What are Cicchetti?
Cicchetti are Venetian small snacks served in ‘cicchetti bars’ (bàcari or osterie). They are reminiscent of Spanish tapas in that they are eaten standing up, typically with a little glass of white wine, referred to by Venetians as “ombra de vin“. The origin of this phrase comes from fourteenth century wine merchants, who served wine in the Piazza San Marco (the main square in Venice), following the shadow of the bell tower, to keep their wine from getting too warm. Drinkng an “ombra” in this manner is considered a social ritual in Venice, a way to show friendship and solidarity. The phrase “Andemo bever un ombra” (Let’s go drink a glass of wine), remains in Venice today.
The Venetian bacàro dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, with the word originating from Bacco, the god of wine, and has connotations of celebrating. Bàcari typically have very few seats, some without any. The cicchetti are lined up like tasty little soldiers at the bar, where you pick what you want to accompany your beverage of choice.
Another typical ubiquitous drink is the “Spritz”, or as referred to by us Anglophones, “Aperol Spritz”. The vibrant orange, lightly fizzy drink is eye catching, and difficult to resist!
Cicchetti themselves are often served on top of a small piece of bread (“crostino“), with delicious fillings based on bàccala (dried salt cod), seafood, egg- and anchovy-based toppings, and local cheese such as casatella with radiccho tardivo (creamy cheese with a type of radish).
Where to go
Osteria dai Zemei
The first stop on our honeymoon was Venice, who welcomed us with pouring rain. Determined not to let it phase us, we resolutely set up to explore. We stumbled on this wee place run by twins, with scrummy cicchetti lined up in orderly rows at the bar. In defiance to the rain (in MAY!), I ordered a Spritz, even though I was freezing from the damp cold. The tasty morsels soon warmed me up, but alas we had come just before closing time… We would be back the next day.
Cantina do Spade
Busy, and for good reason. We attempted to come twice, but my husband was put off by the queue (!). However, the day we left Venice, we dipped in around lunch, and boy am I glad I persuaded him. The food was absolutely delicious! They also had a great wine selection of local wines. I can’t remember which wine I chose, but it was a crisp white with a hint of floral. Just right for a midday “ombra“. The food we had at lunch wasn’t finger food, like what we had eaten at Osteria dai Zemei. It was more akin to things you might order from a ‘deli’. They were mainly seafood or vegetable based. So very fresh, and so very vibrant. In the evening, I suspect, their cicchetti might be more “standing room only” friendly.
Creating the magic at home, if you can’t get to Italy…
The first Christmas gift my now husband gave me was this cookbook by Laura Zavan (beautifully photographed by Grégorie Kalt) called ‘Venice Cult Recipies‘. Looking back, he did well. We hardly knew each other at that point, but he knew I spent time in Italy as part of my Italian Studies.
This book is simply amazing. It’s detailed, giving little bits of history and background about typical Venetian ingredients and where to get them or substitute for them. Most importantly, it contains authentic recipes each with their own accompanying pictures! I personally prefer this one to Polpo by Russell Norman.
Travelling and going out are sadly still non-options for us, due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation. Our anniversary just passed, and we decided to create a little of our honeymoon magic by making all the cicchetti in this cookbook. Unfortunately the cod we ordered did not get delivered, thus foiling our attempts at making bàccala!
Pictured above and to the right are the ones we made. In the picture to the right, going clockwise:
- crostino with sardines, capers and parsley (meant to be tuna, but I accidentally used all the tuna for the next one!)
- crostino with tuna and horseradish
- crostino with ricotta and radish (we had to substitute casatella with ricotta and raddichio tardivo with English radish)
- uovo sode e acciuga (egg with anchovy)
The salad we threw together with leftover ingredients – rucola (rocket), artichokes and radish with parsley and parmigiano reggiano we made to go with it.
This was all washed down with an “alcohol light” Spritz! (see below for recipe)
All in all, it felt a little like we were back in Venice.
Surprisingly, these are really easy to make. To explain how easy it is, the process is akin to making a tuna and mayo sandwich. The radish one was the most “difficult” in that you actually had to grate the radish then fry it with some garlic before assembling the crostini.
For obvious reasons, I can’t publish the actual recipes from the book, but you can always mix by taste.
‘Low-alcohol’ Aperol Spritz Recipe
I haven’t found a good substitute for aperol to be honest, hence this cocktail is “alcohol light”. The recipe is super simple. For a regular Spritz, you are meant to add aperol and prosecco in equal quantities, but as I was making it alcohol “light”, I added less aperol.
You will need:
- San Pellegrino sparkling water (or any sparkling water)
- Natureo de-alcoholised white wine Muscat Torres (or any non-alcoholic white wine you can find)
- Large ice cube(s)
Mix the sparkling water and non-alcoholic wine in a 1:1 ratio (or whatever you prefer). Then add the aperol. You can do à la the label, and mix the aperol in equal quantities to the San Pelligrino/Natureo mix. Or to reduce the alcohol further but have a hint of that aperol flavour, mix the sparkling water and Natureo about 1:1, then add a splash of aperol.
Hope you enjoy!
Leave a comment below if you’ve tried cicchetti before and where, and do come say hello on Instagram @theartbeaute. Bacci x
Note: This is not a paid review, and there are no affiliate links. I have provided links only for your convenience.
- Venice Cult Recipes. Larua Zavan. Photography by Grégori Kalt. Murdoch Books 2013.