You can best witness the Feast of San Martino in Venice at the Rialto Market. This is a “hub” offering all the ingredients we need to prepare traditional spicy dishes, reflecting the harvest now arriving in the city because it’s the end of the agricultural year, the ancient Venetian capodanno agricolo.
November is a transition month. You can still feel a touch of summer during a few hours in sun-exposed spots. Temperatures are usually mild, drawing acqua alta into the Lagoon. If you are lucky and 11 November is sunny, we’ve got five tips on how to best enjoy La Festa di San Martino – Saint Martin’s Feast in Venice.
#1 Visit the Rialto Market before 9 am. When there is no acqua alta, this is the time to eat your breakfast amongst the Venetians in the bacari lining the Rialto. Feel the morning sun rays on your face and sit outside next to the market stalls on the corner between Campo Bella Vienna and L’Erbaria.
I love to eat a little sweet breakfast, or later, a light vegan lunch consisting of bruschetta and chestnut cream in one of the little bacari.
#2 Discover fruit of the season at the Rialto Market. Take in the range of colorful fruit, those “scented mountains” made of colorful fruit which go into ancient recipes – click to view the recipes in our food section. Pomegranates. The first clementines and oranges. Persimmons and pomegranates. We use these ingredients to make risotto del contadino, a persimmons and fruit-flavored spicy risotto.
What a bounty, and here are the naranse, as oranges were called in the ancient Venetian language, that go into traditional poultry dishes. The peak time of citrus fruit is November through January. There was even a fruit market section dedicated exclusively to citrus fruit during the times of the Venetian Republic, la Naranseria.
#3 Load up on culinary gifts just before La Festa della Salute. Everything is in stock, fresh from the autumn harvest. Try cotognata or chocolate blocks filled with blossoms, raspberries, mulberries and quinces.
You can’t miss Sanmartin de Pastafrola, a flat cake coming in several sizes, decorated with everything colorful and sweet you can think of. Even praline and panna cotta … I’d say this is the most colorful sweet Venice has to offer during the year.
San Martino is the best time to taste the cotognata, solid pieces of quince jam you can see in many pastry and gourmet stores around town. It’s a sweet you can transport easily, the cotognata version of the Dolce di San Martino decorated with silvery sugar pearls.
#4 For late breakfast, re-discover Campo Santo Stefano, exploring the area where Countess Evelina and the Pisani Family lived. Two of my favorite cafes, Le Cafe and Fuori Menu, are located in this area.
You can read more about the Pisani family and Countess Evelina in our review of the book written by Judith Harris.
Or, try the third, blue-branded cafe located between Campo San Vidal and Campo Santo Stefano. It’s called Art Blue Cafe. I just love stopping here, looking at the lights sprinkling Campo Santo Stefano on a late morning in mid-November :-)
#5 San Martino Night, l’oca in onto and an ancient legend: San Martino se magna el galeto, Venetians say. To celebrate San Martino, they eat poultry – oca (goose). Click here to discover our family recipe of oca onta ae spezie.
Before eating dinner on 11 November, explore the ancient area around the church of San Martino at dusk. The church you can make out amongst a labirinto of winding calli was rebuilt by Jacopo Sansovino. Yet there are legends dating back the “first church of San Martino” to the fourth century AD. It seems it was built by Lombards or by people coming to the Lagoon from Ravenna, settling on the isole dei Gemini (twin islands) in Castello. Long before Venice “existed” as town and when the Lagoon was sprinkled with tiny settlements called Le Venetie. For 200 years, the parish of San Martino in Venice was reigned by the Patriarch of Grado despite being located next to San Pietro di Castello, the Venetian Patriarch’s seat until 1797.
From here towards Campo della Bragora, you walk past family-owned trattorie in a very warm and welcoming area. Two of them which I like in particular are on Salizzada Sant’Antonin, Hostaria al Franz and Osteria ae Spezie.
What about tasting Venetian goose recipes of the past ? For dinner, you could try a dish based on an ancient spice recipe, seen on the menu of Le Bistrot de Venise. Frisinal – Pasta e Oca is a 17th century-dish based on a recipe much-loved by the Jewish community in Venice. It consists of home-made pasta, goose, pinoli, raisins, and herbs like rosemary and sage. But you could also eat a fine fish soup or our Byzantine Spinach Salad whose recipe you can find in my Food Section.
Around 4-5 pm, you probably encounter children on the streets, singing a special special filastrocca (children’s song) while asking for little gifts. They knock on doors asking for caraméi (caramelle sweets). And it’s also the Sanmartin de Pastafrolla they love :-)
Finally, you need to know the legend connected to the Feast of San Martino, L’estate di San Martino – The Summer of Saint Martin. According to legend, the saint provided a glow of (human) warmth in an otherwise barren countryside in winter. This is the text of the Venetian filastrocca:
Per la campagna triste e lontana, gelida soffia la tramontana. Martino scende da suo destriero: c’è un poverello lungo il sentiero… Non ha vestito, non ha casa, a ripararsi come farà? Il cavaliere taglia il mantello, metà lo dona al poverello., Oh, meraviglia: si rompe il velo di cupe nubi che son nel cielo … e si diffonde dolce un tepore, qua e là tra l’erba rispunta un fiore. Dal ciel discende, premio divino, sempre l’estate di San Martino.
In a sad and lost countryside, an ice-cold northerly wind is blowing. Martin descends from his horse, there is a poor man on the roadside. He has nothing to wear, no house, so how can he protect himself? The cavalier cuts his coat and gives one part to the poor man. A miracle … the dark fogs and clouds break up, a pleasant warmth is spreading and now and then, a flower is blossoming on the lawn. From the sky, like a divine gift, the summer of Saint Martin descends (upon us)..