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Venice Travel FAQ:
Food and Drink

From: Venice Travel FAQ

GI Snack Bar, Venice

ABOVE: An homage to the Occupation, or to the gastrointestinal tract? Your guess is as good as ours. 

  • Is it true that restaurants are expensive in Venice?

Yes and no. In many restaurants, you can run up a large bill by ordering an a la carte meal of appetizer, primo piatto, main course, and dessert. But the same restaurant might offer large personal pizzas for less than the price of a pasta dish.

You can save money with the fixed-price menu turistico or tourist menu, but the food may not be very good. (A menu turistico shouldn't be confused with daily specials, which may be excellent dishes prepared from whatever is in season at the moment.)

Fortunately, Italian restaurants nearly always have menus by the door or in the window, so you can check meal options and prices before going inside.

  • How can I find restaurants that don't cater to tourists?

You can't, because no Venice restaurant can survive on local trade alone.

Some neighborhoods are more tourist-oriented than others, of course. Most restaurants near heavily-touristed areas such as the Piazza San Marco, the Piazzale Roma, the railroad station, and the Rialto Bridge cater mostly to tourists. Still, if you enjoy sitting alongside the Grand Canal with the floodlit Ponte di Rialto as a backdrop, do you really care if the people at the next table are from Baltimore, Birmingham, or Budapest instead of the immediate neighborhood?

Other things to know:

  1. The fact that a restaurant has a multilingual menu doesn't mean it's a tourist trap. Venice attracts millions of foreign visitors every year, so it makes sense for restaurateurs to display their menus in Italian, English, and other languages.

  2. It isn't uncommon for restaurant owners and waiters to stand outside and greet passersby in the hope of drumming up trade. There's no need to be defensive:If you aren't interested, just say "No, grazie" and continue on your way.

  3. Italian sit-down restaurants often add a "pane e coperto" or "bread and cover charge" to the bill. This isn't a scam; it's simply a tradition.

  4. Be careful when ordering items (such as fish and other seafood) that are priced by weight. A buxom branzino or a voluptuous lobster could prove expensive.

  5. When you pay by credit card, don't include a tip. (Tip the waiter separately in cash.) See the tipping guidelines  on our Money and credit cards FAQ page for advice on when, where, and how to tip.

  • Can you recommend any specific restaurants?

We aren't restaurant connoisseurs (we usually prefer eating at home, with our dog under the kitchen table). Still, we have published a small number of restaurant reviews that you're welcome to read, and our Dining in the Veneto article is a useful introduction to Venetian cuisine.

For advice from two professional foodies who have dined and sipped their way around the city for years, buy a copy of Chow! Venice before you leave home. The book, by Shannon Essa and Ruth Edenbaum, was in its second edition the last time we checked, and the authors publish updates on their Web site. (Click here for our review of Chow! Venice.)

  • How can we eat cheaply in Venice?

Venice has many snack bars, pizza-by-the-slice vendors, and Turkish kebab shops where you can eat quickly without paying restaurant prices. Many bakeries sell sandwiches and other prepared foods. (Durant likes the meat pies or pasties at Majer, a local bakery chain. He's also a fan of the kebab shop in a covered passage just off the Campo Santa Margherita on the way to the Piazzale Roma.)

If you're looking for a relatively cheap, clean sit-down place with air conditioning, the Brek self-service cafeteria near the railroad station is worth considering. The food isn't fancy, and the atmosphere is nothing special, but it's a good place to fill up when you're hungry and in a hurry.

We're partial to the Frito-Inn on the Campo San Leonardo in Cannaregio, where the cheerful proprietors sell fried fish, pommes frites, and other unhealthy but tasty food at a take-out window. (You can sit on a stool or bench or lean on one of the stand-up outdoor tables while eating.)

Outdoor produce vendors are scattered around town. The best-known outdoor markets are the Rialto Food Markets.

Finally, Venice has a growing number of supermarkets where you can buy bread, cheese, lunchmeats, drinks, and prepared foods.

