by Durant Imboden
Kosher cuisine may appear to be out of place in a city like Venice, but think about it: Jews have lived in Venice since the Middle Ages, and Europe's first ghetto was created by the Venetian Republic. It's likely that Jewish food was being served in Venice long before the natives learned to enjoy pizza or spaghetti Bolognese.
Gam Gam, a restaurant near the Ponte delle Guglie in Cannaregio, is the only public kosher restaurant in Venice today (although a community kitchen in the nearby Ghetto Nuovo has been known to welcome visiting Orthodox Jews). Gam Gam is operated by members of a Hasidic sect, but don't be misled by the messianic posters in the window: You don't need to be a Lubavitcher Jew to be welcome at Gam Gam. You don't have to speak Hebrew or Italian, either, since several of the staff members are fluent in English.
Gam Gam has an attractive and rather expensive-looking modern decor, with a peach color scheme set off by marble and light-colored wood. Near the front counter, just to the right of the entrance, you'll see a fountain for washing your hands before eating.
Gam Gam's menu is eclectic, with Israeli and Italian choices that range from a spicy fish cous-cous to grilled fish and meat dishes. Don't miss the "Israeli Platter," which combines balls of crisp, deep-fried falafel with generous dollops of half a dozen salads that vary from day to day.
Typical ingredients might include chunks of cucumber and tomato, an Israeli-style cole slaw, egg salad, and several pur�ed vegetables. The light, cool, fresh-tasting salads are a revelation to anyone who hasn't sampled Israeli cuisine, and they're a perfect way to begin a summer meal.
Gam Gam's breads and desserts are baked on the premises. Try the chocolate cake, a dense flourless concoction that tastes like an unglazed Reine de Saba. Wrap up your meal with an espresso and a shot of Israeli grappa.
Note: Different people have different tastes, and one Venetian (who's Jewish, but not Hasidic) claimed that Gam Gam's food was "terrible"--possibly because it didn't match the Jewish food of her Venetian upbringing, or possibly because of tensions between Venice's older Jewish population and new Hasidic arrivals. Other guests have told me that the food is wonderful, an assessment that confirms my own experience. (The restaurant has been renovated and has hired a new chef since my last visit, so--if you've dined at Gam Gam recently--I'd be interested in hearing your opinion by e-mail.)
Gam Gam's prices are medium by Venice standards: not cheap, but a far cry from what you'd pay at Harry's Bar or a big-name hotel.
How to reach Gam Gam
Gam Gam has two entrances: one on the Fondamenta di Cannaregio, just north of the Ponte delle Guglie/Ghetto vaporetto stop, and the other in the narrow passage to the Ghetto Vecchio that you reach through the low rectangular arch in the photo above.
To locate the restaurant, follow the map and directions for the old Al Faro, a nearby trattoria-pizzeria that closed in 1998 but later reopened under new management. On the map, Gam Gam is located where the red line turns right from the canal.
For more information about Gam Gam, including hours of operation, see the "Kosher Restaurant" page at the JewishVenice Web site.
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