The cuisine of Venice: 10 unknown dishes
I might surprise you by saying that the classic Italian cuisine and its main hits: parmesan, prosciutto, pizza or mozzarella have nothing to do with Venice.
No, of course, all the above-mentioned things are served in restaurants, though, to be perfectly honest, it is the Venetian pizza that is considered the worst in the country, because there are simply no proper ovens, which allow to cook it on open fire, in Venice.
In general, the most famous Italian specialties are made in the south or in the center of the country, in the regions of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna or Campania, but the city of gondola before the Napoleonic wars was the center of the Republic of Venice, so the gastronomic traditions here are quite different.
In today’s article, I’m going to talk about Venetian specialties that you probably haven’t heard anything about. By the way, you can taste them only in Venice or in its surroundings, but in Rome or in Bologna you can never find them on the menu.
SPAGHETTI ALLA BUSARA – SPAGHETTI WITH SHRIMP AND CUTTLEFISH
A typical pasta of the Venetian lagoon, which appeared here in the sixties of the nineteenth century, when the region fell to the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a result of the Napoleonic wars. It is a mix of Italian and Croatian gastronomic traditions, because Croatia was also part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is believed that the recipe for spaghetti with fresh shrimp, small cuttlefish and garlic sauce, using white wine and cherry tomatoes, was partly borrowed by Venetian sailors from the inhabitants of the Croatian city of Rijeka.
There, inns served a broth of small shrimp and cuttlefish cooked in white wine and so generously laced with garlic and onion sauce that visitors often didn’t realize what they were eating. This allowed the innkeepers to trick: they assured foreign guests that they were indulging them in a soup of especially valuable sea creatures, which had a direct effect on the price of the dish.
This is why, according to one version, the dish was called spagetti alla busara, because “buzara” or “busara” in the local dialect meant “deceit”. Another, less cheerful one suggests that it comes from the name of the clay pot busara, in which the sailors cooked their food.
Yes, the Venetians took the sauce from the Croats, but they thought of adding spaghetti to it themselves, because, as you know, you can’t spoil food with pasta – in this regard Italians from all regions of the country are in complete solidarity with each other. Today spaghetti alla bussara is one of the main Venetian specialties. And it’s not a dish for fans. As a rule, everyone likes it.
2. RISI E BISI – RICE WITH PEAS
A question. What is it: neither risotto nor soup, it is a spring dish, but you eat it in winter? The correct answer is risi e bisi, rice mixed with peas, the consistency of which is something between minestrone and risotto. “Ew,” you might say. – Rice and peas are the food of the poor.” “Ha ha! – “We served it at the Doge’s dinner at the Palazzo Ducale, by the way! And not just any meal, but during the festive meal on the occasion of St. Mark’s Day, the patron saint of Venice, which is celebrated on April 25th.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen! In the old days, rice and peas were considered very valuable products here. By the way, the Venetians have always had a shortage of peas; they got hold of them only after they succeeded in annexing neighboring Vicenza to the Republic during the military campaign. However, there is a version that risi e bisi was made in the city of gondolas before Venice began to conquer the surrounding land, saying that the peas were brought from Byzantium at the time.
Today, the traditional dish dedicated to St. Mark’s Day, and at the same time the spring festival, is mostly cooked in winter, because during the warm season soups are not usually eaten in Italy. Often pancetta (Italian kind of brisket) is added to the risi e bisi, so to speak, for the sake of flavor and nourishment, and you can taste the specialty not only in Venice, but also in Verona or in Vicenza, on the hills of which, by the way, peas are still grown today.
3. PASTA E FAGIOLI ALLA VENETA – PASTA WITH BEANS
And again beans! Please don’t be surprised and don’t pucker your nose, but respect the fact that even the great Umberto Eco wrote that without them “the population of modern Europe would not have doubled in a few centuries. Honestly speaking, pasta and fagioli are not a purely Venetian dish: people have been thinking about mixing fast carbohydrates with slow ones since the times of the ancient Romans. And how else to achieve the instant effect of “energy and vigor for the whole day”, about which we are told from TV commercials for cat food?
Nevertheless, it was the people of the Veneto region who popularized this dish. Here, bean pasta was traditionally prepared in the fall when pigs were slaughtered. “What does this have to do with poor animals?” you might ask. And here’s the thing. In Europe, as we know, the poor did not throw away any of the parts of the animal carcass, so the remains of bacon and pork fat were added to pasta e fagioli in order to make the dish even more nourishing and flavorful. In addition, according to modern rules in the pasta with beans they add onions, carrots, celery, garlic and a few potatoes, and as a spice they use bay leaf, rosemary, parsley, marjoram, tarragon and pepper.
The dish is very tasty and incredibly filling. You should only order it for lunch; otherwise you won’t be able to fall asleep after such a hearty dinner. On the other hand, in the middle of the day, pasta with beans is a must because in Venice you have to move around on foot so that during the long walk you use up all the calories consumed.
