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Visitors to Venice will likely see their fair share of “cicheti” (a Venetian version of tapas) and “spritz” (the city’s typical aperitif drink). For those who’ve never heard of them, here’s a little guide to trying cicheti and spritz in Venice.
(Note: Although spelled “cicchetti” in Italian, the word in the Venetian dialect is spelled “cicheti.” We’ll stick to the Venetian spelling for this post.)
Cicheti is a perfect alternative to a full meal, and it gives you also a chance to try different foods from the Venetian tradition. These dishes are little finger foods usually eaten just before lunch or dinner. In fact, the word “cicheto” comes from the Latin word “Ciccus,” meaning “small quantity.” You are supposed to eat one cicheto with each glass of wine (allegedly so you do not get drunk so quickly).
There are different varieties of cicheti: fish ones (baccala on crostini bread or polenta, sweet and sour sardines, and fried calamari), meat ones (meatballs, arancini, and small salami rolls), and vegetarian ones (sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, boiled eggs, fried breadcrumbs, and stuffed olives).
Cicheti are usually served in an osteria (also called a “bacaro”), which is the Venetian version of a pub or bar. In the old days, these places were the favorite meeting points for Venetian men who wanted to get away from home for a while, have a drink with friends, and play some card games. Nowadays, osterias are more popular with students and young people.
If you are going to have a cicheto, then you must also try a spritz. The legend goes that this drink was created during the Austrian invasion. The Austrians could not drink the Venetian wine since it was too strong for them, so they added some water to it. The Venetians thought this was tasteless and decided to perk it up a bit. So they added sparkling water and Aperol (a local bitter).
Today, the official version of the spritz is 1/3 sparkling water, 1/3 good Prosecco wine, 1/3 Aperol or bitter, lemon zest, and an olive. It is usually served in a small tumbler glass, but sometimes some osterias serve it in wine glasses. The average spritz costs €1.50-2.
Where to try them
These are my personal recommendations for trying some traditional cicheti and spritzes:
Osteria Antico Dolo
Sestiere San Polo, 778 (just by Rialto Bridge)
One of Venice’s oldest osterias, this place is open all day and offers a larger variety of cicheti and well-priced spritzes. You can try a small selection of cichetti and a spritz for about €7 or you can try the cichetti plate which offers the entire cicheti selection for €18 (the plate is enough for two people). The osteria also offers typical Venetian recipes. My favorite cicheto here is the polenta topped with tomatoes sauce, squid, and a fried prawn kebab.
Osteria La Patatina
Calle Saoneri, S. Polo 2741/A
The Osteria La Patatina is another traditional osteria located near Campo San Polo. The osteria is open for lunch time and in the evenings after 6 PM. You can have a proper Venetian meal here, or you can try their very big selection of cicheti. If you decide to go for the cicheti, you will have to stand up at the counter. The cost for each cicheto is about €1-1.50. I recommend the “mozzarella in carrozza” (deep fried mozzarella) and “polpette di carne” (fried meatballs).