Ah, Venezia! It’s quiet, cobbled streets hide a secret world of ancient beauty, romance and divine eats! Even as a repeat visitor, I’m constantly lost in its back alleys of mouldering palaces and streets that dead end in water, water and more water. To be in Venice is, for me a Pisces, to be at ease in the world. The water is all-encompassing and the bounty of the sea and its brackish canals spread before you like gifts from the ancient gods.
Nowhere are those gifts on better display than at the multitude of bacari or wine bars that dot Venice’s piazza, campo, calle and fondamenta. These often tiny, dark and dank watering holes have played host to Venetians since the 1300’s and continue to play an integral role in Venetian life today.
To “Andar per bacari” means more than the literal translation of “going to the wine bar,” it means joining together in friendship, community, good drink and good food. The very best bacari are off the beaten path and certainly require a little detective work, some creative navigation and a good pair of walking shoes to find, but boy are they worth it!
Offering up ombra and cicchetti, the perfect pairing of small glasses of local wine and tapas-style snacks, bacari entice us all to join in an early evening stroll for inexpensive pre-dinner nibbles or an ambling walk that can turn into dinner itself! The variety of cicchetti is endless, bound only by season, the sea and the creativity of the cicchetti maker. Typical selections include:
- Italian meats and cheeses
- Pickled, grilled and raw seafoods, fish and squid
- Bacala mantecato: a delicious cod spread
- Marinated vegetables like artichokes and peppers
- Polpette: tiny meatballs
- Crostini and tramezzini: open faced sandwiches and italian tea sandwiches on soft, crustless white bread
- And a vast array of fried foods from sage leaves to tiny fish to aracini (leftover risotto fried into delicious cheesey balls of goodness)--if it can be coated in breadcrumbs and dunked in hot oil, it will be!
All of this is then washed down with a small pour of local wine called an ombra or, if you’re feeling a little more festive, a Spritz- a mix of bubbly prosecco and bitter Aperol or Campari!
MrAndMrsSmith.com has a great list: Venice’s best bacari: a cicchetti cheat sheet, and I used Rick Steves’ Cicchetti Crawl from Rick Steve's Italy 2017 (I had Italy 2012 at the time of my trip, so there are probably new additions to explore!).
But if you can’t make it to Venezia, The Chopping Block invites you to “Andiamo per bacari” with our upcoming Chef Dinner: Italian Cicchetti. On Tuesday, April 25th, Chef Lisa Counts will lead us on a festa di cicchetti featuring:
- Marinated Olives and Black Pepper-Fennel Taralli (Crackers)
- Caponata and Whipped Goat Cheese Grilled Crostini
- Arancini (Stuffed Risotto Fritters) with Proscuitto, Peas, and Fontina Fonduta
- Pan-Fried Polenta Cake with Marinara and Shaved Parmesan
- Zucchini Fritters with Spicy Rock Shrimp and Tomatoes
- Fried Polpette (Meatballs) with Arugula, Preserved Lemons and Capers
- Calzones with Sausage, Peppers, Onions, Giardiniera and Mozzarella
- Trio of Alcoholic Affogatos Including Coffee Liqueur with Pistachio Gelato, Amaretto with Vanilla Gelato and Limoncello with Italian Ice and Amaretti Cookies.