The Rialto Market
“What news on the Rialto?” Shylock asks in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. At that time the Rialto neighborhood of Venice was one of the busiest and most cosmopolitan in Europe. Goods from Asia, North Africa, and Western Europe flooded the docks each day and were sold in the Rialto Market. Although Rialto is no longer the trading hub it once was, the Market is still the main place to buy food in Venice. Every morning locals and tourists alike flow through its crowded corridors picking out the freshest fish, meat, and produce, much of it from the surrounding seas and countryside. For insight into one of the most unique and varied cuisines in Italy feast your senses on the culinary spectacle of the Rialto Market.
Visiting the Rialto Market: What to See
The Campo de la Pescaria
This is the produce market, which is confusing because its name literally translates to the “Field of Fish”. The name comes from the fact that the space for the market used to be occupied by the fish vendors, who have since been moved to another area simply called Pescaria. Due to an almost total lack of arable land, Venice has historically had to import all of their produce from the surrounding countryside. Throughout the reign of the Roman Empire this meant that Venetians, poor lagoon-dweller that they were, didn’t eat much fresh produce. However, the rise of the Venetian Maritime Republic in the middle ages allowed the city-state to conquer most of present-day Veneto and thus import the abundance of fresh produce grown in the rich soils of Northern Italy.
Nothing sums up Venetian culture better than seafood, and no place sums up Venetian seafood better than La Pescaria. Although it has moved various times since Venetians first moved their main markets to Rialto in 1079, La Pescaria remains the epicenter of the Venetian culinary scene. What did you expect from a city-state whose power was based on sea-going trade routes? Exploring the corridors of La Pescaria, you will encounter all manner of beloved Venetian delicacies like sardines, squid (with their ink), soft shell crabs, shrimp, salt cod, octopus, and whatever else the local fishermen have caught that day. Although the market showcased only locally-caught fish for many years, globalization and declining fish stocks in the Mediterranean have seen a rise in frozen, imported fish, which is clearly marked alongside the local stuff.
This small shop dedicated to spices and dried goods is a descendent of Venice’s long love-affair with exotic foodstuffs. As a hub for all sea trade between Asia, North Africa, and Europe in the Middle Ages, Venice became one of the main ports of entry for Eastern spices that were to be sold in Western markets. This meant that Venetian cuisine was often spiked with what were, at the time, rare and expensive tastes, like pepper and allspice. Venice was also the first city in Europe to embrace coffee and you can still buy some of the best bitter brew in the world from shops like Drogheria Mascari.
Eat and Drink
The area around the Rialto market is studded with cafes serving Venice’s specialty food: cicchetti. A cousin of the Spanish tapa, these small plates are made to be picked at while you sip on a local prosecco or the Venetian cocktail par-excellence, spritz – an effervescent mix of sparkling wine and soda water with a dash of bitter liqueur. Expect small sandwiches, skewers of fried seafood, and crostini or crunchy slivers of bread piled high with delectable toppings like flaked salt cod.
Tips for Seeing the Rialto Market
The produce market in the Campo de la Pescaria is open Monday through Saturday from 7:00am to 2:00pm (ish). The Rialto fish market (La Pescaria) is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7:00am to 2:00pm(ish)
As with all real markets, the earlier you go, the more buzz there will be. Vendors start to close up around 1:00pm and most will be gone by 2:00pm.
You don’t need tickets to visit the Rialto market but if you want to visit with a local foodie who can tell you about the history of Venetian food while showing you the best places for dinner and cicchetti you can take the Walks of Italy Venice Food Tour.
Don’t touch the food, even if you are buying. In Italy, the vendor always selects the food and bags it for you. This custom reflects the belief that a respectable vendor would never sell inferior quality food, and so can be trusted to choose the very best for his or her customers. There are specific instances when customers can inspect or even choose their own food, but they typically only happen between people who know each other very well.
When ordering drinks or cicchetti at a bar, tipping is not necessary or expected.
The Best Time to Visit the Rialto Market
If you want to see the Rialto Market at full steam, you have to go early. Show up at 7:00am sharp (or even a little before) grab a piping hot ristretto or cappuccino from a nearby cafe, and head into the market to soak up all the sights, sounds, and smells. If you go to the same area in the afternoon it will still be full of people but the vendors and locals will have been replaced by tourists and souvenir hawkers.
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January 19, 2015
With the start of the New Year, there's just one resolution that should be of your list: Travel to Italy in 2015. It's always a good time to visit Italy, but we think 2015 will be the best year yet! The 2015 Expo in Milan has motivated Italy to do some early spring-cleaning, ...More Info