Admiration for a good management that guaranteed such great prosperity shone through from their chronicles – a prosperity which was noticed both from the well-stocked markets and warehouses such as barns of Newfoundland and Fontego.
Supplying with the flour justified the continuous conquests of the mainland that will shortly see Venice as the "queen of the land and the sea".
Many products of oriental origin find their daily use, in this case the spices: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, sugar etc..; their use, according to typically eastern characteristics, became almost exaggerated in the late medieval ages so to confuse the taste of food and also to cover unpleasant flavours; it continued less in the renaissance and we can still find it to this day, even if the amount is reduced.
Historic documents inform us that in 15th century Venetian warehouses used to get supplied yearly with about five thousand tons of spices which were unloaded from the ships coming from the Far Eastern ports; a large quantity of these spices remained in the city to increase the flourishing industry led by "wholesale apothecaries" who, using their secret recipes, prepared the famous "Veneto bags" and " Venetian spicery bags", sold at a very high price.
Great use of spices in the kitchen for six centuries is presented in a recipe by an unknown chef from 1400, and known to us by the name of "ginger chicken" where the quantity of spices used is good 750 grams.
Another important contamination of oriental origin of the Venetian cuisine is the Jewish one, very much spread in Venice due to the presence of a large community in the first ghetto in history.
Amongst products of oriental origin, rice is the one that mostly characterises the Venetian cuisine. During medieval age it was one of the most expensive food and was very often sold in the "apothecaries" for medical use; as food, it was reduced almost to rice flour and used to thicken the soups.
In fact, a tourist in Venice, can taste a variety of risottos and soups with rice and he will get surprised by delicate tones these particular dishes will offer.
Traditional Venetian cuisine is actually a very simple cuisine because its basic ingredients, preparation methods and cooking times were simple, but at the same time it is a complex cuisine because it could be said that it followed events of a thousand year history of St Mark's city, with a language made of matchings, developments and flavours.
For example, in the Venetian tradition, there are dishes based on usage of residual products of butchery (liver, spleen, heart, nerves, tripe, etc…) as well as very elaborated others: "sopa coada", oyster soup, stuffed duck, all the sweet products etc…, some of which are used daily even today.
From that, the most known Venetian recipe of "fish in sauce" or precisely "sardines in sauce" has its origins. This sweet-and-sour that arrived from Constantinople, mixes fish with onions, sultanas, pine-seeds and vinegar.
However, fish is obviously the nourishment basis for a sea city; still, the Venetian table doesn't disdain game meat. "To go bird-catching" in lagoon had already been medieval habit and there are many pictorial testimonies on hunting in the valley.
Polenta was already in use by Mediterranean populations and ancient Romans and its ingredients were minced broad beans and spelt; but true and real polenta began with corn imported from America and was later cultivated in Veneto on the large scale.
Actually, all the cake sector was very important that it necessarily needs to take into account cosmopolitan Venetian ambient.
Venetian desserts don’t' finish here, they continue with “caramel“, caramelised fruit, biscuits (like most famous “baicoli“), “fugasse”,“fritole“ and carnival “galani”, “buranelli”(typical biscuits from the island of Burano) and many more; everything was always washed down with precious oriental wines like the wine from Cyprus, raisin wines and malmsey.
Once upon a time a wine shop/bar was in "furatole" (taverns blackened with smoke from fireplaces) and in "malvasie" (shops selling precious wines) where the famous and very present “spritz” used to be served – it's name can be traced back to Habsburg reminiscences (house wine + campari or aperol and soda water garnished with an olive or slice of orange). Fostered “furatole” and “malvasie”,“bacari” where we can taste appetising “cicheti” (small snacks) always accompanied by a shade of good wine (expression that derived from the fact that the street wine sellers went into the shade of the bell tower of St Mark to refresh the passers-by…) are our adored.
A winning aspect of the Venetian gastronomy is the habit to meet each other and eat in many osterie (taverns) or bacari.
Gastronomic route lived by Venice through centuries is exceptional and very rich and it becomes even more precious like a factor of cultural transmission, in fact, in Venice can be found the first cookery books that used to be printed together with musical scores and other books in many languages, recognising in Venice the capital of printing with the presence of most important ones in this sector (amongst which Aldo Manuzio).
Some Venetian recipes...
Heat up the milk with vanilla; shortly before it starts to boil, pour the rice and stir continuously so that it doesn't stick together. When it's half-cooked add salt, sugar and butter; finally add the dried fruit and pine-seeds. Pour into buttered moulds and let it cool. Before serving, put it in a hot oven.
Bigoli in salsa (Venetian spaghetti with sauce)
Thinly slice onion and garlic, making them wilt in oil and very little water (onion needs to remain white). Get rid of salt from sardines by washing them under running water (or use anchovies from tin without conserving oil). Cut them all in small pieces and let them cook with onions for 5 minutes together with an added hot chilly paper, which will be removed in the end. Finally, a dash of white wine; when wine is evaporated, pour onto spaghetti, cooked al dente and strained well.
Sarde in saor (Sardines in sauce)
Risi e bisi (Rice with peas)
Shell the peas and fry them immediately with bacon, onion and shredded parsley. Add a couple of ladles of stock and season with salt on a high flame. Then pour the remaining stock, bring to boil, add rice and let it cook, stirring often. Towards the end of cooking, add grated cheese and pepper. Serve it after having left rice to rest for few minutes.
Risi coll’ua (Rice with sultanas)
Let garlic and shredded parsley turn golden in oil, pour rice and, stirring it often bring to cook by adding, when needed, a bit of boiling water. Some seconds before finishing with cooking, join sultanas and immediately after, the parmesan; serve hot.
Salsa alla cacciatora (cacciatore sauce)
Practical advice and useful information:
- Rialto Market
- Caffè Florian
- Accademia Galleries (Paolo Veronese)
- Ca’ Rezzonico (Pietro Longhi and paintings of hunting in the valley)
- Museum Correr (cookery books)
Bacari, ostarie and cake shops (for a snack or a delicious pasta on the go)
- Alla Vedova
- Alla Botte
- Ai Do Mori
- Ae do spade
- Al Mascaron
- Da Codroma
- Cantina agli Schiavi
- Alla Patatina
- Bakery al Ghetto
- Rosa Salva
- Harry’s dolci
- Caffè del Doge (Ruga Rialto)
- Antica Torrefazione (S. Leonardo)
We also recommend the new chocolate shops in Campo S. Tomà and in Fondamenta del Liceo Marco Polo (close to Accademia).
By A friend in Venice
(Serena Bagnai, Patrizia Fella, Orietta Girotto, Nicoletta Possumato, Daniela Simionato)