In the last few weeks, we received a number of questions from our readers about Christmas in Venice. Especially, on what to eat in Venice on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and Boxing Day. So this post talks about the dishes a Venetian Christmas Dinner consists of.
We found that our guests were looking especially forward to eating traditional menus, not always present on the menu of Venetian restaurants, or not always on the front page.
We’ve also created an e-book + guide for a one-day Christmas walk in Venice, food walks and tips to taste cookies and tradtional Christmas cakes in the bakeries, restaurants and cafes in Venice. Click here to download it immediately!
By now, Venetians are embracing the world-wide custom to celebrate Christmas and New Year. It wasn’t like that in the 1990s when I was a child: Venice since then has been building culinary Christmas traditions, and some of these dishes are still based on the simple dishes (piatti di magro) eaten on Christmas Eve only 20 years ago. You can still see traces of past Christmases of the past all around Venice, like in the picture below of Calle Canonica next to Piazza San Marco, when seasonal vegetables and herbs and also winter artichokes (!) went into simple dishes, and even focaccia!
But one thing hasn’t changed over the past 20 years: Christmas Eve in Venice smells of citrus fruit and red salads. Radicchio and fragrant bergamot. Colors in line with the table decorations and the sea of red euphorbia – stella di Natale plants.
We’ll now take a look at the Christmas menus and we’ll share 23 suggestions for restaurants offering a traditional, and sometimes modern, Venetian Christmas or New Year’s Eve Dinner.
Cold appetizers. Your dinner in Venice starts with aperitivo and a plate of hors d’oevres which at Christmas could be fish salad served in tiny glasses and colorful salads, for example, made from cooked beets, anchovies, endive and rosolia (herb growing in the estuary). Usually, oven-warm bread is served in a basket, including bread enriched with dried tomatoes, oregano and olives. As side dishes, you’ll often get a dip made from fresh cream, or a Venetian parsley sauce (salsa verde) and anchovies.
Warm appetizers. Many restaurants serve warm slices of mini-pizza called pizzette, or crostini, tiny bruschette topped with slices of boilt eggs, paprika flavored cream, curry cream, olives or baccala‘ (stockfish) cream.
First Course. This is usually pasta with fish or sea food (canoce or scallops), but also with salmon and yellow mustard seeds. Especially in winter, Venice has a tradition of eating baccalà, stockfish imported from Northern Europe. We also love freshwater fish caught in the rivers of the estuary like carps! A change, so to say, from the usual pesce azzurro (“blue fish” from the Mediterranean Sea).
In addition to pasta, Venetians love creamy soups, minestre (vegetable broths) and risotti. Not just on festive days could you taste the famous pasta and beans soup, sopa de fasioi. Risotti at Christmas are often flavored with tartufo (truffles), fish from the Lagoon or the estuary: El go’ is a fish eaten in risotto, so we recommend that you ask for a risotto di go‘, it’s our winter specialty!
The first course on a cold December night could be Sopa de pesse – fish soup. There are of course many ways to make fish soup on the coast of the Mediterranean sea, but here in Venice, we love to flavor fish soup with onions, tomatoes, potatoes and cooked vongole and cozze. There’s an excellent fish soup made from branzin at Ristorante Al Giardinetto.
Some restaurants also serve sopa de anguila (eel soup with tomatoes) for Christmas, an ancient recipe of la cucina povera. This soup was, and still is, a favorite dish in the southern Lagoon, from Pellestrina to Chioggia.
If you don’t like fish soup, you might try sopa de vino, a simple wine soup flavored with thick cream and lots of pepper, white house wine – vino di casa and slices of bread toasted with cinnamon. My personal favorite!
Sorbetto. By now, I’d feel rather full, and it’s time for a little refreshing in-between course. Sorbetto in December comes flavored with fruit now in season, like freshly pressed orange and pomegranate juice. My favorite is sorbetto alla menta, mint-liquor-flavored sorbet.
Main Course. The main course is served with salad of your choice (winter salads!) and/or vegetable side dishes. It could be either fish, like pesce di San Pietro, caught in the Lagoon, or branzino. You could also order veal in a thick sauce made from gorgonzola cheese sauce, endive, parsley, chives and baked potatoes. Below, you can see squid decorate with baked vegetables at Ristorante Gran Canal. And yes, we often eat turkey (tacchino) in Venice for Christmas.
Side Dishes. Everything baked vegetabeles and local and wintry. Red, orange and yellow carrots. Fennel. Baked potatoes. Fried tomatoes, flavored with bread crumbs, parsley and grated parmesan. A warm salad made from cavolo nero (black cabbage) flavored with balsamic vinegar. Or fried radicchio and other winter salads, like the long white-and-green cicoria.
Desserts. Tiramesu is Venetian, or invented in the area around Treviso, who knows exactly. Sometimes at Christmas, it comes flavored with amaretto liquor. Or with liquore di maraschino, cherry-flavored liquor. And a favorite Christmas version of mine is the raspberries and dark chocolate tiramesù flavored with rose petals.
Tip: Many restaurants offer complementary pieces of pan d’oro (not so often panettone) for free if you order coffee. And the baicoli cookies these days often come with marzipan and lemon icing :-)
Here are a few of our personal tips: On some days, you could try rose-and-saffron-flavored spritz at Ristorante Terrazza Danieli, or the exclusive pomegranates sorbet by Ristorante Met’s. Fish Soup at Hotel Monaco Gran Canal is always special and a plate of risotto ai go‘ is a must if you visit at Christmas.
Make sure you make a reservation ! A few of these restaurants are rather small, and it might be advised to book well ahead.20