Planning a trip to the City of Masks and wondering what to eat in Venice?
In fact, the food in Venice, Italy, differs quite drastically from other regions and cities. Historically, those living in the city of islands had access to a different assortment of ingredients than those from the mainland.
Over the years, the city started to import supplies from other parts of the country although Venetian residents remained faithful to their tried and tested recipes and methods.
These days, the gastronomy of Venice and the wider Veneto region continues to stand out as being atypical of Italian cuisine.
If you have spent some time reading this website, you’ll know how passionate we are about food around the world, but especially in Italy. There are wonderful restaurants in Milan or the best foods to have in Florence.
Venice is completely different to those cities and you’ll be (hopefully) pleasantly surprised at the variety of local food on offer in this region of Italy.
While there’s not much of a pizza scene in Venice, there is a huge emphasis on seafood caught from the Venetian Lagoon and traditional meat dishes. You’ll also notice that rice and polenta are far more common than pasta.
This post will detail the best foods to try in Venice from land, sea, and vineyard.
Venice, Italy Food Tours and Tastings
In addition to exploring the city’s restaurants independently, one of the best things to do in Venice is to join a food tour. As mentioned, dining in this popular destination is pricey but joining a tour can help reduce costs. The other perk is that you’ll have a Venetian food expert at your side telling you exactly what to eat in Venice.
This 2.5-hour Street Food Tour with a Local Guide and Tastings departs in the morning or early evening.
Costing just over $50 per person, it includes sampling the likes of cicchetti, regional cheeses, buranelli, and some of the typical types of food to have in Venice listed in this guide. As a walking tour, you’ll visit a series of markets, delis, bakeries, and bacari while hearing tidbits of information about the city’s history.
Plus, the amount of food provided is equal to lunch or dinner.
Alternatively, this Rialto Market Food and Wine Lunchtime Tour of Venice is a bit longer and slightly more expensive.
The 4-hour tour costs just shy of $100 per person and leaves only in the morning. Your guide will introduce you to traditional Venetian specialties across osterias, trattorias, pastry stores, and bacari. Again, the food is enough to cover a full meal and you’ll also sample wines from the Veneto region.
What to Eat in Venice
A quick word of warning: food in Venice, Italy, tends to come with a higher price tag than other foodie cities, such as the amazing food in Bologna. Therefore, you might want to consider booking a food tour in Venice as these tend to provide good value overall.
It’s also a good idea if you have allergies or you don’t eat specific foods, for example finding vegetarian food in Italy may seem hard at first. But if you go with a tour with an expert guide that knows you’re a vegetarian, they will guide you to the best vegetarian food in Venice.
But first, here is an overview of what to eat in Venice (and to drink while you’re here, too).
Types of food to have in Venice
These are the key foods to try in Venice across appetizers, first courses, and main dishes.
In terms of where to start with what food to eat in Venice, cicchetti is the natural jumping-off point. Pronounced chee-KET-tee, you will find these little bar snacks all over the city.
Essentially, cicchetti is Venetian tapas served at bacari (bars in Venice) alongside ombra (a glass of regional wine). The last thing you want to do in Venice is to drink on an empty stomach and topple over into a canal!
Cicchetti is similar to the notion of antipasti found elsewhere in Italy although the offering is very different. Crafted to be consumed without cutlery, there are loads of variations depending on the creativity of the kitchen team at each bacaro.
However, here is a sample of what to expect from this classic style of food to try in Venice.
- Panino con il salame: a bread roll filled with salami from the Veneto region.
- Crostini: mini open-faced sandwiches with various toppings.
- Polpette: fried meatballs (these days you can find vegetarian-friendly alternatives).
- Uovo sodo con aringa: a hard-boiled egg and a piece of herring filet served on a small piece of bread.
- Acciughe marinate: anchovies marinated in vinegar.
- Seppioline alla griglia: grilled baby squid tossed with herbs and drizzled with lemon juice.
- Baccalá mantecato: creamed dried cod served with bread or grilled polenta.
Not forgetting, an abundance of pickled vegetable dishes and regional cheeses.
