Foodie’s Guide on What to Eat in Venice: Must Try Food

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As a foodie living just an hour away from Venice, I’m passionate about exploring the traditional foods in this city’s incredible food scene. 

But let’s face it, with so many restaurants catering to tourists, it’s easy to end up in a subpar tourist trap that’s overpriced and far from the authentic Venetian food the city is known for.

That’s why I’ve made it my mission to help fellow food lovers avoid the pitfalls of Venice’s tourist traps and experience the best traditional dishes the city has to offer.

In this article, I’ll share with you my insider tips on what to eat in Venice and avoid the overpriced, lackluster meals that are all too common. 

So whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned Venice traveler, join me in savoring the city’s incredible food and drink culture without falling victim to the tourist traps.

Read my full guide on how many days to spend in Venice!

What Is Traditional Venetian Food?

seafood selection in venice italy

Traditional Venetian dishes are a reflection of the city’s unique history and geography. Situated on the water, Venice has always relied heavily on seafood and fish, which feature prominently in many of its traditional dishes. 

The city’s cuisine also reflects the influence of its neighboring regions, such as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna, the mountainous areas of the Veneto region, and Trentino-Alto Adige, resulting in a diverse culinary tradition that’s both rich in flavor and unique in character.

One of the hallmarks of Venetian cuisine, and Italian cuisine in general, is its use of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. From the seafood caught daily in the lagoon to the vegetables grown in nearby farms, Venetian chefs prioritize the use of fresh, seasonal produce in their dishes. This focus on local ingredients is reflected in the city’s traditional dishes, which are often simple but bursting with flavor.

Another defining feature of traditional Venice foods is its use of spices and herbs. Traditional Venetian cuisine is known for its liberal use of spices like saffron and cinnamon, which is used to flavor everything from risotto to desserts. 

Finally, Venetian cuisine is all about taking the time to enjoy a meal. In a city that’s built on leisurely strolls and long conversations, it’s no surprise that the food culture is centered around the idea of taking time to savor each bite. From the cicchetti bars where locals gather to share small plates over drinks, to the leisurely multi-course meals served in traditional restaurants, Venetian cuisine encourages diners to slow down, enjoy their food, and savor the moment.

If you only have one day in Venice check out my ultimate 1 day itinerary!

Here are some staples of traditional Venetian foods

Seafood: Being located on the Venetian lagoon, Venice is famous for its fresh seafood dishes. Fresh fish and shellfish are a staple in Venetian cuisine, with dishes like baccalà mantecato (creamy salted cod spread), sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines with pine nuts, raisins, and onions), and risotto al nero di seppia (black squid ink risotto) being popular choices with seafood lovers.

Rice: Rice is a staple in Venetian cuisine and is used to make many traditional dishes, such as risotto and frittelle (rice fritters) and risi e bisi (rice and peas). Arborio, Vialone Nano and Carnaroli rice are the most commonly used varieties.

Polenta: Made from cornmeal, polenta is a staple in northern Italian cuisine, including Venetian cuisine. It can be served loose as a porridge similar to grits, or allowed to harden up and then grilled. It is served with just about every main course whether it is a hearty game stew or some simple seafood.

Radicchio: This bitter, red chicory is a popular ingredient in Venetian salads and vegetable dishes. It’s often served grilled or baked and pairs well with rich flavors like cheese and cured meats.

Saffron: This expensive spice is used to flavor many Venetian dishes, especially risotto. It gives dishes a distinct yellow color and a rich, earthy flavor.

Anchovies: These small, salty fish are a common ingredient in Venetian cuisine, adding a briny flavor to dishes like crostini and bigoli pasta in salsa.


Venice’s cicchetti culture is not to be missed. Cicchetti are small plates or snacks that are typically served in bars and accompanied by drinks and are very similar to Spanish tapas. Just don’t call them Venetian tapas!

