Postcards from Italy

Eating Cicchetti in Venice

Venice has the unfortunate (and undeserved) reputation of being one of the few places in Italy where the restaurants are expensive and not particularly good. Though it’s true that there is a concentration of “tourist-trap” eateries along the main thoroughfares, it’s also true that La Serenissima is a place where it’s easy to distance yourself from the crowds and find small, neighborhood trattorias where the dishes are excellent and prices reasonable.

(Photo by seventyoneplace via Flickr)

To enjoy a truly traditional Venetian eating experience that won’t break the bank, consider making a meal out of cicchetti. Venice’s version of tapas, these bite-sized appetizers can range from marinated olives to small portions of meat or fish, and from late afternoon through the dinner hour (and sometimes midday, as well), the city’s tiny bars—called *bàcari*–have their counters crowded with overflowing platters of a tempting array of cicchetti, to be washed down with a small glass of wine, known locally as an ombra.

How It Works

Customers choose from the selection of cicchetti at the counter, either individually ordering their favorites or by requesting an assortment. Diners can then consume their selections standing among the buzzing happy-hour crowd inside or—at more popular spots—spilling out into the street, or take their plates to the little tables often set up out front for a more leisurely repast.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

If you find a bar you particularly like, feel free to linger and make a meal out of sampling the cicchetti there. Otherwise, the Venetians have their own version of the bar crawl, moving from locale to locale and tasting the best cicchetti and ombra house wine at each. Doing your own giro d’ombra is a great way to combine eating, socializing, and sight-seeing.

What To Eat

Cicchetti include a vast array of dishes, and many bàcari have their own house specialties. That said, there are a number classics that can be found among most offerings:

Fritti: Deep fried foods abound among cicchetti offerings, and are delicious and cheap. From breaded and fried mini-mozzarella balls, to arancini (small balls of rice and ground meat, fried), to a crispy mixed vegetable or seafood tempura, most cicchetti spreads include at least one of these crowd-pleasers.

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Crostini: Slices of bread (sometimes toasted, sometimes not) can be topped with anything from meat or fish paté, a variety of cheeses, or a compilation (goat cheese and marinated porcini mushrooms, ham and sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies and artichokes). Interesting combinations can be found in most bacari, and just a couple of the more elaborate crostini will quickly fill you up.

Salads: The more elaborate cicchetti spreads include a variety of interesting combinations of vegetables and meat or fish, creating a pleasant mix of complimentary flavors and textures. Look for octopus and potato salad, marinated green beans and sweet peppers, peas tossed with cubes of pancetta, onions, and ground pepper, and anchovies with marinated onions.

(Photo by seventyoneplace via Flickr)

Meat: Cicchetti tend much more towards fish and seafood than meat (logically, Venice being a city on the sea), but you can find delighful polpette (small pork meatballs in tomato sauce), rumegal (veal stomach), and fegato alla veneziana (calf liver dressed with onion and parsley.

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Fish: With fish and seafood, cicchetti really shine. From the traditional dishes like sardee in soar (sardines and onions marinated in vinegar and tossed with raisins and pine nuts), baccalà mantecato (creamed cod served over a slice of polenta), baccalà Vicentina (a creamy spread of cod, anchovies, and onions), and moscardini (tiny octopus) and polenta to the more contemporary spreads of sashimi-like raw fish dishes, if you are a fish and seafood fan, then cicchetti is a perfect occasion to sample some of Venice’s finest casual cuisine.

What to Drink

Cicchetti are customarily consumed with a small glass of house red or white wine (*ombra*), which is generally local and excellent. Most bars also sell higher-end wines by the glass, which are commonly listed on a board near the bar.

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

You can also opt for a prosecco (a dry, sparkling white), the ubiquitous Spritz cocktail (soda, prosecco, Aperol, and a twist of orange), or a small glass of beer.

What You’ll Pay

Cicchetti can either be chosen item by item (each piece costing anywhere from €2-€4), or you can request an assortment based on price (an €10 plate, for example). Some establishments have you pay as you go (especially when it’s very busy), and some keep a running tab to pay when you’ve finished.

An ombra or beer will usually cost no more than €2, though a finer wine by the glass may run as much as three times that.

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore