Things to do in Venice: a tour of the “bàcari”
Are you looking for things to do in Venice and want to move like a real local? Get inspired by George Sand, Aurora Dupin’s nom de plume (1804-1876): “The Venetian personality is joyful; their main defect is their greediness, but it’s a friendly lively greediness“.
Venice and wine has always had a tight relationship. We have very old information on grape vine growing in our area (it was already growing in 40BC in the Concordia Sagittaria area). There have always been vineyards on the very strange, salty lands of the lagoon islands, and grapes were also grown in the centre of the city, as stated by the “nizioleti” (in English: thin bed sheets – i.e. place/street names written or painted in special rectangular shapes/frames forming real frescos). “San Francesco della Vigna” is an example.
In addition, wines normally came from Serenissima landholdings on the mainland. An area that is still today dedicated to this type of production, and as if it weren’t enough, Malvasia was imported from south-eastern Europe, and Aleatico from Greece.
It would be normal to ask, where was it all being consumed? One could drink at “bastion” where only wine was being sold, or in “furatole” i.e. very small popular shops where fried fish was also served. Or one could opt for “magazeni” which were wine bars and even sorts of pawn shops where “loans” were granted in exchange of items (two-thirds of the loan was given in cash and the rest in a low-quality wine called “vin da pegni” i.e. pawn wine).
Finally we come to the “osterie” (inns) called “bàcari” or “bàcareti” (not called after Bacchus, but from the expression “far bàcara” i.e. to celebrate) where even today one can still get a decent glass of wine. In the 1700s, it was appreciated by Carlo Goldoni, in the 1800s by Richard Wagner, then by all us Venetians, and by curious “slow” style tourists like Ernest Hemingway.
St. Mark’s Square, with the Basilica and the Bell Tower
Things to do in Venice: “ombre” and “cichéti”
Everyone knows that in Venice a glass of wine is known as “ombra” (shade) because once upon a time, it was sold and sipped while standing at the foot of St. Mark’s bell tower (known as “el paron de casa” i.e. the host). Vendors moved their stalls/kiosks and followed the shade to keep the drinks cool!
Such an ever-present quantity of alcohol wisely evoked the consumption of local bàcaro products – “cichèti” (latin “ciccus” – a small quantity) during the evening pub stroll called “giro de ombre”.
To keep clients sober, Venetian vendors that were ahead of their time, invented a type of street food. So, according to seasons and availability, the following cichèti appeared on the stalls:
- “folpeti” (boiled octopus);
- “castraure” (early season, violet-coloured baby artichokes from the island of Sant’Erasmo);
- croutons with “bacalà mantecato” (creamy salted codfish);
- “sarde in saor” (tasty sardines) – an emblem of Venetian fusion cooking;
- fried vegetables;
- cured meats;
- various cheeses;
- all the parts of quinto quarto (i.e. offal), such as the “rumegal” (little pieces of beef rumen), “spienza” (calf spleen), “trippa rissa” (herb-flavoured boiled tripe) and “nerveti” (nerves served with raw onion).
In more recent times, local myths have been created – like the mystery about the flavoursome meatballs of a certain osteria or of the “scartosso de pesse” (typical Venetian fried fish takeaway). I could tell you hundreds of stories, without considering the improvised compositions due to inspirations, innkeepers or even the “tramezzini” or sandwiches enlivening discussions among connoisseurs. However, what they all have in common, is that this food can be consumed informally, never alone, always standing up and without cutlery, because with a cichèto you must always have a hand free for a glass of wine: “l’ombra de vin”!
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