They’re perfect for a quick bite or a leisurely meal with friends. While cicchetti can be found all over the city, some bars are better than others, so it’s important to know where to go for the best experience.

sarde in saor, fried fresh sardines with stewed onions, raisins, and pine nuts

Sarde in Saor

One of the most famous cicchetti dishes is sarde in saor, which consists of fried sardine fillets marinated in vinegar, onions, pine nuts, and raisins. Don’t think about the canned version of sardines, These are fished right from the Adriatic Sea and then fried right away

It was a popular dish that originated before the advent of refrigerators as a means to preserve fish for a few days or up to a week before they would go bad. It’s a classic example of the cucina povera, or poor man’s cuisine, since sardines are the most economical fish there is. 

The dish has a tangy and sweet flavor that perfectly complements the sardines. There are other versions of saor so look for shrimp, scallops, and even squash prepared in the same way.

Staying overnight in Venice? Here’s my ultimate 2 day itinerary!

Baccalà Mantecato

bacala mantecato and bacala alla vicentina

Baccalà mantecato is another popular cicchetti dish, made with whipped cod and olive oil, giving it a creamy texture and a rich, savory flavor. This isn’t ordinary cod, however. It is baccalà, or stock fish, which is dried Atlantic cod that is preserved and is hard as a rock for Venetian sailors to eat when at sea for months at a time.

After a few days soaked in water to reconstitute it, it is cooked for hours with milk and garlic before being whipped. 

It is an absolute delight that is a must-try in Venice. I grew up trying this salt cured fish in various preparations as I am a first generation Italian American, but I never got into the taste of it. Until I moved to the area near Venice and realized how good it can be when done right!

assorted seasonal crostini


Most of the cicchetti are in the form on a toasted small piece of bread topped with a delicacy. You’ll often find some type of charcuterie such as salame, prosciutto crudo, mortadella, or coppa. There will be cheeses, various types of seafood, and whatever vegetables are in season such as artichokes or asparagus. 

Cicchetti are a great way for the local chefs to play around with different flavors and try new things to delight their customers. As a foodie, it’s a great way to try a lot of different delicious food without breaking the bank.

Typically, cicchetti cost between 1 and 2 euro per piece. With less than 10 euro you can sample a few different treats and get a sense of what Venice food is all about. 

mozzarella in carrozza with anchovies

Mozzarella in Carrozza

Mozzarella in carrozza is a delicious and popular fried mozzarella sandwich that originated in southern Italy but has since become a beloved dish all over the country. The name translates to “mozzarella in a carriage” and refers to the way the dish is prepared – two slices of bread are sandwiched around a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese, which is then dipped in beaten egg and fried until golden and crispy.

The result is a warm and gooey sandwich that’s perfect for lunch or as an appetizer. Some variations of the dish also include prosciutto or anchovies for added flavor. In Venice, mozzarella in carrozza can often be found in cicchetti bars and is a must-try for any cheese lover.

When is the best time to visit Venice? Check out my guide here!


Venetian tradition of enjoying small bites of food with a glass of wine has led to the concept of “ombra”. Ombra refers to a small glass of wine, traditionally served with cicchetti while standing at a bar or a counter. The term “ombra” (meaning “shade” in Italian) is said to have originated from the practice of wine merchants using the shade of the bell tower in Piazza San Marco to store their wine barrels during the day.

It’s usually a house red or white wine that is very cheap. Usually 1 euro for a small glass. It is not the fanciest wine, but it is a great way to eat and drink on a budget and do things the way they are done in the local culture. 

wine menu with ombra prices

Venetians love to spend their evenings “fare l’ombra” (having an ombra), which involves hopping from one wine bar or bacarò (cicchetti bar) to another, enjoying a variety of small bites and drinks along the way. Ombra is not just a drink, but also a social activity and a way of life in Venice. So if you’re looking for an authentic Venetian experience, head to a cicchetti bar, order an ombra, and savor the delicious bites that this city has to offer.

When is the worst time to visit Venice? Read the full article here!

Primi (First Course)

In Italian cuisine, primi are the first courses of a meal, typically consisting of pasta or rice dishes. In Venetian cuisine, primi are an important part of the traditional food culture, often showcasing the region’s unique ingredients and flavors.