In general, you can order cicchetti by the plate or snap up a selection board, known as a cichetada. As well as finding cicchetti at wine bars, restaurants usually have a cicchetti menu too.
This is one of the best options when it comes to eating on a budget in Venice. Because the food in the city can be incredibly expensive, sampling little plates alongside an Aperol or with a glass of wine is a good budget-friendly way to fill up.
Overall, you should not pay more than a couple of euros per cicchetti. Therefore, this can be a fun and wallet-friendly way to eat while spending 1 or 2 days in Venice.
2. Sarde in Saor
Technically speaking, sarde in saor belongs to the line-up of cicchetti. However, this tangy Venice, Italy, food staple has evolved into its own dish with first-course status.
Sarde in saor translates mysteriously into sardines in “flavor”. The “flavor” is usually a base of onions and either balsamic or white wine vinegar. Once marinated, the sardines may be tossed with nuts, raisins, or pomegranate before being dished up.
All chefs have their own knack for making sarde in saor so it’s worth shopping around and finding a recipe that reflects your tastes.
3. Risi e Bisi
In regard to what food to eat in Venice for vegetarians, it can be a little tricky if you do not eat fish. Fortunately, risi e bisi is a safe option that will satisfy a hungry stomach whether vegetarian or not.
Risi e bisi is literally a mountain of rice and peas cooked in a mix of butter, olive oil, and onion. The rice used is similar to risotto and tends to have a soupy texture courtesy of a vegetable or chicken-based broth (be sure to ask if you want to ensure no meat products were used).
The dish is best enjoyed when peas are in season, between mid and late spring. However, this go-to first-course plate is always on the menu in Venice.
Bigoli is a type of pasta distinct to Venice and Veneto. It’s similar to spaghetti but with longer and somewhat thicker strands, resulting in a comfort-food experience!
Generally, bigoli constitutes what to eat in Venice as a starter. In this case, it’s prepared with olive oil, onions, a splash of white wine, and a dusting of fresh herbs. Anchovies or sardines are the usual addition for protein although you’ll find variations with meat to cater to larger appetites and famished tourists seeking a pasta main.
Moeche are a kind of crab from the Venetian Lagoon, harvested as they shed their soft shells. Once caught, the crabs are soaked in eggs and flour before being fried while they’re still alive. They’re served with grilled polenta, lemon, and a glass of Prosecco at the canalside markets near Rialto.
Due to the cooking method and presentation, moeche aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, they’re considered one of the most unique delicacies of seafood to try in Venice.
6. Spaghetti al nero di seppia
One final first-course food to try in Venice is actually fairly common in other coastal Italian cities.
Spaghetti al nero di seppia is a bowl of pasta, tinted black with cuttlefish squid ink and infused with white wine and garlic. Spaghetti is the standard pasta used, although you may find options with linguine or – specific to Venice – bigoli in its place.
7. Scampi alla Busara
How about what to eat in Venice for a main course?
Hailing from the fishermen of centuries ago, scampi alla busara is a flavorsome stew consisting of tomatoes, scraps of fish, and whatever pantry items are to hand.
The fish used can actually be scampi as the name suggests, but shrimps (prawns) also work. Back in the day, those trawling the lagoon would throw in onion, garlic, black pepper, and crushed chili with abandon – plus a dash of wine if they had it.
Nowadays, chefs in Venice have fine-tuned their own version of this nautical dish and usually serve it with bread or grilled polenta. However, you’ll also find pasta options.
8. Spezzatino in umido alla Veneta
Spezzatino in umido alla Veneta is one of the best types of food to have in Venice during winter.
This hearty stew is made from tender beef cooked with finely chopped onions, broth, tomato passata, seasoning, and wine.
After being cooked slowly for at least a couple of hours, the aromatic main course dish is served on a bed of polenta. This is one of the mains that you will find on most menus around the city at the better local restaurants.
9. Fegato alla Veneziana
Another iconic main dish prevalent in the eateries of Venice, fegato alla Veneziana is Venetian-style calf’s liver.
The liver is sauteed with onions, red or white wine, and the chef’s choice of seasoning. Rosemary is a popular choice and the liver is served either with polenta or sometimes with mashed potatoes.
