FED AND WATERED
VENICE’S SURFEIT OF TOURISTS MEANS LIMITED CHOICE WHEN IT COMES TO GOOD FOOD – BUT IT’S THERE IF YOU KNOW WHERE TO LOOK.
Venice attracts more than 30 million tourists each year. In comparison, there are only 55,000 residents and that number has been falling since the 1970s. This does not bode well when trying to find good, authentic food – where the locals eat, not just the tourists – in this majestic city on the water.
“There are over 2000 restaurants in Venice and we are talking about 10, maximum of 20 that do quality traditional Venetian food,” chef Cesare Benelli tells WISH in his legendary restaurant Al Covo, which he has been running for 30 years alongside his Texan-born wife Diane Rankin and now their son, Lorenzo. “We are overbooked all year. We do 80 covers a day and we turn away 100 people a day because we don’t have the space.”
Benelli, who is also part of a 12-restaurant alliance called which serves only local and seasonal cuisine, says the rise of the day-tripper and the mammoth cruise ships means Venice is full of fast food. Traditionally Venetians eat a lot of fish, from the lagoon and the surrounds, from eel to sardines and everything in between. It goes on their pasta, in their risotto, is served marinated, preserved, fried.
“There is a lot of local produce to be had here,” Benelli says, meaning not just seafood but the fruit and vegetables grown on the islands surrounding Venice. “There is everything at their fingertips. The unfortunate thing is that most restaurants don’t serve it here. They buy bulk things. Most pizzerias don’t have a pizza oven. The pizza is frozen, precooked and reheated.”
So how do you find real local cuisine in the sea of tourists and the fast-food restaurants set up to serve them? WISH went on the hunt for good food in Venice and sought the knowledge of residents and experts, including Benelli, to come up a list of the best places to eat – from Michelin-star restaurants to pizza joints to bars where the who’s who of Venice go to be seen.
The first stop is the next to the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal. The food markets here are full of local fruit and vegetables, with stands full of beautiful summer fruits and berries and so many tomatoes (and there is nothing like Italian tomatoes). There is also a specialist seafood market where all the good restaurants in Venice source their fish. “You need to go by 11am because all the locals have already been and got their food,” Benelli says. There are also local butchers and even one entire store,