Nero di Seppia

spaghetti al nero di seppia in venice italy

One of the most famous Venetian primi dishes is risotto or spaghetti al nero di seppia, which is a black squid ink risotto. The dish gets its color and distinctive flavor from the ink of the cuttlefish or squid that is added to the rice during cooking. The result is a rich and flavorful dish that’s perfect for seafood lovers.

It is a classic Venetian dish that is as delicious as it is scary to look at! You don’t have to be a hardcore seafood fan to enjoy it either as it is much more mild in flavor than it appears. 

Risi e Bisi

The name “risi e bisi” translates to “rice and peas” in Venetian dialect, reflecting the dish’s simple yet delicious ingredients. To make risi e bisi, Arborio or Carnaroli rice is cooked with broth and onion until it’s creamy and tender. 

Fresh peas are then added to the risotto and cooked until they’re tender but still firm, giving the dish a burst of sweetness and texture.

It’s finished with some butter to make it extra creamy. This risotto is served looser and slightly brothy than in other regions. This is called “all’onda” which translates to “on the wave”. Served with one of the many local wines, it is a nice way to start a meal. 

Bigoli in Salsa

Bigoli in salsa is a traditional Venetian pasta dish that’s made with thick, spaghetti-like noodles called bigoli and a sauce made from onions, anchovies, and butter. It’s a simple but delicious dish that is another example of la cucina povera or poverty cuisine. Anchovies are a popular food in Venice as they are easy to preserve and don’t cost much.

You do need to enjoy a strong fish flavor to enjoy this dish as there are a lot of anchovies in it. I happen to love anchovies and enjoy this dish quite a bit.

Spaghetti con Vongole

Another popular Venetian primi dish is spaghetti alle vongole, which is spaghetti with clams. The dish is typically made with fresh clams, garlic, white wine, and parsley, and a splash of lemon juice, resulting in a light and refreshing pasta dish that’s perfect for a summer day.

Keep in mind that this classic dish is served with the clams in the shell still. You’ll see this all over Italy since it shows the customer that fresh clams were used and not the ones out of a can.

Read my picks on the most romantic hotels in Venice here!

Secondi (Main Courses)

In Italian cuisine, secondi are the second courses of a meal, typically consisting of meat or fish dishes. In Venetian cuisine, secondi dishes are often centered around fresh seafood, reflecting the city’s history and proximity to the water.

Fegato alla veneziana (Venetian-style liver and onions)

This classic Venetian dish is a must-try for liver lovers. Thin slices of tender calf or beef liver are cooked with stewed onions and butter until they’re golden brown and deliciously savory. The dish has a hearty and comforting quality that’s perfect for colder days. Paired with a glass of red wine and fresh bread, fegato alla veneziana is a true Venetian comfort food that’s not to be missed.

Sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines)

This traditional Venice food makes an appearance in different courses as it is great as a cicchetto on a piece of crostino, or in this case as a main course with some polenta. 

Fresh sardines are marinated in vinegar, onions, and raisins, creating a tangy and sweet taste that’s sure to tantalize your taste buds. The dish is often served cold or room temperature, making it a perfect choice for a hot summer day. If you’re looking for an authentic taste of local cuisine, sarde in saor is a must-try when you eat in Venice.

Polenta e schie (polenta and shrimp)

Polenta e schie (a Venetian word for shrimp) is a classic food in Venice. Creamy polenta is topped with tender, succulent shrimp that have been cooked in garlic, white wine, and parsley. The combination of the creamy, savory polenta and the delicate shrimp is irresistible. 

Polenta con schie is a true Venetian delight that’s perfect for a romantic dinner or a hearty lunch. Essentially, it’s Italian shrimp and grits!

typical venetian bar sign

Fried moeche (soft-shell crabs)

If you’re a seafood lover, you won’t want to miss this classic Venetian dish. Soft-shell crabs are lightly battered and deep fried to crispy perfection, creating a dish that’s both crunchy and succulent. Served as an appetizer or snack, fried moeche is a popular local dish that you need to eat in Venice.

If you want to try these you have to time your visit to Venice for either April, May or October, November. Either of those times are great for visiting Venice as you also get the bonus of fewer crowds and lower hotel rates. 

