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Cicchetti Bars: Eating Venetian Small Plates in a Bàcaro

Your Guide to Eating Venetian "Tapas" on the Run

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Feeling a bit peckish before your fashionably late dinner reservation in Venice? Don't feel hungry enough to chow down on a formal meal? Well then, do what Venetians do, head out to a bàcaro for some small and tantalizing bites of traditional Venetian fare and an "ombra" or glass of local wine. This guide will tell you how it all works, tell you about three of the best bàcari (well, our favorites anyway) and give you an idea of what food will likely be offered.

1. A Short History of Bàcari and Cicchetti in Venice

bacaro picture
James Martin, Europe Travel

Venice's Bàcari derive from earlier hostelerie; men coming home from work might stop at one to get an early jump on alcohol consumption. The addition of cheap nibbles was discovered to keep them drinking for a bit longer. Eventually these wine bars got a rather tawdry reputation and went out of style. Then eating small plates became fashionable, and like the evolution of tapas in Spain, the food got a gourmet makeover and the wines started to come from reputable firms--and a whole new era began. Today, eating Cicchetti in Venice is practiced by tourist and local alike.

So, to sum it all up, a bàcaro is a convivial and comfortable place where wine and food served in small portions called "cicchetti" or "cicheti" are served.

2. How to Order Wine in a Bàcaro

wine picture
James Martin, Europe Travel

Ok, so you're thinking you just belly up to the bar and order a glass of wine, un bicchiere di vino. This will work, but you are likely to get a higher priced wine (not necessarily local) than you would if you did as the Venetians do. Order an "ombra" and you'll get a small glass of local wine. It will likely be quite inexpensive.

Ombra, of course, means "shade" and the use of the word to define a glass of wine evidently starts with the early wine merchants who set up shop in Piazza San Marco, changing the location of their wares to follow the shade of the bell tower. After all, the heat of the sun would ruin the wine! The name stuck, and a small glass of local wine remains an ombra in Venice.

3. How to Order Food in a Bàcaro

cicchetti picture
James Martin, Europe Travel

Food in a bàcaro reflects the history of the Venetian kitchen. Mostly, there is seafood in various forms. There will almost always be traditional staples like baccalà mantecato, a creamy saltcod served over a wedge of polenta, and baked cuttlefish or shrimp, and even little meatballs.

Recently, Italians have become big fans of raw fish, the new sashimi-eaters. There will likely be raw fish as an option.

The food is usually laid out on large platters behind glass in shelves over the bar. You belly up to the bar (or push your way through the thongs of people) and order, usually by pointing to what you'd like. Each portion will likely cost you from 2 to 4 euro. Choose wisely.

The waiter will fulfill your order as in the picture.

4. Favorite Wine Bars: Cantina Vecia Carbonera

vecia carbonera picture
James Martin, Europe Travel

In some ways, the Vecia Carbonera is my favorite wine bar in Venice. It's name derives from the fact the space was once used for storing coal.

You enter, place your order for food and an ombra, then look for a seat in the back, where there are long, communal tables. Some folks spill out in front as well. There's a good selection of food, and the location is convenient; I like the Cannaregio as a place to stay; it's a good, working class neighborhood.

Cannaregio 2329, (Campo della Maddalena along the Strada Nova, closed on Monday)
Telephone: 041-710376

5. Favorite Wine Bars: El Sbarlefo

sbarlefo cicheti picture
James Martin, Europe Travel

This is a rather new Bacaro; Venice guide Monica Cesarato says El Sbarlefo has the best baccalà mantecato in town, so we had some--along with a meatball in tomato sauce, artichoke, polenta and herring, and the traditional sarde in saor, sardines in a sweet-sour onion sauce served cold.

It's a tiny place and crowded, just fight your way through the crowd and order, then try to find a table outside like everybody else.

The plate of food and three drinks cost us 25 euro.

Sestiere Cannaregio 4556/c (Salizada del Pistor), 30131 Venice, Italy
Telephone: +39 (0)415233084

6. Favorite Wine Bars: La Cantina

la cantina picture
James Martin, Europe Travel

La Cantina is known for its wine selection and the freshness of the fish. Living Venice's Nan McElroy teaches tourists about wine at La Cantina, where we sampled a good selection of wines from the Veneto and beyond, then dug in to some raw branzino. Lively crowd. If you're still hungry you can do what we did and head over to nearby Vini di Giglio, one of Venice's finest restaurants in a comfortable tavern space (you'll need to reserve at Vini di Giglio)

Campo San Felice, Strada Nova - Cannaregio 3689
+39-041-522-8258

(Read more about Wine Tastings and Vineyard Tours from Venetian Vine.)

7. Ghost and Food Tour of Venice

If you don't want to locate a Bacaro on your own, or you'd like more than food, perhaps you'd like a few ghost stories told with your salt cod on polenta. Well, Monica Cesarato can take you for a tour you won't get anywhere else:

You can eat your way through some traditional and delicious cicchetti (Venetian Style tapas) and taste some nice Prosecco wine or try a Spritz and at the same time you will discover some fantastic and incredible tales about the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia.

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