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How to Eat Well in Venice

cichettiWhile Venice is a beautiful floating city, a wonderland for romantics, it is notorious for its sub-standard food. The logic seems to be that people will still flock to Venice by the millions every year, and they’ll eat whatever’s available – so why bother with the food? Of course, there is truth to this argument. Visitors will come to Venice regardless of what food is on offer, and they’ve got to eat something. So they’ll pay for the experience of dining on Venice, perhaps at a candlelit canalside table, rather than the memorable cuisine.

But you don’t have to write Venice off completely when it comes to food. You can get a good meal in Venice, and it doesn’t take much digging to figure out how. The top trick is to get the heck away from the tourist-filled areas.

>> Check out this list for some recommendations of where to eat in Venice

When I’ve been to Venice, I’ve managed to have both mediocre meals and really excellent ones, and the thing the excellent meals all have in common is that the people sitting at my table were the only non-Italians in the restaurant. In a city that can be almost literally overflowing with tourists, you might not think it’s possible to find a place that caters primarily to Italians, but they exist. All you need to do is walk in the opposite direction that most of the tourists are walking, and then find an interesting-looking place to eat. These places may lack the prime real estate of a canal view, but you can look at Venice’s canals another time. This is the time you’re planning to eat. Oh, and if the menu’s only in Italian, or if no one speaks English, you won’t worry about that because you’ve already planned ahead, right? Good.

Gridskipper has mentioned a few places to find good food in Venice here, and you’ll notice right away that all but one of them is on the opposite side of the Grand Canal from St. Mark’s Square. The other thing you may notice is that many of the eateries are called things like “osteria” or “trattoria,” both of which are informal kinds of restaurants where the prices are likely to be a little better and the food a bit more rustic. It’s noted in the various descriptions that some of these places are not local secrets – and they may very well be crowded with tourists when you find them. But these are just examples of the kinds of places that it is possible to find in Venice, so if you want more of a cultural experience keep walking until you find the one that’s full of Italians.

The Italy section of the Chowhound food boards (found here) is full of Venice threads, so a browse through the pages of topics will certainly yield more specific places to look for or try. I’ve also read that it’s a good idea to “eat where the gondoliers eat,” which I think sounds like fantastic advice although I’ve not actually stalked any gondoliers to see where/what they’re eating. So I can’t vouch for it, but it sounds like good advice, doesn’t it?

Finally, I’ve also heard repeatedly that, for lunch or a light dinner, you can enjoy the Venetian version of “tapas” with what are called “cicchetti” (chi-KEH-tee) – they’re tiny portions, which you get lots of, and they can sometimes be eaten picnic-style near the place where you’ve bought them. Just don’t try to have a picnic in St. Mark’s Square, or you’ll be in deep trouble.

For a look at one cicchetteria in Venice, see this video: