In the last few weeks, we received a number of questions from our readers about Christmas in Venice. Especially, what to eat in Venice for Christmas Eve and Day. What a typical festive dinner consists of and how many courses you can expect. We found that guests were looking especially forward to eating traditional menus, but they are difficult to make out in the luxurious selection Venetian restaurants now offer.
For this reason, we’ve divided this topic into this blog post and then another one I’ll publish in time for the New Year. And on our food blog, we’ll start a series called Essenza di Natale in Cucina on 27 December, telling you about traditional Christmas food, one course a time.
By now, Venetians have taken up the world-wide custom to celebrate Christmas and New Year as the most festive time of the year. It wasn’t like that in the 1990s, though. Venice since then has been building a culinary Christmas tradition of its own, based on the simple dishes (di magro) eaten in the not-so-far past. We still haven’t arrived at the end of this path, though, and we’ll see how this Venetian Christmas Tradition continues developing. You can still see traces of the simple Christmas of the past all around in Venice, like in the picture below of Calle Canonica next to Piazza San Marco.
Christmas Eve in Venice smells of citrus fruit and red salads. Radicchio and fragrant bergamot. Colors in line with the table decorations you will encounter these days, and the sea of red euphorbia – stella di Natale plants.
So first, we’ll take a look at what dishes each course usually consists now in Venice, followed by 23 suggestions for restaurants where you could eat a typical Christmas or New Year’s Eve Dinner.
Cold appetizers. Your dinner in Venice will probably start with an aperitivo and a plate of hors d’oevres which might be fish salad served in tiny glasses and colorful salads, for example, made from cooked red beets, anchovies, endive and rosolia (herb) salad. Usually, oven-warm bread is served in a basket, including bread flavored with dried tomatoes, oregano and olives. You’ll get fresh cream or parsley sauce (salsa verde) with anchovies to go with that.
Warm appetizers. Imagine plates filledd with pizzette, crostini, tiny bruschette, all topped with 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 fish imported from Northern Europe, but also local freshwater fish caught in the rivers of the estuary. A change, so to say, from the usual pesce azzurro (translating as blue fish and referring to fish from the Mediterranean Sea).
In addition to pasta, in winter, Venetians love soups and risotti. Not just the pasta and beans soup, sopa de fasioi. Risotti at Christmas often come flavored with tartufo (truffles) or with fish from the Lagoon or the rivers of the estuary. El go’ is a fish usually eaten as ingredient in a risotto. So do try risotto di go‘ these days in Venice.
The first course, on a cold December night, could also consist of soup. Sopa de pesse – fish soup – is the first choice. It comes simple and natural, like the fish soup served with onions, tomatoes, potatoes and cooked vongole and cozze, and pieces of branzin, at Ristorante Al Giardinetto. Some restaurants also serve sopa de anguila (eel soup with tomatoes) for Christmas, which is based on an ancient recipe of the simple popular cuisine, la cucina povera, and this soup was, and still is, a favorite dish in the southern Lagoon. If you don’t like fish, you might try sopa de vino, a simple wine soup flavored with thick cream and lots of pepper, white vino di casa and slices of bread toasted with cinnamon.
Sorbetto. By now, you will feel rather full, and so 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. A favorite is sorbetto alla menta, mint-liquor-flavored sorbet.
Main Course. The main course comes served with salad and/or vegetable side dishes. It could be either fish, like pesce di San Pietro, caught in the Lagoon, or branzino. It could also be thin slices of veal in a thick sauce made from gorgonzola cheese sauce, endive, parsley, chives and baked potatoes, if you’re not much into fish. Below, you can see squid decorate with baked vegetables at Ristorante Gran Canal. And yes, we also eat turkey (tacchino) in Venice for Christmas.
Side Dishes. Everything baked and local and wintry. Red, orange and yellow carrots. Fennel. Baked potatoes. Fried tomatoes, flavored with bread crumbs, parsley and grated parmesan. And perhaps, a warm salad made from cavolo nero (black cabbage) flavored with a hint of 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. These days, it comes flavored with amaretto liquor. Or liquore di maraschino, cherry-flavored liquor. And raspberries and dark chocolate flavored with rose petals.
Tip: To celebrate Christmas with you, many restaurants will offer complementary pieces of pan d’oro (not so often panettone) for free if you order coffee. And now, some baicoli cookies come with marzipan and lemon icing :-)
Now we share a few of our favorite restaurants which we trust you will love … and the estimated price of a Christmas menu, based on the type of restaurants and food they serve that we’re describing below. Each of these restaurants has their own strengths. Each restaurant would merit its own article and recipe stories. I will start telling these for the restaurants in my neighborhood, in 2018. No affiliate links in this list.
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.
What about the desserts and Christmas cakes you shouldn’t miss ? We’ll tell you in our next blog post :-)