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Venice food and drink: 5 dishes you must try

23 May 2015 ( 30 March 2017 )

Travelling to Venice? Here are the best regional dishes you must try while there, including Sarde in Saor and Spaghetti al Nero di Sepia.

Restaurant and dining tables on Venice canal

Taking a river cruise in Italy is one of the most rewarding holidays you can plan in this part of the world. 

The Italians know how to build on and around water, with their most romantic city of Venice standing as a shining example to their ingenuity. 

But, whilst Venice is known primarily for its gondola rides, Murano glass and fairytale waterways, it is also one of the best ports to sample Italian cuisine, from crisp breads to wine, cheese and risotto.

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On this side of Italy, you will find Mediterranean influences, as well as the distinct flavours of the Adriatic Sea. 

There are the staple foods like gelato, pizza, and spaghetti carbonara that we are all familiar with, but if then it is worth trying a few specialties you may not have heard of.

The Venetians have always been hailed as artisans, perfectionists and romantics, and it shows in their cooking. Here are our favourite regional dishes from Venice that you must try:

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1. Risi e Bisi

Italian rice and peas, Risi e Bisi
Italian rice and peas, Risi e Bisi.

No trip to Venice would be complete without stopping off at a restaurant to sample Risi e Bisi. This classic Venetian dish of rice and peas is as close to an accurate definition of comfort food you'll find anywhere on your travels.

Risi e Bisi is a simple dish - but don't be fooled by first impressions. 

This amalgam of superlative Italian risotto rice (carnaroli, vialone nano or arborio) and - ideally - fresh spring peas as its main ingredients underpin levels of surprisingly heart-warming complexity, depth, zing, colour and flavour in one tempting bowl as it hits your tastebuds. 

You will instantly crave the next spoonful, and no mistake.

Steadfastly not a risotto as such, nor is Risi e Bisi an all-out soup. The reality lies satisfyingly somewhere in between, for a Venetian speciality with roots in the city's festival celebrations of religious rebirth and the rites of spring. 

But first and foremost, Risi e Bisi is a perfect lunch or dinner time boost to see off hunger pangs after a long day on your feet; a reward in a bowl which implores you to grab a spoon (yes, a spoon is best) and get stuck in.

Risi e Bisi has its variants, of course, and purists with time on their hands argue against the addition of meat such as pancetta. 

They might be on to something here; just a few curled slivers off a tangy block of gnarled Parmesan mixed in to Risi e Bisi's creamy soupiness are more than enough to make this dish sing.

2. Pomodoro e mozzarella gnocchi

Pomodoro e mozzarella gnocchi.
Pomodoro e mozzarella gnocchi are Italian pasta style dumplings and are eaten with a range of sauces, including tomato and mozzarella.

Gnocchi are Italian dumplings made from potatoes, flour and eggs, and they are used as a base for pretty much any sauce recipe you can think of. 

Italian food is best when it uses just a few quality ingredients, and our recommended gnocchi dish of choice is pomodoro e mozzarella, (tomato and mozzarella). 

This is a simple but delicious dish, usually served with fresh basil and parmesan, and in Venice, they know how to make light and fluffy gnocchi that will have you coming back for more Italian cuisine.

3. Cuttlefish ink soup or spaghetti

Spaghetti al nero di sepia, Italian dish of spaghetti with cuttlefish ink.
Spaghetti al nero di sepia is an Italian dish of spaghetti with cuttlefish ink

Risotto made with cuttlefish ink was featured in our previous blog on the best Italian dishes to try on your holidays. 

This unusual ingredient is used in so many dishes that we felt it deserved a second mention, particularly since cuttlefish ink is a specialty food in Venice.

 In the city dubbed the Bride of the Sea, you can find cuttlefish ink added to soup, and usually served with polenta, or as a pasta dish called spaghetti al nero di sepia. Perfect accompanied with a glass of wine.

4. Sarde in saor

Traditional Venetian dish Sarde in saor
Sarde in saor is a typical Venetian dish of sardines with a sweat and sour flavour including onions, raisins and pine nuts mixed with vinegar.

Another seafood dish is sarde in saor – sardines with a sweet and sour flavour. 

Sarde in saor is a traditional Venetian dish of fried sardines and onions served with raisins, pine nuts and spices, and coated with a liberal helping of vinegar. 

These flavours may seem a little incongruous, but the sweet and salty food plays together nicely to create a long established classic of Italian cuisine. A perfect dish if the weather is just a little bit chilly in Venice.

5. Frittelle alla Veneziane

Venetian dessert Frittelle alla Veneziane
Venetian dessert Frittelle alla Veneziane are mini style doughnuts rolled in powdered sugar and are popular during festival season.

It’s not only the Americans that love doughnuts; frittelle alla Veneziane provide a Venetian equivalent. 

Small and usually covered in powdered sugar, these “doughnuts” are developed in several different flavours including fruit, cream or zabaglione. Indulge your sweet tooth, before you walk off that extra energy during your sightseeing!

Whether you enjoy a healthy mix of vegetables with different types of meat, or you prefer a hearty pasta dish or rice based risotto, there will be plenty of cuisine to tempt your taste buds.

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