Want to cook at your hotel or hostel? Read the guide on shopping at the Rialto Market!

Whole Roasted Fish

Venetian food can also be very simple but still delicious because of the freshness. For instance, it is very common to see whole fish being offered at many of the local restaurants. Fish like sea bass, bream, or turbot are either grilled whole or roasted in the oven and then simply served with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Served with some grilled local vegetables from the Rialto Market and some ubiquitous polenta and Venice food doesn’t get any better.

fritto misto or mixed seafood in Venice

Fritto Misto

Fritto misto is a popular seafood dish that originated in Italy and is now enjoyed all over the world. The name translates to “mixed fry,” and refers to the way the dish is prepared – a variety of seafood, such as shrimp, calamari, and small fish, is lightly coated in flour or batter and then deep-fried until crispy and golden.

The result is a flavorful and satisfying dish that’s perfect as an appetizer or a main course. In Venice, fritto misto is often served with a side of lemon wedges and nothing else since the seafood is so fresh. In Venice, fritto misto can be found in many traditional seafood restaurants and is a must-try for anyone looking to sample the local cuisine.

assorted pastries in Venice


After indulging in all of the delicious savory dishes Venice has to offer, it’s time to satisfy your sweet tooth with some traditional Venetian desserts. Here are some must-try sweet treats:

  • Tiramisù: This classic Italian dessert is a favorite all around the world, and for good reason. Layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers are layered with a creamy mixture of mascarpone cheese, egg yolks, and sugar, creating a rich and indulgent dessert that’s sure to please. Tiramisù is a staple of Venetian sweets since it was invented in Treviso, not far from Venice and is not to be missed.
  • Fritole: These delicious Venetian-style fritters are a beloved local dessert. Made with a dough of flour, yeast, and sugar, they’re typically filled with raisins or pine nuts and dusted with powdered sugar. They’re perfect for enjoying with a cup of coffee or tea, and make for a sweet and satisfying snack.
  • Baicoli: These long, thin, biscuit-like cookies are a beloved Venetian dessert. They’re made from a dough of flour, sugar, and butter and are traditionally served with a glass of sweet wine or a cup of coffee. Baicoli are crispy, buttery, and just the right amount of sweet, making them the perfect way to end a meal.
  • Zabaione: This rich and creamy dessert is a Venetian classic. Made from egg yolks, sugar, and sweet Marsala wine, it’s a decadent treat that’s perfect for special occasions. It’s typically served warm or cold, and can be enjoyed on its own with baicoli for dipping or used as a topping for cakes or pastries.
  • Fregolotta: This traditional Venetian cookie is a large, round disc made from a buttery shortbread dough and studded with almonds or pine nuts. It’s perfect for sharing with friends and family, and is a popular dessert to enjoy during the Christmas holidays.
  • Crostoli: These delicate, deep-fried pastries are a favorite in Venetian cuisine. They’re typically served dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with honey, creating a sweet and crispy treat that’s perfect for any occasion. They are typically only seen in the various traditional bakeries around Easter, however. 
  • Gelato: Don’t expect it to be like ice cream you are familiar with when you eat gelato. If you have never had Italian gelato before you’re in for a treat. Gelato is typically made with milk, sugar, and flavorings such as fruit, chocolate, or nuts, and is churned at a slower speed than ice cream, resulting in a denser, silkier texture. It is also typically served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, making it easier to scoop and enhancing its flavor.
selection of fresh gelato in venice italy

Make sure to check out my picks for the best coffee shops in Venice!

