Arriving in Venice over the water by river bus from Marco Polo airport is an auspicious way to start an adventure and journey of discovery.
Never have I touched the skirts of such a celestial place
Elizabeth Barrett Browning on her arrival in Venice in 1851
I’d not been to Venice for over 20 years; half a lifetime ago, but remembered well the narrow back streets, bridges over canals, the colours, the grand and majestic palaces. Bound by the water of the Venetian lagoon, Venice is a city you can get lost in without straying too far, and I far prefer the area away from the streets trodden by the countless feet of the tourists, the real Venice where the Venetians live, work, shop and eat. I once read “to wander aimlessly is to be seduced by Venice”, and the insightful words of the long forgotten writer have stayed with me ever since.
My journey was to discover and start to get to know the real Italy, her people, the towns & countryside and of course the food. They say that you cannot understand someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes, equally you cannot understand a country and her people until you have travelled and eaten their food.
I was travelling with Emily – A Mummy Too, Mike Kus. Our guides were Cirio, an Italian Brand of over 160 years of impeccable heritage and quality, and almost as old as modern Italy. Our journey was to take us across Italy, from Venice to the Naples in the shadow of Vesuvius, via Pisa, the Tuscan countryside, and Rome to discover the #TrueItalian food and way of life.
Historically Venice is city of diplomats, sailors and merchants, outward looking and undoubtedly impressive to a first time visitor. Ruled by the doges from around 700 to 1797. Although the Doge was powerful their selection and accountability was remarkably democratic and unbiased for that time. The first official act of a new Doge was to mark Venice’s marriage to the sea, done by casting a ring into the waters of the Adriatic.
The marriage of Venice to the sea is also all present in her food, many dishes are fish based -we ate in three, very different, but still very Venetian restaurants.
La Palanca, Giudecca
The long curved island of Giudecca, sits to the South of the main mass of Venice, across the water which the visiting cruise ships (controversially) travel down. You arrive by water, by the many and frequent river buses, or for the richer by the smart, varnished wood water taxis.
Our appetiser was a delicious selection of fish the typically Ventian baccalà mantecato (salted codfish creamed in corn oil) and sarde in saor (sardine with onion, raisins and vinegar), as well as pesce spada all’arancia (swordfish with orange and vinegar) and tiny slippery silver marinated anchovies with pink peppercorns.
We were served two pasta dishes , one with tomatoes, anchovies and olives and thee other of parsley and mantis shrimps (squilla mantis). I was struck by how al dente the pasta was compared to how it is generally served in the UK, and how rich, fully flavoured and sweet the tomato sauce was, and how little was needed to coat the pasta.
Spritz – a Venetian Drink
Spritz originated in Venice and is now drunk all over Italy. The drink will vary according to where you are but in Venice the base is Aperol mixed with white wine (usually Prosecco) + Seltz (sparkling water) served on ice with a slice of blood orange. Aperol is an Italian, almost neon orange coloured, spirit, flavoured with butter orange, gentian, rhubarb and cochona. Think of Aperol of Campari’s little sister – milder, less bitter, lighter in colour and containing less alcohol and sugar. It is very refreshing and very moreish too!
Dinner – A la Vecia Cavana, Rio Terà SS. Apostoli
Followed by a selection of fish dishes; a pasta with fresh tuna, tomatoes sauce and olives, fish and seafood soup with tomatoes, crunchy lightly battered and fried vegetables and fish from the lagoon, all washed down with good unpretentious local wine. Nothing complex, nothing unduly “cheffy”, all wonderful true Italian food.
Lunch – Trattoria dai tosi (piccoli), Castello quarter, Venice
The Trattoria dai Tosi, sits in a quite street in the Castello quarter of Venice, towards the East of the city. There are fewer tourists here, and it is a pleasant place to spend a few hours, walking, watching and or course eating. Here we found an old man standing on the street corner carving wood – lamenting the fact that his was a dying craft, I saw a window box of herbs – chives and fragrant sage, a greengrocers was run from a boat floating in the canal.
At the dai Tosi we ate the first meat we had had in Venice- a rich beef ragu, slowly cooked from a base of sofritto, a mix of slowly fried onion, garlic, celery and carrot, then slowly cooked with the meat and tomatoes, the rich flavour developing over several hours of gentle cooking. An entirely different dish to the spaghetti bolognese we eat in the UK which no Italian would recognise as a dish from their country.
Astonishingly the chef was British, from Taunton, and had married a Venetian 35 years previously and had learnt to cook from her mother-in-law, then took over the Trattoria dai Tosi. Many people who lunch here are the workers – their meals paid for by their employers, it was evident how much the British turned Venetian chef cared about her customers and the importance of giving them a good meal.
We left Venice by train, a rather abrupt transformation back to the real world, from this wondrous, ethereal, romantic, sea facing city. Certainly there was a tinge of sadness to be leaving after less than 48 hours, but anticipation of a certain return, and of the journey ahead.
Fuss Free Flavours was commissioned by Cirio to travel to Italy on a journey to discover the #TrueItalian food. All opinions are my own.