The trick to getting this dish right is to not overcook the liver and risk a chewy texture. For that reason, don’t be alarmed if the meat appears a little pink; Venetian chefs know exactly what they’re doing.
Classic dessert food in Venice, Italy
The golden rule of traveling in Italy is to always leave room for dessert. Here is what food to eat in Venice after polishing off your main dish.
There is some debate over where Italy’s leading dessert originates from. Overall, the consensus is that tiramisù was invented in Treviso, a city just 15 miles north of Venice. Due to the proximity of the cities, many Venetians lay claim to tiramisù. Regardless, the spongy cake is a failsafe answer to what to eat in Venice for dessert.
Made from egg yolks, sugar, espresso, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa powder, tiramisù is often doused in rum or amaretto. However, you can find variations of tiramisù without alcohol as well as non-alcoholic flavorings.
Swing by I Tre Mercanti in San Marco where you can take your pick from pistachio, limoncello, blood orange, and much more.
Buranelli are butter biscuits from the fishing island of Burano, created in the shape of an “S” or a ring. They’re historically baked with vanilla, rum, and citrus zest, resulting in a simple yet morish flavor.
In fact, the biscuits were originally invented as a snack for fishermen working in the lagoon. They pair perfectly with either a cup of coffee or your preferred glass of wine.
Although originally made on Burano, buranelli are available throughout Venice and are a wonderful choice of souvenir to take back home.
12. Pinza Veneta
Pinza Veneta comes from the wider Veneto region and is traditionally associated with Epiphany (6th January) and other religious festivals. If you plan to visit Venice around Christmas and Carnevale di Venezia, add this to your list of dessert food to try in Venice.
This tasty cake is made by mixing polenta and plain flour, butter, sugar, raisins, figs, apples, citrus zest, and fennel seeds with a generous pouring of grappa.
Venetians tend to eat it alongside a glass of dessert wine but it also works with a hot beverage of your choosing.
What to Drink in Venice
While the foods to try in Venice might not be on your radar, you’re likely to be familiar with the following products of Veneto.
13. Wine and Prosecco of Veneto
Yielding white, red, and sparkling varieties, Veneto is one of Italy’s principal wine regions – right up there with Tuscany and Piedmont.
The DOCG-denominated Amarone della Valpolicella is the most superior Veneto wine. Produced from Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella grapes, this dry red has a rich taste that pairs well with Venetian meat dishes and cicchetti.
However, there are scores of refreshing white wines available to go alongside the seafood dishes of Venice.
Along with its neighbor Friuli Venezia, Veneto is also the key Italian wine region behind Prosecco.
The sparkling wine of Veneto is produced exclusively in Conegliano Valdobbiadene. While in Venice, you will find frizzante (fizzy) and spumante (fully sparkling) varieties of Prosecco in baccari, osterie, markets, and supermarkets.
While you ponder over what to eat in Venice after a day of sightseeing, do as the Venetians do and sip a spritz.
The spritz cocktail is widely associated with the whole of Italy and has since spread across Europe. However, the spritz originated in Venice as an aperitif. This simple beverage is a mix of Prosecco, sparkling water, and bitters such as Campari, Vermouth, or Aperol.
Depending on the bitters used, a spritz is garnished with an olive or a wedge of orange. Spritz is a given in all bars and restaurants in Venice.
Tips for Finding Great Food in Venice
Whether you are an adventurous eater or you simply want to keep an eye out for some of the local delicacies, you now know what to eat in Venice when it comes to sampling local foods.
But just like any popular tourist destination, there is a whole lot of bad food around as well.
If you are on a budget, keep you eyes out for places that do quick, simple, but delicious pasta dishes like Pasta & Pasta or Baci & Pasta. The pastas are homemade here and are a reasonable price. It’s not local Venetian food, but it’s still good comfort food.
For those that are not on a budget and want to make sure that you find the best of the local Venetian cuisine, walk away from the touristy areas of St. Mark’s Square and Rialto. Do not visit restaurants that have set menus.
Stay away from places that are offering pasta and pizzas as their main dishes because these places are catering for tourists, not for people looking for traditional food from Venice.