What to Drink in Venice

When it comes to drinks, Venice has a rich tradition of wine bars that serve local wines and cocktails that perfectly complement the local cuisine. Here are some traditional drinks to try when you’re exploring the city:

  • Spritz: This classic Venetian cocktail is a refreshing and bubbly blend of Aperol or Campari, soda water, and prosecco. The combination of bitter and sweet flavors makes it a perfect aperitif or accompaniment to cicchetti. The spritz has become an iconic symbol of Venetian culture and is a must-try when you’re visiting the city.
  • Prosecco: This famous sparkling wine from the Veneto region is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Made from the Glera grape, it’s light and fruity with a crisp, refreshing finish. It’s perfect for celebrating special occasions or simply enjoying with friends over a plate of cicchetti. The Prosecco Road where you can visit the wineries making Prosecco is only an hour from Venice and makes a great day trip. 
  • Pinot Grigio: This dry white wine is a popular choice in Venetian wine bars. Produced in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, it’s known for its light and refreshing taste with a delicate floral aroma.
  • Valpolicella: This red wine is made from a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes and comes from the Veneto region. It has a rich, fruity flavor with a hint of spice and pairs well with meat dishes like fegato alla veneziana.
  • Amarone: This luxurious red wine is made from dried Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes, giving it a rich and complex flavor with notes of dark fruit, chocolate, and tobacco. It’s perfect for savoring on a cold winter evening with a plate of hearty pasta.
  • Ribolla Gialla: This dry white wine is a staple in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. It has a crisp, refreshing taste with a hint of citrus and pairs well with seafood dishes like sarde in saor.

What About Pizza in Venice?

When it comes to pizza in Venice, it’s important to set your expectations accordingly. While pizza is a beloved food all over Italy, Venice is not known for its pizza – in fact, I can tell you that it’s difficult to find a truly great slice in the city. 

The reasons for this are twofold: first, wood ovens are not allowed in the city, meaning that traditional Neapolitan-style pizza is not an option. Second, many pizzerias in Venice cater primarily to tourists, meaning that quality is not always a top priority.

That being said, this isn’t to say that you should avoid pizza in Venice altogether. There are certainly some pizzerias in the city that are worth visiting – but it’s important to do your research beforehand to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Look for pizzerias that have a reputation for using high-quality ingredients and traditional methods, and try to avoid places that seem to cater primarily to tourists. And when ordering pizza in Venice, be prepared for a different experience than you might have in other parts of Italy – the pizza may not be perfect, but it can still be delicious in its own way.

Tips for Finding Authentic Restaurants

avoid menus with pictures of the food as it's a tourist trap

Finding an authentic restaurant in Venice, Italy can be a delightful experience if you know what to look for. Here are some tips to help you find a genuine Venetian dining experience:

  • Avoid tourist hotspots: Stay away from popular tourist areas like Piazza San Marco and Rialto Bridge, as they tend to have more overpriced and less authentic restaurants. Explore quieter neighborhoods, such as Cannaregio or Dorsoduro, for local eateries. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. There are some good restaurants even in those tourist hotspots but you have to know what they are ahead of time. 
  • Look for small, family-owned restaurants: Authentic Venetian cuisine is often found in small, family-run trattorias and osterias. Look for places with a limited menu, handwritten signs, and a welcoming atmosphere.
  • Check the menu: A menu written in multiple languages may indicate a restaurant catering to tourists. Look for menus in Italian with regional specialties, such as what was earlier described in this article. If the menu has pictures of the food then this is generally not a good sign.
  • Observe locals: If you see Italians dining at a restaurant, it’s a good sign that it’s authentic. Keep an eye out for places where local Venetian families, workers, or friends are gathered.
  • Ask locals for recommendations: Don’t be shy to ask Venetians for their favorite places to eat. They will likely be more than happy to share their insider tips. One of my favorite restaurants in Venice, Trattoria da Marisa, was recommended to me by a gondolier and I have been dining there for 25 years since.
  • Read my recommendations: I am a food lover and have tried a lot of different restaurants, wine bars, and other eateries in the years I have been living here. Check out my article on the best places to eat in Venice and use that as a guide to find some authentic restaurants. 

Wrapping It Up

So, what to eat in Venice? The answer is simple – everything! With so many traditional dishes and local specialties to try, you can spend weeks exploring the culinary delights of this amazing city. From the savory and satisfying cicchetti to the sweet and refreshing gelato, there’s something for every taste and every occasion. 

So why not plan your next trip to Venice with food as the main attraction? You won’t be disappointed!

Make sure to check out more helpful tips to visit Venice and get the most out of the experience by checking out the links to more articles below.

Sal Presti

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