Cicchetti: Cheap Venetian Delights

Cicchetti: Cheap Venetian Delights - Venice, Italy

Venice is as expensive as it is tremendously beautiful. Among the swarming tourist hubs, finding a place to eat well on a budget is a challenge.

Yet there is hope, in the form of "cicchetti."


Cicchetti can be eaten standing up or sitting down.

Citizens of this canalled little wonderland have been getting lost, tired, and hungry for centuries. Fortunately for them, there is a plethora of cicchetti joints all over town. A second cousin to Spanish tapas, cicchetti are smallish morsels of food, some served hot and some served cold. They are consumed sitting down, at a bar, or on the go.

Cicchetti are, arguably, the most Venetian form of food. A cicchetti tour takes you from one "osteria" to the next, where savory tidbits top the countertop, and wine can be quaffed (almost) for free, starting at €.80 for an "ombra" (literal translation: "shadow") of wine served in a short glass.

Cicchetti generally start at €1 and rise in price according to ingredient and quality. The options are seemingly endless: tiny salami sandwiches, fancy, smoked fish spreads served with fresh bread or crostini toasts, deep-fried mozzarella and vegetables, cheese-stuffed, pickled peppers, toasted polenta with creamy toppings—even sushi!

Chicchetti balls

Yummy, cheap, chicchetti risotto balls.

Our Favorite Cicchetti Joints

The following places come highly recommended by the folks of Venice, and have been gluttonously approved by resident Cheapos.

Osteria alla Botte
San Marco, 5482. Campo San Bartolomeo. Tel +39 041 520 9775

Osteria alla Botte is generally regarded as the city favorite. Located near the Rialto, where Sestiere San Marco meets Cannareggio, it's a popular meeting point for Venetians of all ages. A cozy, dark wood interior is made up of the bustling bar and cicchetteria in the front, and a smaller restaurant area in the back.

Squeeze your way to the bar and order wine and a serving of octopus and celery salad, or cuttlefish stewed in squid ink, and served with a slice of crispy polenta. The less daring would be better off with a slice of juicy mozzarella encased in a golden fried crust. If you can't handle the rush, grab a seat and order a plate of pasta from the restaurant menu. You'll spend €8-€14 for heaping portion of pasta. We recommend the fettuccine with porcini mushrooms or spaghetti with clams.

Ai Rusteghi
San Marco, 5513. Corte del Tentar/Campo San Bartolomeo. Tel +39 041 523 2205

If the crowd at Alla Botte is overwhelming, curb your appetite with an ombra and a few pint-sized salami sandwiches at Ai Rusteghi just around the corner (€2-€5).

Osteria Blues Bar All'Alba
San Marco, 5370. Foot of the Rialto Bridge. Tel +39 340 124 5634

The Osteria Blues Bar All'Alba was the first bar to play the blues in Venice and also serves up tramezzini sandwiches stacked and stuffed with radicchio and shrimp, prosciutto, mushrooms and mozzarella, as well as other cool combos, for a little over €1 each.

Un Mondo DiVino
Cannareggio, 5984. Salizada San Canciano. Tel +39 041 521 1093

In nearby Cannareggio, Un Mondo DiVino attracts a slightly more sophisticated crowd, and not without reason. Here, €1.50 gets you a very small portion of something fabulous. For €15 (which includes a basket of fresh ciabatta bread) you'll eat like a king. Try the caprino-stuffed pickled peppers and baby gourds, smoked herring with onions, and the creamy smoked "bacalà Montecato," served piping hot.

San Polo, 130 Erbaria/Market. Tel +39 041 724 1035

On the other side of the Rialto bridge, young hipsters head to the porticos of the Erbaria market. By night trendy wine bars serve skimpy gourmet cheese and salami plates upstairs, and cheaper cicchetti downstairs. Naranzaria serves up simple €2 prosciutto crostini, and pricier sushi cicchetti starting at €5. Tip: Head back around 1:30 a.m. when they're closing. Any uneaten delicacies are heaped on the bar and yours for the taking. Check out Naranzaria online.

Sacro e Profano
San Polo, 502. Erbaria/Market. Tel +39 041 523 7924

In the same area, Sacro e Profano attracts a crowd for its "polpette in umido" (meatballs in a savory meat sauce).

Vizio Virtù
San Polo, 2898. Campo San Tomà. Tel +39 041 275 0149

Lastly, there's a sweet secret near Campo San Tomà the San Polo neighborhood. The chocolate shop Vizio Virtù features cap-sized cups, crafted from white, milk, and dark chocolate, and fills them with wine or fine liqueurs for a couple of euros. Make a cicchetti stop out if it and sample chocolates starting at €1 each.

Full-On Good Value Restaurants

Finding an actual sit-down restaurant with charm and good value is a far greater challenge. These are some of our lucky hits.

Aquila Nera
San Marco, 5301. Campo San Bartolomeo. Tel +39 041 522 4769

Aquila Nera is no charmer on the décor front, but the menu offers classics of Italian and Venetian cuisine at reasonable prices. Pasta ranges €8-€14, meat and fish cost a bit more, and the house wine is divine.

Osteria Trattoria Al Nono Risorto
Santa Croce, 2338. Sottoportego de Siora Bettina. Tel +39 041 524 1169

Osteria Trattoria Al Nono Risorto is a local favorite with no glam quotient, but darn good food for cheap. Try the famous "fegato alla Veneziana" (liver and onions), cuttlefish with squid ink, pasta with beans, and polenta in all its glorious forms.

Antico Forno
San Polo, 970/973. Tel +39 041 520 4110

Venice is hardly known for its pizza, but the thick and chewy mega-slices at Antico Forno are simply irresistible. The most expensive slice on the menu is a hefty 10cm (four-inch) stuffed pizza for just €3.30. If that doesn't fill you up, well, have another. But don't say we didn't warn you.

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