Traditional Food is The Heart of a Culture
We’ve heard it before — if you really want to get to the heart of a culture, eat the food, right? We love trying traditional foods wherever we go around the world like we did in Bologna and Chile for example - because eating what the locals eat, where they eat it, practically guarantees you an authentic view of whatever culture you’re exploring. It's the ultimate slow travel experience. So wouldn’t it be great then to dine with a local family in their home, on a meal prepared by them? It’s a simple thing, but wouldn’t that just be the icing on the cake? Well, that’s just what we did recently in Venice, Italy of all places. After a full day spent exploring Venice's Garden of the Doge on the island of Sant'Erasmo, we were invited to the home of a local professional chef and his wife, a local painter and Venetian mask artisan, for a late dinner of traditional Venetian food.
If you think about it — sitting down to an authentic dinner is just about as cultural of an experience as you can get anywhere. It’s the time when people relax and unwind. The dinner conversation enlightens you as to what’s happening in the local community: politics, art, pop culture, the economy, and a host of other issues. But when you break bread with locals, you also find commonality in other things too like their food traditions, and even their children and family. Then of course, there’s the food.
We'd had an absolutely amazing day walking the quieter streets of Venice and then bicycling and exploring the island of Sant'Erasmo visiting local food and wine producers with our local guide Lorenzo. Later we capped off the afternoon with a boat ride back through the outlying canals of Venice. We watched the sun set over the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute while bobbing along comfortably in our traditional wooden boat as we watched the crowds near Piazza San Marco climb over each other for a photo op. We saw so much of Venice that day without ever once setting foot in the tourist traps with shoulder to shoulder crowds.
We arrived at Nino and Nini’s home at 9:00pm as scheduled after Marco tied up the boat and we walked across a quaint little bridge to their front door. For the next three hours - yup, three hours - we dined, and chatted, and savored, and chatted and savored some more. Because when you dine in Italy, it’s never a quick meal, or a meal that’s eaten on the run like grabbing pizza or gelato. No, that’s a snack.
Dinner is a time to savor each bite and celebrate with family and friends. And you break out the good stuff at the end to toast the day.
Traditional Italian Food in Venice
You could argue that there's no such thing as Italian food. As with many countries where geographic variations in size, climate, terrain, and other factors yield traditional foods that are unique region by region, Italy also has distinct regional foods. Food that's typically Italian in one area may not be available in a neighboring region because it's out of season, or the climate isn't right to produce it. The foods in Venice were very different from other areas we've eaten in Italy. Check out our dinner menu in the gallery below:
TIP: The Dinner Hour in Italy
Italians eat dinner much later than some other countries around the world. In the US, we tend to eat dinner around 6:00 or 7:00pm, just when Italians are enjoying Aperitivo - their version of Happy Hour. Many Americans who come to Italy think Aperitivo is dinner time, so they gobble up the free goodies that come with ordering cocktails or wine, and think they’re done for the night. And they probably are. But go out to a restaurant a few hours later and you’ll see dinner in full swing. So if you really want to enjoy dinner in Italy, pace yourself! ;-)
If You Go
If you love having authentic food and cultural experiences like this, you can arrange a dinner date with Nino and Nini at their lovely garden home in Venice.
Cost: The cost of our all-inclusive dinner was $50 USD per person - which we felt was an excellent value. The addition of spending the evening with good company in a lovely Venetian setting was free! (Cost may vary depending on the menu and your additional tour activities).
Contact Lorenzo, our local guide and Italian Days Sales Manager in Venice, for more info.