A Tasteful Tour of Venice
Beyond the glory of its waterways and colored glass, the city is a vibrant culinary mecca
OFTEN the most intriguing sights in a city are just steps beyond where the guidebooks take you. Certainly, this is true for food lovers in Venice.Skip to next paragraph
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While tourists jockey for position on the ever-crowded Rialto Bridge, buying glass beads and postcards, culinary adventurers walk on, past the portion of the fruit market that has been gobbled up by T-shirt vendors - into the real food market where local housewives and chefs come to banter and buy groceries.
Although the Veneto, the region in which Venice sits, is not particularly fertile, the land around its many lagoons yields succulent vegetables while the Adriatic provides fish so fresh and varied, they form the backbone of the city's cuisine as well as a dazzling display in the outdoor market.
The best time to wander the pescheria (fish market), is in early morning, when the fog hangs heavy and the boat traffic is light on the Grand Canal - the ``street'' that runs along the market.
My husband, my son, and I arrived just after dawn to see some specialties of Veneto: cuttlefish, a cousin of squid, whose subtly flavored black ink is used in signature dishes of pasta and risotto; shrimp in every size; sweet, briny crabs that crawl sideways across the counters; mullet with brilliant red scales that catch the morning light; russet-colored spiny lobsters; and prawns with the look of baby lobster and the taste of grown-up shrimp.
Just in front of the fish market is the fruit and vegetable market, where vendors cover their stalls with fabrics as vibrant as their wares. Among the variety of vegetables stacked in pyramids or laid out in stately rows are small purple artichokes that are deep-fried, sauteed, or boiled and served whole with vinaigrette; ruby and white heads of radicchio, a pleasantly bitter chicory, fat lettuce heads from nearby Chiogga, and long brittle-leafed heads from Treviso; starchy rice for risotto all'onda (wavelike risotto), the soupy rice dish prized in the region; and yellow and white cornmeal for polenta.
As a tourist, I find market visits both tantalizing and torturous: It is difficult to see such glorious bounty and not have a kitchen in which to make good use of it. Fortunately, there are myriad restaurants like Da Ivo, here where chefs use the freshest local ingredients and cook regional specialities with skill.
It was the prescient concierge at the Hotel Cipriani who recommended this family-run restaurant. ``Trust me, you'll love it,'' he said, as he drew a little map that would get us by foot from the Piazza San Marco to this genial restaurant, a meeting ground for some of the most enthusiastic eaters I had ever encountered.
We arrived at the restaurant strangers, and in minutes, by simply ordering what was suggested and eating it with obvious gusto, we made culinary comrades. (It can be that easy in a country that takes pride in its cuisine.)
When my first course of tiny shrimp over creamy polenta was served, the man at the table to my left nodded; with the scampi and artichoke hearts he smiled; the savory pasta with pop-in-your-mouth capers produced a broad grin; and when, at last, the platter of crisply fried soft-shelled crabs was presented, he could contain neither his approval nor his enthusiasm any longer and gave me a hearty thumbs up and a heartfelt ``buon appetito.''