4. BIGOLI IN SALSA – BIGOLI PASTA WITH ANCHOVIES
Bigoli is the most popular pasta in Veneto. It has been eaten in the region since the 17th century. Bigoli look like quite fattened spaghetti, and the popularity of this particular type of pasta can be explained by the fact that somewhere around 1600-1610 Bartolomeo Veronese, a native of Padua, a city next to Venice, invented a bigolaro machine, which allowed one to quickly and without extra effort make thick and long pasta from the raw dough.
Today in Padua and Venice there are even Bigoli stations – street kiosks where you can buy already cooked pasta with stuffing and consume it right in the street: bigoli are packaged in deep paper bags and you get a kind of analog of “takeaway coffee”, only in this case we have “takeaway pasta” that is twisted with a plastic fork.
The most famous Venetian ingredient for bigoli is anchovies, which makes sense: these small fish in the Adriatic Sea are like herring in a barrel. Anchovies are used in the preparation of the crown specialty of the Veneto region. And don’t be fooled by the word salsa in the name, which translates to Russian as “sauce”!
For this dish normal fish are used. First they are peeled, cut into small pieces, then stewed in olive oil with onions, and then boiled pasta is added. On top of the dish is sprinkled with pepper. Is it good? Yes! Nourishing? Unbelievable! Well, you understand that this dish should be ordered only for lunch.
5. SARDE IN SAOR – FRIED AND MARINATED SARDINES
There is no hiding from this specialty neither in Venice itself nor on the islands of the lagoon. It is served in expensive restaurants and in every second eatery here, but most often sarde in saor is ordered as an appetizer by locals. A peculiarity of this dish is that the sardines for its preparation are first soaked for 30 minutes in water, then they are fried in flour with vegetable oil and then pickled for a day with onions that have been previously stewed in white wine vinegar. And, yes, the Venetians use pine nuts and raisins as seasoning.
“What a perversion!” – you say. Yes, the recipe is tricky. And ancient. It was invented by sailors who wanted to keep food fresh and edible for as long as possible, because you can’t find grocery stores at sea. Is it tasty? Absolutely! Generally speaking, sarde in saor is my favorite Venetian dish, because there is nothing wrong with eating sardines at any time of the day. Another undeniable advantage of sarde in saor is that after it you don’t feel thirsty at all, unlike after our herring.
6. Il FEGATO ALLA VENEZIANA – BAKERY VENEZIANA
This recipe kind of roots back in Ancient Rome because the citizens of the most powerful empire of the ancient world didn’t disdain to eat liver. Though, they did not like the smell of it much, so they thought of braising liver with figs. In Venice there were not many figs, so here they replaced them with onions. And the result was Il fegato alla Veneziana, one of the most popular Venetian dishes.
By and large, there is nothing unusual about it: onions are chopped into small pieces, then saffron is shredded, all this is stewed in olive oil, and then the liver is added to the pan. That’s it, dear friends. You should not expect any special wow-effect from this dish, but you can try it at least out of curiosity.
7. BACCALA – MASHED COD
Codfish is not found in the Adriatic, but mashed cod is considered to be the main Venetian specialty. Such a paradox. However, if we go deeper into history, it turns out that there is nothing strange about it. The Venetians, as we know, were excellent seafarers, and they made their way to Scandinavia, where they bought dried cod before sailing back to the Serene Republic, in order to have something to eat on the way back. In fact, they invented the dish baccala, which is served almost everywhere in Venice, and is also wildly popular in nearby Chioggia and Vicenza.
The preparation of bakkala is non-trivial: dried cod is chopped into several pieces and placed in a pot full of water. It is kept in the refrigerator for two days, and the water, in which the fish is kept, is changed several times during this time. Then the soaked cod is put back into the pot with fresh water and cook until it becomes soft. Then the skin and bones are removed, the fish fillet is transferred to another bowl, dressed with olive oil and pounded with a tablespoon to a mashed potato, which is finished with the addition of pepper, onion and garlic.
In Venice baccala can be a separate dish, but it is often served as cicchetti – a local snack with wine, in which case the mashed cod is spread on bread or on a piece of toasted polenta. It has a peculiar taste, that’s why I recommend you to try it as a cicchetti first and then decide if you want a full-size version or not.
8. MUSETTO CON CREN – PORK FAT SAUSAGE WITH HORSERADISH
Actually, musetto is a Christmas dish and I really hate it, but I can’t help telling you about it because people in Venice eat it not only on January 25th, but during the whole winter. So, imagine a thick raw sausage, inside of which 90% of the fat. Real, pork fat. What do you think? This is musetto. They buy the sausages fresh, boil them at home in water, just like we do sausages, and serve them with horseradish.
