Autumn is a good time to write guides on Venetian Food ! During these cooler days and until the first frost, the offer at our markets is simply breathtaking as you can see in the cover page of this article. Le zucche – squash is omnipresent and we are fast approaching its peak time here in Venice, which is from the last days of October throughNovember.
Join me for a very personal “Guided Tour” to give you a first impression of the Rialto Market. It’s the oldest market in Europe still located where it was founded. According to legend, it was in the year 421 AD but it seems that market activities went on here for some time before. The Riatlo Market is now divided into four sections – Erbaria, Casaria, Pescaria and Beccarie. At the times of the Republic of Venice, in addition to the food stalls, the financial and commercial center was located here.
The Market is also a wonderful place for breakfast outside on balmy October mornings or else inside at Dolce Vita Caffé in Ruga degli Spezieri (the heart of spice market, and this cafe is conveniently located next to Drogheria Mascari in case you want to take a look). I usually have cappuccino and cornetto alle mandorle (croissant with an excellent, home-made soft almond filling, consisting of sweet and bitter almonds). Before I start describing all the sweet delights on their counter, just take a look. I’ll have to dedicate an entire article to their unusual croissants, some look black because farina di alghe – algae flour is included in the dough.
Until 1797 the market area consisted of six sections and also included the naranzaria (orange market) and corderia (small botteghe = craft stores where ropes for ships were made).
Coming from the direction of San Marco, step down the Rialto Bridge into a wide street called Ruga degli Oresi (where the goldsmith stores were located in the past): Palazzo dei Camerlenghi is to your right and the red-painted Palazzo dei Dieci Savi on your left. You can see the Church of San Giacomo di Rialto, the main market church, located on Campo San Giacometto where the famous Gobbo di Rialto statue is still a sight.
Across the Fabbriche Nuove buildings (still called “new” buildings after a fire had broken out in 1514) on your left, arcades lead towards the banks of the Grand Canal and to the herbs and vegetable market. You may have noticed that lately, almost all stalls sell dried herbs and spices. That’s not done because it’s more convenient but because Venetians REALLY use them. Selling dried herbs and spices perfectly fits in with the tradition of the herb market.
Venetians in former times considered dried fruit and herbs to be spices. You mightn’t like sight of the packages looking quite mainstream but you’ll love using their content !!
In the left corner, in the past the Naranzaria, meaning citrus market in Venetian, was located. These days, stylish cafes and bacari put their tables out on the banks of the Grand Canal. Just imagine enjoying coffee or a tramezzino and lemon tea here on a sunny October morning.
I love watching the vegetable boats arrive and how fresh produce from the lagoon Islands is being unloaded.
Continue walking under the arcades leading to the parts of the market called Erbaria (Herb Market) and Casaria (Cheese Market). Here you can find cheese and milk stores, artists’ shops and ateliers, butchers, little stores selling herbs and spices … and the fruit and vegetable stalls. There’s also the famous Casa del Parmigiano selling, amongst others, miele di barena (honey from the swampy Lagoon parts – read more about the barene in this blog post).
Until 1997, the mercato all’ingrosso was still located here. From 4 am in the morning, you could see boats loaded with crates of fruit and vegetables arrive from the Lagoon islands Le Vignole and Sant’Erasmo, from Treporti and the Cavallino/Iesolo zone. The video below shows market life on a winter morning …
Moving further ahead you arrive at the Pescaria (Fish Market). It’s open every day with the exception of Sunday and Monday. If you love fish and sea food, this is the place to be and find inspiration.
Finally, turn left and walk towards Campo Beccarie where the butchers’ stalls were once located, you can still see a few of them around. This square also represents a fine starting point for a bacari tour !!! But perhaps you’d just like to taste some of the best tramezzini in town at Bar Rialto which is a few steps ahead. It moved from under the arcades of Ruga degli Oresi to this new location in Ruga Spezieri in February 2016.
What I find so wonderful is how these shop owners take time not only to sell but also love giving advice. Do ask them a question, you will certainly benefit and will be surprised by their extensive knowledge!
To your left, the maze of calli leading towards Campo San Cassiano lies ahead. Taking this road you enter the world of the Venetian wine bars called bacari. Bacari have been around for more than a thousand years.
Turning left you arrive at my personal highlight in Venice, the finest spice and gourmet store in town, Drogheria Mascari.
On your way towards Campo San Polo, take a look at a part of the market that’s often overlooked. It’s the area stretching from Ruga degli Oresi towards Campo Rialto Novo and the Grand Canal. This part hosts a few of my favorite restaurants and bacari where you can taste food cooked after centuries-old recipes. For example, Trattoria alla Madonna in Calle della Madonna is one of them to taste Venetian Family Food.