Rialto Market, Venice (Venezia)
What springs to mind when you think of Venice?
Cheeky gondoliers in tight, striped shirts, rowing starry eyed honeymooners along the canals’ murky waters, while standing and simultaneously whistling at girls walking by.
The city punted as the world’s most romantic, and one you want to see before it sinks.
Masked balls and debauchery during the famed Carnival.
Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, living the high life in Venice, pretending to be Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), in The Talented Mr Ripley (a slightly creepier edge).
Twenty million tourists descending on an island that’s merely 3 miles by 2 miles in size (staggering, especially when you consider the population residing on the island is a mere sixty thousand).
Well, Venice is all this, that’s true. Though I don’t want to imagine how many Dickie Greenleaf impersonators are hanging about dank, narrow alleyways getting merry on prosecco.
I visited Venice for the first time, in late May this year and I was dizzy with excitement at the prospect of experiencing the Rialto market, renowned for its fruit and vegetables and more so for its abundance of fresh seafood. I love art, architecture and opera too, so I had some time for that scheduled, but I wanted an insider’s food experience, in the short time we had.
I signed up for the Market Tour and cooking class (a day affair) with the charming and knowledgeable Enrica Rocca, a Venetian who has lived in Cape Town years ago and now runs cooking classes in London and Venice. I’m bursting at the seams to tell you about the cooking class and the dishes we prepared, but will have to hold back.
Start the day with espresso
We started the tour with a visit to a coffee bar frequented by locals. At 9 am, it was clear that the temperatures were going to soar to almost 30 degrees Celsius, and the air was oppressive with humidity. Coffees are served with a side of crushed ice- something I hadn’t seen before. Made sense though.
Pescheria (Seafood Market)
Prawns, shrimp, scallops, muscles, crayfish, squid, octopus, sea bream, fish smaller in size than you can imagine. The fishmongers at the Pescheria start trading as early as 8 am with customers and the stock is pristine. Expertly, a fishmonger whips his knife into the air, bringing it down with a swift chop, cleaning and filleting fish and octopus, as per customers’ instructions.
We selected baby squid, various small fish, cuttlefish, a medium sized sea bream and Enrica placed the neatly wrapped parcels in her trolley. I’d like to interrupt at this point and mention that a shopping trolley with wheels that adjust as you drag it up countless steps and bridges is an absolute must. As you must know, the only way to get around is via water transport and if you don’t have a trolley to pull along your purchases, the journey will be frustrating.
Erberia Market (Fruit & Vegetable Market)
Produce at this market, a few meters from the Pescheria is both plentiful and fresh. You’re drawn to the colours of red vine tomatoes, fragrant strawberries and cherries, beautiful, fragile courgette blossoms and spears of asparagus bound in fat bundles with string. We oohed and aahed as Enrica walked around selecting and asking our opinions on dishes we were to prepare.
Cheese and More
We had a brief tour of a cheese shop as well as a bit of education about horse meat. It’s a popular delicacy in Venice apparently, but the rule is that horse meat cannot be stored or displayed near another other types. You can read a little more about it here.
At nearby a deli I purchased a pistachio pesto that Enrica recommended as a high quality local product, not easy to find elsewhere. We also enjoyed a vsist to a small wine shop with a prosecco tasting. It is held that prosecco is the mozerella of wines while champagne is the parmesan. In other words prosecco is highly recommended to be drunk in large quantities. And often.
- Go early. By 1 pm the stalls close. The Pescheria is open Tuesday to Saturday.
- Wear comfortable shoes and nothing too heavy as you will pay the price on hot spring/summer days.
- A shopping trolley is highly recommended or a few strong cloth bags and hopefully you have some company to help you lug the load.
- Bargaining isn’t common practice.
- There are no readymade foods at the market, so have a snack in a bar in one of the alleys nearby.
- A restaurant nearby that comes highly recommended is Alla Madonna. Service and food are good- I’m just afraid it will be ruined by all the rave reviews.
- If possible, visit the market with a guide or cook, even if you’ve been before. It adds a different dimension experiencing the Rialto Market with and through the eyes of a local.