To my taste, musetto with horseradish is not sweeter, that is, the taste of the product and spicy spice can not save. Meanwhile, the Venetians eat this awful dish and praise it. They are very surprised when I say, “Thank you, but no! Should I try the muzzetto? Only as part of an extreme gastronomic tourism, because what you get from the meal at least minimal pleasure, I can not guarantee.
9. ZAETI – COOKIES MADE OF CORN FLOUR
Sometimes they call the typical Venetian pastry “zaeti”, but people from the gondola town call them “zaeti”, skipping the letter N. They are round biscuits filled with tiny raisins and lemon peel. The main peculiarity of zaeti is that they are made with corn flour, the same used to make polenta, another traditional dish of the Veneto region.
Even at the beginning of the XX century, corn flour was more common than wheat flour in the north of the country, and it cost much cheaper, so local housewives learned to use it in a variety of ways. What are the goat eaters so happy about? Calm down! After all, when making biscuits in the dough and add wheat flour, so that the biscuits were not too dry. And, by the way, in Veneto they’re often eaten for breakfast, so to speak, an alternative to brioche.
10. BUSSOLAI – COOKIES WITH DESSERT WINE
A typical sweet of the island of Burano, the one in the lagoon of Venice, famous for its colorful, as if painted with felt-tip pens houses. Bussolai are the cookies with a hole in the middle, that’s why their name is derived from the word “busa”, meaning “hole” in Venetian dialect. They are made of flour, butter and egg yolk, as you can see, everything is quite simple.
Originally, they were served in restaurants as an accompaniment to dessert wine, but today many fans of the Mediterranean diet prefer to eat them for breakfast as well. Another peculiarity of the pastry: if you dip a bussolai in tea, coffee or wine, it will not fall apart, which is why Europeans actively moisten hard biscuits in all these drinks. By the way, eating cookies from the island of Burano in this way is indeed more pleasant, dry bussolay goes hard.
5 things you have to try in Italy
It’s not for nothing that Italians are called pasta eaters, because it’s the dish they love most in the world. Only they call it pasta and nothing else. Traditionally, pasta (Russian for “pasta”) is divided into five types: long (spaghetti), short (feathers), filled (ravioli), soup (vermicelli) and baked pasta. The latter is the most unusual, and therefore the most interesting option for us. This type of pasta includes lasagna, which is a meat puff pastry with two kinds of sauce (cream and tomato-meat), and cannelloni, which are tubes of dough? Stuffed most often with meat or ricotta and spinach. There is also a special kind of pasta called “gnocchi”, which looks more like a mixture of pasta and potatoes. Gnocchi taste quite strange, a bit like dumplings, although in fact they have no analogues in our traditional cuisine.
2. Italy wouldn’t be Italy without pizza
Pizza is the second most popular Italian dish. There are many variations on this round theme, but only one is considered a true classic of the genre – pizza Margherita and by no means MargArita, as often written in guidebooks. By the way, Italians themselves will never choose a restaurant where they see “MargArita” on the menu, as it shows the absence of any “Italianism” in the owner of the place. Three main ingredients will paint the Italian tricolor on your plate: red tomatoes, white mozzarella and green basil. Try this surprisingly unpretentious but extremely tasty pizza and you’ll realize that all geniuses are really simple. The main thing is the skill of the cook.
3. Risotto is not pilaf!
Among the main culinary prides of many countries in the world are dishes made of rice. Italy is no exception. In the Apennines they cook risotto, which should not be confused with pilaff. Risotto is more like rice porridge, as if boiled while the hostess was away from the kitchen. The most popular toppings for this dish are seafood and mushrooms, separately, of course. There is also a fun variation called “Rizi e bisi” – risotto with green peas.
4. Sweet Words
Italian desserts are a separate topic, and the farther south along the boot, the sweeter they get. The most famous and most northern dish is Venetian tiramisu. The literal translation of its name – “lift me up” – fully justifies the taste sensation of this delicacy. Another northern region, Piedmont, offers a dessert called panna cotta. The version is delicious and uncomplicated to make (just cream, sugar and gelatin), so you can easily make it at home and then compare it to the Italian original. Go to Central Italy and try the English soup, although it doesn’t look like soup at all. In fact, it’s a delicious liqueur-soaked biscuit with vanilla cream. A little further south, in the Naples area, you can find baba, that is, the rum baba we all know, only without the thick glaze on top, but otherwise similar to its Russian sister. And finally, the sweetest region is Sicily. Its main pride are the crispy cannoli filled with ricotta. A dessert with an unearthly flavor.
5. Caffe – not coffee
Many people think that Italian coffee is not much different from that served in our coffee houses. For us, a traditional espresso is a drink that can be stretched over a half-hour conversation and drank without even wrinkling. Try doing the same in Italy and you’ll understand why their coffee menu rarely offers anything stronger than espresso. How much stronger can it get? For locals, however, coffee is more of a daily ritual (running into a bar and knocking over a cup right at the counter) or simply the logical conclusion to a meal.