Eating Italy is a new interview series focussed on finding how locals eat throughout Italy. I'll be asking my food-loving friends about the food of their home city in il bel paese. In each interview, we'll get insights and tips from those living in the area on where, what and how to eat in his or her city or region of Italy.
Today Eating Italy goes to Venice. We're asking Monica Cesarato of Cook in Venice about food in Venice. Monica offers daily cooking classes, cicchetti tours, cicchetti and ghost tours, and food and wine tasting tours in Venice. She is proud of her city, knows her food well and is enthusiastic about sharing true Venetian cooking with everyone who joins her classes and tours.
I first met Monica in 2011 when I went on a private food tour with her. Since then, I've participated in each of the various classes and food tours she offers. I learn something new about the food in Venice, its history and even the history of Venice in general every time I'm with her. I knew her advice for eating in Venice would be a perfect way to start this interview series....
****Win a cooking class with Monica and Cook in Venice! Just tell us what you'd like to cook with the fabulous ladies of Cook in Venice to enter to win. Enter now: Win Cooking Classes in Venice & Provence ~ A Double Giveaway***
What made you decide to create Cook in Venice?
I was doing cicchetti tours and realized that not only do I like to talk about food, but I also love to cook. I wanted to give visitors to Venice an opportunity to learn what real Venetian food is and how it's cooked in homes, as an Italian mamma would cook. I contacted my friend Arianna, also a fabulous cook, and we partnered together to create our cooking classes.
What is particular or special about Venetian cooking?
It's all about announcing, not hiding, the flavor and quality of the main ingredient. That's why we don't use lemon with our fish. Lemon covers the freshness and true flavor of the fish. We also use little salt. When Venice was a trading hub between the East and West, we used more spices in our dishes; however, nowadays we use more herbs than spices.
Venetian cooking is seasonal, fast and healthy. Historically, Venetians were fishermen, merchants, and farmers. All cooking was based on local, fresh, seasonal & simple dishes. We didn't have time to make elaborate dishes, and saved those only for Sundays and special holidays.
What 3 food tips about eating in Venice do you have for tourists or visitors?
1) Do a cicchetti tour and/or crawl! Either with a guide or on your own, this is the best and most economical way to sample Venetian cooking and get an idea of what dishes you like before going to a restaurant and spending more per portion. Cicchetti come in small-bite portions and usually cost between 1 and 3 euros per serving. You can try all of our dishes in small bites at minimal cost and decide which you want to order again and in plate-size servings. Many cicchetti are local dishes made with fish from the lagoon and surrounding area; our fried fish, baccala mantecato, saor dishes, seppie and local vegetables.
2) Drink the wine that the old men drink. In cicchetti bars (bacari) and wine bars, see what the old men there are drinking and ask to have what they're having. They always drink locally produced wines that are inexpensive. The Veneto region is one that produces the biggest variety of wines, and many are not really known outside the region; those like Manzoni Bianco, Raboso, Refosco.
3) Eat gelato. Venice has some of the best gelato in all of Italy. Three of my favorite gelaterie are Gelateria Alaska (Calle Larga dei Bari, Santa Croce, 1159), Gelateria San Stae (Salizada San Stae,Santa Croce - just meters from the San Stae vaporetto stop) and Gelateria Quanto Basto (Lista di Spagna, Cannaregio, 148).
What 5 Regional dishes, desserts and/or wines would you say every visitor to Venice should not miss?
I'll give you six, at least one for every course in a meal:
Starter: Baccala Mantecato
Primo (1st course): Any type of risotto, but especially seafood risoto. Risotto is a main staple in the Veneto region. Everyone makes it at home and eats it, and we make a really nice risotto.
Main course: Seppie in its own (black) ink with polenta (It might not look so pretty, but don't be scared.) and Seppie in humido with peas
Dessert: Tiramisu': Wherever you order it, make sure it is made in house (fatta in casa). You could also join our cooking class and learn how to make it using the original/traditional recipe.
Wine: Manzoni Bianco (A white wine made from the manzoni bianco grape, a cross breeding of Riesling and Pinot Bianco. Venetians drink it but very few outside of the Veneto know about it.)
What are your 5 favorite eateries (restaurants and/or cicchetti bars) in Venice right now?
Restaurant Corte Sconta - Get the seafood antipasti tasting for 27 euros/person.
Vineria all' Amarone - The cicchetti are wonderful but so is the carpaccio, their selection of local and Italian wine flights and both types of their tiramisu - the traditional one and one they make with Amarone wine and prunes.
Cantina Azienda Agricole - (rio Tera Farsetti, Cannaregio) Economically priced and friendly cicchetti bar. My favorite are their fried pumpkin cicchetti washed down with a glass of Raboso.
El Sbarlefo - (Salizada del Pistor, Cannaregio, 4556) Cicchetti bar; I love their baccala mantecato
Trattoria Gatto Nero on the island of Burano - Get their Risotto di Go'
What is your favorite food season in Venice?
The summer because of all the fruits and vegetables in season.
For your last meal, where and what would it be?
My last meal?!! Right now I'm making a whole bunch of Italian hand gestures at you to ward off this and any other bad things happening to me any time soon. For my last meal, I would go to Gatto Nero on Burano and have a fried fish and vegetable starter. Then I'd have their Risotto di Go' for my first course. For my main dish I'd have un bel' branzino sotto sale (Bass baked under a salt crust) with a side dish of roasted potatoes, Italian style. For dessert, of course, I'd have tiramisu'.
Thanks again Monica for giving us your insights into the food of Venice. Having experienced first hand, all her food & wine tours and her cooking class, I would highly recommend any and all of them to anyone visiting the Floating City. And, if you will be in Venice from April 1 - 3, 2014, Monica, Arianna and Ada (former chef at Osteria Al Vedova) will be giving a Three-Day Traditional Venetian Cooking Class at the Hotel Certosa. You can sign up for 1, 2 or all 3-days. I'm certain you'll learn a lot and also eat fabulously.
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