Cicchetti is the Venetian version of tapas, small bites of food to accompany a glass of wine. In Venice its called ‘andar a ciccheti’ and you’ll find it served in small, atmospheric local bars known as ‘bacaro’ hidden down little sidestreets.
A tradition in Venice which continues today is to begin the evening visiting your local bacaro and having a glass of wine and cicchetti with friends you may meet there. Some people move from one bacaro to another to visit with each other. Then it’s on to dinner or theater or whatever the evening holds.
Venice is well-known for its food and it’s not surprising that it has such a diversity of tastes given its wide-trading past with influences coming from all around the Mediterranean, the Muslim and Byzantine and Asian worlds. Put this together with the fruits of the sea harvested by the Venetian fisherman and you have a feast.
Traditional cicchetti included stuffed olives, half boiled eggs with an anchovy on top or salami on polenta. These days you might find tiny boiled octopus, potato dishes, meatballs, riceballs, artichoke hearts, deep-fried cheese, or cuttlefish cooked in its own ink. Some places will have platters of cicchetti on the bar, others will serve you a small plate of selected cicchetti.
Cicchetti is a great way to sample the many flavours of Venice without blowing the budget. You can work your way from bacari to bacari sampling a few things here, a few there – the Venetians call this giro d’ombra (literally: strolling in the shade, although ombra is also slang for a glass of wine from the days when it was sold from small wagons hiding in the shadows of San Marco Square). Start your crawl early, around 6pm, as these are evening not late-night places and the best food is gone if you get there too late.
Alternately, many food stores will have a display of cicchetti so you can make your own selection, buy a bottle of wine then go and eat al fresco.