Venetian Cicchetti: Eat Like a Local in Venice

by Braeden Alexander

One Italian tradition to experience is Venetian cicchetti: the long-standing ritual of enjoying small savory bites in local taverns called bacari.

Venice is one of Italy’s most popular destinations — and for good reason. Suspended between the sky and the sea, La Serenissima allures countless visitors each year with its intricate canals, stunning collection of landmarks, and plentiful cultural delights.

We’ve always been firm believers that there’s no better way to truly get to know a place than through its local customs, beliefs, and traditions — and Venetian cicchetti is a quintessential food ritual that’s authentic, filling, and fun!

This long-standing tradition is uniquely Venetian, which is why we’ve included it as a special experience on our upcoming Highlights of Italy small group tour. It’s an essential part of the local culture and something you’ll see woven into day-to-day life everywhere across this magnificent city. Read on to discover what Venetian cicchetti is all about!

Venetian Cicchetti: Eat Like a Local in Venice

What is Venetian Cicchetti?

In essence, cicchetti (pronounced “chi-KET-tee”) are small, flavorful dishes that Venetians eat for aperitivo, typically accompanied by a glass (or two, three, or as many as you’d like) of local wine or spritz. It’s the Venetian version of small plate eating that the city has become famous for.

Beyond simply enjoying these delicious bite-sized delicacies, cicchetti is a popular ritual that’s just as much about coming together to catch up with friends or spend time with family.

You can typically find cicchetti served in traditional wine bars strewn throughout the city called bacari. Small, dimly lit, and often with limited seating, these establishments are instantly recognizable by the irresistible array of baked, deep-fried, or sauced seafood, cured meats, eggs, cheeses, and vegetables on display in the window or along the counter.

Over time, these tiny little taverns have evolved to serve cicchetti and ombre (wine). The word “bàcaro” itself is said to be inspired by an old Venetian expression to “far bàcara” or “to celebrate” — a term which itself might have evolved from Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and pleasure.

What’s on the Menu?

Venetian cicchetti come in many different shapes and flavors. The term embraces a wide range of dishes and creative bites prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Walk into any bàcaro and you will notice the mouthwatering variety of choices available, such as the toasted bread with various colorful toppings called crostini, exquisite fried meatballs known as polpette, or the heavenly mozzarella in carrozza, fried mozzarella paired with anchovies or ham. Some popular selections include baccalà mantecato, a creamy salt cod spread eaten as a crostino, and folpetto, boiled baby octopus that’s paired with celery.

The selection of cicchetti varies from place to place, meaning you won’t have any repeat as you visit different bacari across Venice. The menu often changes throughout the year depending on what’s fresh, and chefs often showcase their creativity by putting forth their own unique and tasty combinations. So, don’t be afraid to experiment with different dishes and find what you like the best!

Venetian Cicchetti: Eat Like a Local in Venice

Don’t forget the essential companion to every cicchetto: an ombra! Literally, ombra is translated to “shadow,” but it stands for a glass of whatever it is you’d like to drink. Ordering a spritz is common, as are glasses of local rosso (red wine) and bianco (white wine). 

According to Venetian legend, the name ombra comes from the wine vendors in St. Mark’s Square from back in the day. As the sun moved throughout the day, the vendors would follow the shadow of the belltower to keep themselves and their wine cool.

After some time, it became a common expression in Venice “to meet someone in the shadow of the bell tower for a glass of wine.” In time, this glass of wine came to be known as the “shadow,” an ombra.

Venetian Cicchetti: Eat Like a Local in Venice

Cicchetti is a Social Experience 

Right off the bat, the allure of cicchetti is obvious: it is a food *experience* that captures the essence of Italian cuisine — simple, fresh ingredients prepared in a way that highlights their intense natural flavors and pleases every sense. However, what makes this daily ritual special is the social element. 

Cicchetti is just as much about coming together to relax and socialize with your friends, loved ones, and even strangers, as it is about the mouthwatering handheld morsels. It’s about taking time out of your day to melt into the crowd, participate in the buzzing chatter, and soak in the energy of this magnificent city.

Traditionally, you’ll find Venetians eating cicchetti standing at the bar, or just outside the door while mingling in the streets. This isn’t street food that’s meant to be eaten while strolling around town. Rather, enjoying a drink and snack in a welcoming, informal setting is what’s important here. In many bacari, there isn’t even the option to sit down!

So, order cicchetti like a local — “al banco,” or at the counter, and slow down to enjoy the moment as you taste, sip, share, and laugh. The perfect local food experience in Venice!

Discover Venice Like a Local 

A special cicchetti experience in a local bàcaro is a highlight of our upcoming Highlights of Italy itinerary. This is a 10-day journey through the enchantment of Venice, the heart of Rome, and the beauty of Florence — meant to highlight both iconic landmarks and hidden local treasures while immersing yourself in the warmth of local interactions. 

The heart of travel for us has always been the connections you make along the way. That’s why our Small Group Tours are designed for you to deeply connect with Italian culture AND the people around you over shared moments of bonding and experiences just like these.

Reservations for our next Highlights of Italy departure in Spring 2024 are now open!

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