Cicheti are snacks of various kinds to be enjoyed in one bite. They are the Venetian version of tapas and can be found in all the bars of the city, ideal for a break while wandering through the streets and canals.
The centuries-old tradition of cicheti is exclusive to the Venice lagoon, a city that Thomas Mann described as: «Half fairy tale and half trap». In the fifteenth century, Venice was already among the richest and most powerful European cities. It attracted, therefore, the best chefs of the time. The many bakeries that lined the streets and fields were affected by the influence and trade of Venice. So, they began to serve many different foods in small portions. Venetian tradition of eating them with a glass of wine is still alive today.
The famous wine shadow. The wine of the house, often. Very cheap, genuine and convivial. Today, aperitifs also call for trying the Venetian spritz; don’t forget to try the fragolino as well if you are staying for a while.
What are cicheti?
Cicheti are appetizers served hot or cold. The name comes from the Latin word ciccus, which means very small quantity. It refers to the size of the preparation. They range from olives to hard-boiled eggs to micro-portions of fish, meat or vegetable dishes on slices of bread.
Cicheti are traditionally served in bàcari, derived from Bacco, suggestive bars that follow one another along the canals of Venice.
There is nothing simpler than ordering a cicheto. You just need to go to the counter and indicate what you want. Fish is a staple of Venetian cuisine. The fried fish is always tasty; oysters and shellfish are never lacking, as well as salt cod and sardines in saor (marinated in vinegar and onion); all accompanied by polenta croutons. Among other specialties are meatballs of various kinds; arancini (fried rice balls), zucchini flowers and moscardini (small octopus). To find a typical place that has cicheti, it is best if you leave the main streets of Venice and look for those bars frequented by Venetians.
These tours in search of snacks accompanied by wine are defined by locals as: andar per ombre. The best times are in the morning or in the evening. At the time of the classic aperitif, after the Covid.
The 10 favorite cicheti of Venetians
Mesi vovi co’ l’aciugheta (half eggs with anchovy). These are nothing more than hard-boiled eggs cut in half, seasoned with salt, pepper and oil, garnished with anchovy in oil.
Nerveti coe segoe (nervetti with onions). Nervetti are part of the fifth quarter of beef. In Venice, since the Middle Ages, they have been eaten boiled, cut into small pieces, seasoned with tiny sliced onion, salt, pepper, oil, and marinated in vinegar.
Spiensa (spleen). Another bovine offal that is cooked in boiling salted water for about an hour. Once ready, remove the first skin, the thicker one, let it cool, then slice thinly into strips and season with salt, pepper and oil.
They are also prepared in variants with tuna and eggplant. Still, the classic meatballs are those of meat, traditionally prepared with leftover boiled meat and minced with iuganega (long sausage) or ham or mortadella. Everything is mixed together with an egg, a generous grating of parmesan cheese, boiled potato and fransada (coarsely crushed with the prongs of a fork) to keep the mixture soft, and a little chopped garlic. Form small balls, neither so big nor so small, and crush them. After having passed them directly in the breadcrumbs, they are fried in abundant oil. They are good both hot and cold.
Folpeti (medium-sized octopus or octopus).
After having cleaned them internally, remove their eyes and mouth, and boil them in a pot of salted water. They are boiled one at a time, immersed by the head in the boiling water, two or three times until the dresse (tentacles) curl up, then they are immersed and brought to cooking. The small ones are left whole, while the larger ones are cut in half and seasoned with pepper, oil and celery cut into small pieces.
Crostini col baccaeà mantecato (slices of crunchy bread with creamed salt cod)
This is the Venetian recipe par excellence. It is part of history: in 1432, the merchant patrician Piero Querini was shipwrecked with his crew off the Norwegian Lofoten Islands. Rescued on the island of Rost, the captain realized that the population was eating a strange fish, first dried in the sun and the polar wind and then revived and consumed. Before returning to his homeland, he made a shipment of this stockfish, but on his arrival in Venice, no one considered it, given the abundance of fresh fish offered by the lagoon, the rii (canals) and the sea.
It took more than a century before it received its honors, and this happened when the Council of Trento, in 1563, forbade the consumption of meat for about 200 days, recommending stockfish every Wednesday and Friday of Lent. It soon became a delicious dish, which Venetians called baccalà (dried salted cod) for assonance with the Spanish word bacalao, derived from the Latin baculus, that is a stick. Even the term mantecato derives from the Spanish word mantequilla, meaning “to batter” because the cod, after being soaked for three days in cold running water, is boiled, cleaned and battered, pouring oil in a trickle, with a ladle until it becomes creamy. After all, Venetian and Spanish are also language brothers in the toponymy.
Sardee marinae (marinated anchovies).
They must be gutted, cleaned, de-boned blasted and kept in the freezer at -18º C for 72 hours. They are then thawed and marinated for hours in an emulsion of salt, pepper, oil, lemon and vinegar with the addition of garlic and parsley.
Poenta e Sopressa nostrana (polenta and Sopressa Vicentina D.O.P.). Small cubes of polenta with sopressa, a type of salami with a very special shape. It resembles cotechino but is much coarser in texture: it is typical of the Veneto and Friuli regions, “El deve esser queo de casada che petta” (it must be the homemade one, once cooked, becomes sticky). Before putting it into boiling water, it must be pierced all over so that the skin does not break while cooking. When it becomes soft, peel, slice immediately and serve hot.
Baked mussels (mussels au gratin). Mussels must be opened raw, keeping the part where the mussel is attached. Prepare a pesto made of parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs and oil, stuff them with the filling, sprinkle with a little white wine and put in a hot oven for about fifteen minutes.
It is important to know that the cicheti follow a seasonal pattern. Generally speaking, you can always find them, while others are only found at certain times of the year. Which are your favorites?