Tips:

  1. At fruit and vegetable stalls, don't touch the merchandise. Just point, and the vendor will wrap the items for you.

  2. In produce departments at supermarkets, you'll need to (a) put on a disposable plastic glove, (b) place your items in a plastic bag, (c) set the bagged items on the scale, and (d) tap the picture of an apple, orange, etc. on the scale's electronic menu to get a printed label.

  3. When ordering cold cuts and other bulk items at a deli counter, tell the clerk how many "etti" you want. (An etto is 100 grams, or slightly less than a quarter of a pound.) Example: Asking for "due etti, per favore" will get you 0.2 kg or just under half a pound.

  • Where can I have a picnic in Venice?

Officially, it's illegal to loiter in the street or in public parks while eating, but you're unlikely to be told to move on as long as you observe three cardinal rules:

  1. Don't picnic or sit in the Piazza San Marco.

  2. Don't picnic or sit on bridges and church steps.

  3. Don't drag out a picnic blanket and hamper. (Just nibble your sandwich as a local might do, and remember to toss your litter in a trash receptable.)

  • What do I need to know about bars?

These tips may help:

  1. In Italy, the word "bar" and "café" are interchangeable. To make matters even more confusing, a pastry shop or  pasticceria may double as a bar (which is convenient if you like a shot of grappa in your morning coffee or a cream puff with your late-night lager.)

  2. In traditional bars, you pay the cashier for your drink or coffee, get a ticket, and present the ticket to the bartender or barista when you're drinking at the bar. If you want to sit down, you find a table, sit, and place your order with a waiter or waitress. But: Not all bars and cafés observe this procedure, so check out the scene and act accordingly.

  3. In most bars and café, you'll pay higher prices for table service than at the bar.

  4. Older Venetians may order an ombra (a glass of wine), but the younger crowd's favored drink is the spritz, which is a mixture of chilled prosecco fizzy white wine, sparkling mineral water, and a bitter liqueur such as Aperol, Cinzano, or Cynar.

  • Can you recommend any gelato shops?

If you have a sweet tooth (as we do), there's no such thing as truly bad gelato, but some gelaterie are better than others. Here are four of our favorites:

  1. Our Venetian acquaintances claim that La Boutique del Gelato is the best gelateria in Venice. We like it for the quality of the ice cream, the portions, and the friendliness of the staff. La Boutique del Gelato is on the Salizada San Lio, next to the Hotel Bruno.

  2. Il Doge, near the southeastern corner of the Campo Santa Margherita, has the best limone gelato in Venice: tart, and extremely refreshing on a hot day. We like to take our coni to one of the red wooden benches in the square, where we can enjoy our gelato while watching dogs and ducking as children's soccer balls arch over the campo.

  3. Alaska (see our blog post) is a gelateria with a difference: Exotic flavors such as zenzero (ginger), cardomoma (cardomom), and carciofi (artichoke) often turn up in the display case. In summer, the menu includes several flavors of granita--often served with a basil leaf.

  4. La Mela Verde, on the Fondamenta de l'Osmarin in Castello (slightly east of the Piazza San Marco). The signature green-apple gelato is excellent on a hot day, but the other flavors are equally good--especially the incredibly dark and rich cioccolato.

Tip: If you're in line at a gelateria and the person ahead of you is handed a cone with a tiny dollop of gelato, go somewhere else. (We avoid Rosa Salva, on the Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, which is popular with tour groups but skimps on portions.)

  • Does Venice has public drinking fountains?

Yes. Nearly every square has a fountain where you can fill your water bottle, wash your hands, or bend over to get a drink from the spigot or faucet. (Often, you'll find a trough or pan for your dog above the drain.)

Don't waste money on bottled water in Venice: The public tap water is safe, cold, and great-tasting. It's piped in from deep wells on the Italian mainland, and it's so good that it has its own brand name: Acqua Veritas.

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