Travel to Italy
The Merchants of Venice
Visiting the city’s bustling fish and produce market
Each morning, Venice’s famous chefs rub shoulders with the city's equally passionate foodies to choose the ingredients for that day’s lunch and dinner, including the black ink used in the city’s signature dish of squid ink risotto.
“What news on the Rialto?”
So asks Shylock, the anti-hero of Shakespeare’s ”Merchant of Venice.”
And it’s a good question. There always seems to be something to see or do near Venice’s second most famous bridge, but for what Shylock would call ”my Christian ducats” the best thing is the bustling Pescheria Venice’s main fish and the adjacent Erberia, the vegetable market, located near the legendary Rialto Bridge.
Visiting Venice’s Marcato de Pesche is like stepping back in time. The fishmongers of Venice have plied their wares here since the twelfth century, monitored by the Doge’s government, who imposed a charter — the Capitularies de Pescatroibus — for the fishermen in the thirteenth century that is so detailed and strict that makes EU regulations look halfhearted and almost lackadaisical.
That I’m a sucker for a food market should surprise no one who reads my work; and when in Venice, I’m up early to watch the modern-day merchants of Venice lay out an amazing array of fish, shellfish, mollusks, and every imaginable type of produce. Beginning at 7 A.M. (Monday – Saturday) Venice’s chefs and the city’s equally passionate foodies gather to choose fresh ingredients for that day’s lunch and dinner. For passionate foodies, the Mercato is filled with the promise of some of the Veneto’s most legendary dishes.
Specialties of Venice and the Veneto
Squid excreting black ink provide the essential ingredient to that most Venetian of dishes: Risotto al nero di seppia or black ink risotto. Dried, salted cod fillets turn into amazingly creamy Bacala Mantecato. Braised artichokes bottoms, resting in acidulated water are sautéed in olive oil and braised in lemon juice for a lovely Tondi de Carcofi.
Sardines, fresh off the boat are paired with onions, pine nuts, and raisins for an unusual appetizer called Sarde in Saor, marrying sweet and savory with the salty tang of the sea.
Scampi alla Veneziana teaches us the lesson all good cooks know: keep it simple! Fresh shrimp are tossed with lemon and olive oil: this is a dish best enjoyed when the shrimp are in season, which, alas for so many tourists to La Serenisssima, is not in the summer.
Russell Norman’s restaurants POPLO in central London have long been a favorite for its authentic yet informal Venetian specialties. His eponymous cookbook offers a delightful and delicious look at Venice’s signature cuisine, featuring beautiful pictures, exquisite binding, and 120 mouthwatering but easy-to-execute recipes from Venice. POPLO is not only a great cookbook, it is a wonderful introduction to the culinary pleasures of Venice.
Somehow, I will have to find room in my already-overcrowded Italian cookbook collection for Valeria Necchio’s forthcoming VENETO. I’m already a bit fan of Valeria’s blog Life Love Food, and her Guide to Eating and Drinking in Venice steered me masterfully to some great new finds in the city on a recent trip. I highly recommend visiting her site prior to any trip to Venice!
Campo de la Pescaria, 30125 Venezia, Italy
- From Piazza San Marco, head to Rialto Bridge by foot or on either the #1 (slow) or #2 (express) Vaporetti (both stop at Rialto), then cross the bridge to the right side of the Grand Canal.
- Head west into San Paolo and thread your way through the souvenir stalls along the Ruga d. Orefici. As fake Venetian glass gives way to real Italian rosemary and sunflowers, your nose will begin tell you are on the right track.
- Follow the signs to the Campo Bella Vienna to arrive at the Pescheria. The market is best in the early morning when it is thronging with actual Venetians who are busy haggling for their groceries.
- If you are visiting towards lunchtime, consider having your midday meal at Vini da Pinto, a local favorite specializing in seafood.
The Pescheria is open Monday – Saturday from 7 A.M. To 2 P.M. The Erberia stays open until 8 P.M. Both are closed on Sunday.