Rick Steves' Unusual Tip For Sniffing Out Local Food In This European City

Dining can be complicated when seeking an authentic local experience in a popular destination like Venice. Unless you can explore any city like a local, you'll discover that most restaurants cater to tourists and overflow with people speaking seemingly every language but Italian. Besides their own homes, then, where do the residents eat? Rick Steves solves this puzzle on his website, Rick Steves' Europe. He says to head for "hole-in-the-wall pubs" that serve "cicchetti" or early evening appetizers, some of which are "ugly-looking morsels on toothpicks" but taste pretty good. 

The European travel expert claims that to find the bars (called bacari locally) that serve these morsels, you have to roam the city. Start early in the evening and steer clear of tourist hotspots. If you get a little tired, all the better. This meandering approach will ensure you're famished when you reach your destination. Plus, the whole city is on an island, so you won't get very far before you run smack dab into a bacari, which you'll recognize by its non-descript exterior. The other dead giveaway is that you'll find Italians inside — che meraviglia! 

The cicchetti experience

When you enter the bacari, if it's a proper one, you'll see stand-up areas amidst clusters of tables. Feel free to join the animated chaos and chat with a local or two, as it's all part of the experience. Steves describes the social nature of a typical cicchetti crawl (called giro d'ombra). He notes, "Connecting with people makes a pub crawl more fun: You can meet an Italian, learn some Italian, eat better ... " Another great thing about delicious cicchetti is that they're easy on the wallet. A plate of cicchetti will set you back around $10.

Cicchetti can be varied and includes foods such as olives, cheese, vegetables, seafood, and meatballs combined in colorful and delightfully creative ways. They can be served alone or on crostini, which are small slices of bread. Alongside your cicchetti, enjoy a few glasses of local wine, like Prosecco, produced in an enchanting, hilly wine region north of Venice. As an alternative to wine, order a brightly colored spritz, a blend of Prosecco, soda water, and either Campari or Aperol, which are bitter Italian liqueurs. However, don't drink spritz with your main meal to avoid being side-eyed by Italians

Recommended cicchetti bars in Venice

If you need recommendations rather than wandering aimlessly, here are a few cicchetti bars to consider the next time you're in Venice. Cantine del Vino già Schiavi offers a wonderful selection of local wines and open-faced sandwiches with striking mixes of ingredients, such as puréed chestnut paired with robiola cheese. Another ensemble features chopped tuna sprinkled with brandy sauce and bitter cocoa, a flavor so remarkable that it won a culinary award in Mexico City. 

Another recommended spot is Cantina do Spade, a historic osteria near the Rialto Bridge that dates back to 1488. Its cicchetti menu features small plates of spicy meatballs, olive-stuffed squid, and fried squash flowers, among other savory nibbles. Finally, behind the Rialto fish market is the old bacari, All'Arco Venezia, which serves fresher than fresh crostini and acts as a kind of neighborhood establishment. All'Arco "is one of the places where Venetians come to feel Venetian," its owner, Matteo Pinto, told the New York Times.