This is an old story veiled by legends. And yet, it takes us to origins of food and cooking as we know it in Europe and the western world today.
Real Venetian Food is so delicious and mostly consists of easy recipes, with special, natural ingredients though. La Venessiana would like to give you the keys to learn how to integrate easy, delicious and healthy Venetian meals into your daily life. You can check out our Recipes here and head over to our Spice Atelier, which will be online from July 2018.
But now, let’s start with giving you some of the background. So why is Venetian food really special ? It all starts in the year 421 AD …
Imagine extensive salt gardens in a shallow Lagoon and a just a few islands permanently above water. That was Venice, or rather, Le Venetiae, the Lagoon of Venice, whose northern waters were part of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire during these mythic times. So yes, Venice has a powerful mother in the East, which is Byzantium, or later, Constantinople. Venice is the ambassador of the Levant and the only place in the western world where Byzantine and Ancient Greek cooking has survived, to this day.
Venice developed close commercial relationships with her mother town Byzantium and the Levant. These commercial and family ties are the causes for Venetian food to look and taste so different. Just unexpected but so tempting !!
From the 7th century AD, Venetian merchants traveled alongside the Venetian fleet down the Adriatic Sea, towards Dalmatia, Greece and the Black Sea, to Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. And from the 13th century, the Venetian boats (or rather cogs) reached China, India, Indonesia and East Africa (Zanzibar!!).
So the all-herb based Lagoon cuisine was soon integrated with sophisticated spices that Venetian merchants brought back from their voyages. Venetians not only sold these spices all over Europe – they refined them, creating their own mixtures (sacchetti veneziani spice mixtures). In some public and private libraries of Venetian noble families, we can still find books describing these recipes, their origin and history. And then Venetians created those gardens their city became famous for – spice gardens. Many, though not all, exotic spice species loved the humid climate of the Lagoon, and soon, the city boasted the largest number of botanical gardens in the world ! Here’s what almost half the area of Venice looked during more than 600 years:
As second steps, the Venetian government invited Levantine merchants and their families to settle in the Lagoon, and they brought with them their plants and recipes. Greek, Dalmatian, Albanian, Armenian and Jewish communities moved to Venice. The Venetian sestiere di Castello became the first example of a globalized community when many inhabitants from Constantinople resettled here in 1453.
Soon a melting pot of tastes and scents developed in Venice, unique in Europe. The first “fusion kitchen” in the world was created, integrating Ancient Roman and Greek, Persian, Syrian, TCM and Ayurveda elements.
The 14th century was the age of the mercanti di spezie – Venetian spice merchants. They created sophisticated flavors tapping their supply networks spreading via trading posts in the Levant, from the Crimea to Alexandria, Constantinople to Syria. By the year 1380, Venetian merchants also included the Western Mediterranean and regions beyond into their standard trading routes, and thus also brought back to Venice, and thus Europe, northern European specialties (just think of the baccalà – stockfish! )