local favorite and hard to find anywhere else. It's comprised of spaghetti cooked in black squid ink. It can be served with fried fish or by itself. It may not look appetizing, but eating amazing food sometimes requires a leap of faith! Most quality trattorias and restaurants in Venice have Nero di Seppia on the menu, as it is the most popular pasta in Venice. Another local pasta to check out during your trip to Venice would be salsa bigoli.
Venice Food: Granseola Alla Veneziana (Spider Crab)
The name Granseola derives from the Venetian words for both crab and onion, which are the two primary ingredients of Granseola Alla Veneziana. The giant spider crab is fished off the Adriatic near Venice and is one of the types of regional seafood that is made into delicious local delicacies. This dish is essentially the Venice version of lobster in that its origins were humble but is now revered among refined palates. While it is seasonal, this dish is a dependable option at Trattoria Alla Madonna near the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal. Many Venetian food tours will also help you find this delicious dish of crab meat and pasta.
Venice Food: Moeche Fritte
The Venetian lagoon yields some of the most flavorful seafood dishes in all of Italy. Local fishermen have been fishing for spider crab for centuries, and one of the best things to come of it has to be moeche fritte. This traditional Venetian snack is essentially soft-shelled crab meat that's coated with egg and then fried until crispy and golden. After being pulled from the fryer, it's coated lightly with salt and lemon juice and served as finger food.
Venice Food: Pasta E Fagioli
This is indigenous to the Veneto region rather than the city of Venice, but this is still some of the tastiest food in Venice. Known sometimes in the US as pasta fazool, this is a pasta dish with beans, but it is perceived more as a hearty soup. It's very popular in the winter, as it's hearty and warming, which might explain the dish's popularity in a city where most men were sailors.
The best restaurant in Venice, Italy, that serves pasta e fagioli is trattoria Alla Rampa. This is a satisfying meal, so it's ideal to keep you fueled throughout your day of sightseeing.
Venice Food: Polenta E Schie
Schie, which is similar to Scampi, is a shrimp-like shellfish found in the Venetian lagoon and surrounding waters. It’s caught by both commercial and recreational fishermen and brought back to trattorias to be cooked and paired with either pasta or yellow polenta or white polenta. Polenta E Schie is a local favorite that pairs the creamy cornmeal, which balances out the savory flavors better than a pasta would, with the rich seafood and is generally flavored with heavy garlic, lemon, and pepper. It's a hearty meal that’s perfect for fortifying yourself during the winter months. Osteria del Riccio Peoco cooks a standout version of this dish.
Venice Food: Risi E Bisi
Being a prominent port city, Venice was an early adopter of rice as a staple food. While this might not seem as exciting as pasta, one of the results of this development is a beloved Venetian dish made of rice and peas. Risi e Bisi is a simple dish, but in classic Italian fashion, there are flashes of flavor with pancetta, onion, parsley, and a hearty broth, that give it a rich brine and comforting base.
There are tales of The Doge greeting his subjects outside of Doge’s Palace in St. Mark's Square with a plate of Risi e Bisi, which is why this dish’s associated with St. Mark’s Day (April 25th). Every other day of the year, you can find it at Il Nuovo Galeon or at most hole-in-the-wall trattorias in Venice. If you make your trip to Venice in the spring, make sure to check out the festivities in St. Mark's Square since Risi e Bisi won't be the only amazing food served!
Venice Food: Sarde in Saor
Another Middle Eastern dish that’s made its way from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic, Sarde in Saor combines fried sardines with raisins, sautéed onions, pine nuts, and a vinegar-based sweet and sour sauce. The dish originated as a means for preserving seafood during long voyages at sea, which explains the strong vinegar presence that somehow registers as both sweetness and sourness. Sailors even resorted to this dish to “freshen” their breath.
While the origin story might not seem as appetizing as gelato or pasta, the interesting blend of flavors and ingredients makes Sarde in Saor a worthwhile experience when dining out in Venice. This dish is also very rare outside of this region of Italy, and very few Italian restaurants in America would even know where to start with Sarde in Saor.
Venice Food: Scampi In Busara
The maritime influence present in Venetian cuisine can’t be overstated, especially not in the local favorite Scampi in Busara. A Busara is a type of pot that sailors used to cook stews or pasta when out to sea, and scampi are some of the most common types of seafood caught in the Adriatic. The scampi is cooked in the Busara pot and combined with spaghetti and red sauce. So while you won't have to take a boat ride to sample this comforting classic, it makes sense that this dish is popular in Venice. The scampi combines well with the sauce for a creamy texture, and the zesty red sauce provides a nice kick.
Osteria La Busara is aptly named as it specializes in the dish and is certainly among the best restaurants that serve it! This quaint eatery is located near the Rialto Bridge.
Venice Food: Tramezzini
With attractive piazzas and winding streets, it makes sense that handheld casual bites would be popular in Venice. Tramezzini are small sandwiches that are beyond unassuming. In fact, they’re reminiscent of school lunches a grade-schooler would request. It all starts with two slices of white bread with the crusts removed…. The fillings can vary but usually involve local ingredients like ham, egg, prawn, artichokes, and different combinations depending on what’s in season.
You’ll find these delicious little handhelds at many bars, as they are intended to be paired with a glass of wine and some cicchetti. They generally only cost a few euros, so it’s definitely worth a shot, and you won't need to go to a restaurant with table service.
Trying new food is an integral part of any vacation. Expanding your palate and approaching new cuisine is a rewarding experience, especially in world-class culinary cities like Venice. And with all the amazing food that's available, you might want to look into the best hikes in Venice to work off some of the calories you'll be consuming.
There’s nothing better than strolling through Rialto Market or a piazza and stopping in a wine bar for a spritz and cicchetti or treating yourself to fresh seafood and a glass of wine. Taking the kids out for some gelato in the afternoon is another fine option. All of these subtle but unforgettable experiences can be enjoyed when visiting Venice, so drop the bags with Bounce so you can track down your new favorite snack!