The words “cicchetti crawl” might conjure up images of creepy, spiny things inching their way across the ocean floor.
Or they might make you think of yummy snacks under the glass case of a Venetian bar!
I was the fortunate guest to join food expert Monica Cesarato on one of her cicchetti crawls through Venice this past summer. She was squiring a mother and daughter through Venice’s back alleys to try traditional and special foods at a variety of restaurants, and I got to tag along.
We met near the train station and I was introduced to our companions for this crawl. We strolled down the Lista di Spagna to begin our journey at a gelateria that looks like most tourist joints but actually makes everything by hand of the best fresh ingredients. I settled on my favorite stracciatella, reasoning that it’s easier to compare their stracciatella to my go-to flavor from other shops. It did not disappoint.
We continued down Venice’s busy thoroughfare as Monica provided more background information about gelato, cicchetti, and slow food. After crossing the Guglia bridge, we turned left and then right into the Ghetto. In just the last couple years, this neighborhood has been going through a renaissance, with local artisans, chefs, and entrepreneurs opening a slew of new shops. We first stopped at a bakery that specializes in traditional Venetian pastries, all kosher ones. (This same place is featured in the episode of Somebody Feed Phil where he tries the fennel seed, the same one that Monica insisted we try.)
Monica was greeted a number of times by locals and shop owners. We admired the leather bags and goods at La Scola, a new shop featuring unique handmade works, well worth checking out. Clearly, Monica is known and loved and has tips with all the insiders and locals!
We passed through the Ghetto and back in the general direction towards the Rialto, being engulfed by a swarm of teens who quickly passed us by. We were too engaged in listening to Monica’s explanations about the foods we were about to try. I generally pride myself on knowing a lot about Venice, but clearly I’m a novice. Monica taught me so many new things about Venetian cicchetti, wine, specialties, and, thankfully, chocolate–in fact tipping me off to the best chocolate in town (which I explored on my own the next day). We reached our next destination, and after greeting the owners and staff, we settled at an outdoor table. We were treated to local wine and various types of bruschetta with yummy toppings.
But that was not yet enough! After this mini-feast, we continued onward to our last designation, a new-ish cicchetteria that keeps traditional foods alive. Here we tasted more goodies and a drink they have invented. I will definitely return for more and can’t wait to bring friends here on my next trip!
You’ll notice that I didn’t name any of the places Monica brought us to because I want HER to take you there herself! You can enjoy the food and drink and certainly her company and her vast knowledge of Venetian comestibles. Book ahead, as she can be quite busy! And tell her I sent you! Check out her tours here at monicacesarato.com.
Monica also contributed a chapter to First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts where she tells of her first memory of Venice, so you can see that she has been in love with this city her whole life! Here’s a taste of that chapter:
“A hot, sweltering, typical summer day in Italy in 1972.
My father’s Vespa dashes fast along the Ponte della Libertà, the nearly four kilometer bridge built by Mussolini in 1933, connecting the terrafermato the beautiful city of Venice.
Standing upright on the footrest at the front, nestled between my father’s arms while he rides, peeking on my right, I can just make out the outlines of Porto Marghera, one of the largest coastal industrial areas in Europe, so imposing with its high chimneys and towers.
To my left I can see a train whizzing by, all windows open, passengers trying to catch a breath of fresh air, disheveled hair and red faces: trains in Italy in the ’70s did not come with air conditioning!
My mother is a pillion at the back, wearing a headscarf, her straying pitch-black hair locks escaping the grip of the silk cloth. My dad, so dashing with his thick moustaches, looks like a motorbike racer. None of us is wearing a safety helmet, of course!
The windshield stops the hot air and the thousands of mosquitoes from crashing into my face, and I am so thankful for that: I tasted ants and mosquitoes a few weeks back, did not like them much!
I laugh, exhilarated by the sight which appears to my eyes and the sensation of speed—in all fairness, knowing my dad, he probably was going very slow, but to me it felt like we were going as fast as a Ferrari Testarossa!
And then I can see it in all its beauty, breathtaking, standing on water, like a heron: there it is, Venice!”