It attracts swarms of tourists, but that doesn’t mean you have to behave like one. Here’s how to do Venice like an actual Venetian
Maybe it’s Shakespeare's merchant, or that BBC adaptation of Brideshead Revisited where Jeremy Irons falls for Diana Quick amid the limestone bridges, or just because of all those gondolas (they are snuggly aren’t they?). But, for Brits, Venice is one of the most romantic holiday locations the world has to offer.
But while it delivers in the amore department, Venice tends to disappoint tourists with its grub. Food-wise, it’s got a bad rap.
The problem is mainly to do with with the eye-wateringly expensive restaurants that surround St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge, where you’ll be lucky to get a tepid block of congealed lasagne for less than 30€.
But tourists aren't blame-free, flooding to the city in search of typical Italian fare – or 'plastic food' as the locals call it – without observing Venice’s strict, at times impenetrable, local eating code. Ignore these rules, and the vultures looking to make a quick buck will see you coming a mile off. You’ve only got yourself to blame.
But fear not! Here’s how to eat out like an actual Venetian in Venice.
Don’t bother with pizza
This may be heartbreaking for some of you to hear, but Venice is really not the place you want to go in Italy if your heart is set on gorging on pizza.
Wood-fired ovens are banned in the city due to strict fire regulations, meaning you’ll only be able to enjoy an authentic-tasting pizza from a restaurant that already had a wood-fired oven installed before the law was put in place.
They do exist – Rossopomodoro near St Mark’s Square is a noted exception to the rule – but our advice is not to bother with pizza and enjoy everything else the city has to offer.
If you have to, make sure you eat pizza with your hands – it’s a street food, and Italians never eat pizza with a knife and fork.
Whatever you do, don’t call it tapas
At the end of each work day, little bars all over the city called bàcaro will start to put small dishes on counters to help soak up the booze you’ll inevitably be sipping on (read: guzzling).
It may look a lot like tapas, but don’t call it that – it's called cicchetti. It's delicious – some of the best food Venice has to offer, actually – and a bàcaro is a real hotspot for mingling with the locals. Not a pac-a-mac in sight.
Know what coffee to drink and when
If you’re a fan of slurping huge, milky coffees all day, you’re in for a bit of surprise when you arrive in Venice. The locals mostly drink black espressos (but not too late into the evening because, durr, it will interrupt your sleep you silly Brit).
Froth fans needn’t go cold turkey though – indulge your milk habit with a huge cappuccino served at Moyo Bar in the morning.
The same applies to booze
When it comes to booze, the Venetians have devised an ingenious system based on their (not unfounded, to be fair) obsession with digestion.
Before dinner, an alcoholic aperitivo will be served because it is believed to help ‘open up’ the stomach and, after dinner, a digestivo will help your food ‘go down’.
During dinner, your options are pretty much wine or water if you don’t want to give yourself away as a tourist. May we suggest a bellini from Harry’s Bar, where the drink was invented.
Don’t rack up the food miles
If you want to eat the best that Venice has to offer, you can’t go wrong by making sure you stick to stuff that either lives or grows in the area. Artichoke dishes are plentiful in the city because they’re grown in the islands in the lagoons that surround the city, where you’ll also find the clams that make up some of the best spaghetti vongole you’ll ever get your greedy chops on.
Now that’s all covered, enjoy yourselves! And for goodness sake get off that gondola. You look a fool.