The biggest wine trade show in Italy is called Vinitaly, held around the beginning of April every year in Verona. A few years back, I got the chance to accompany my husband to this wine fair and help out his family winery at their stand in the Lombardy pavilion.
In the afternoon, I wandered around the enormous trade show, tasting wines and learning about varietals and wine companies. As I was making my way back to my husband’s stand, I heard someone speaking Italian with an American accent. It stopped me in my tracks, “I’m not the only one!”
The American accent belonged to a lady behind a tasting bar explaining the wines she was serving and talking like a sommelier! Turns out she was a sommelier, so, no surprise there. I introduced myself and before you knew it, we were exchanging numbers and planning the next time to meet up. Expats need to stick together!
VENETIAN HAPPY HOUR
We had the chance to get together with my American friend and her Venetian husband several times. The first time we went to Venice to see them, we went for an aperitivo at 11am. Yes, happy hour can also be before lunch in Italy. However, my friends didn’t call it “aperitivo”, they called “cicchetto”.
If you look up “cicchettare” in the Italian dictionary, you will find that the first definition means “to scold”. Cicchettare in Venice, however, means to go to an osteria/bar and eat bite-size portions of fish, seafood and open-face sandwiches and drink a spritz or a glass of wine to accompany the small dishes. One more thing – if you know the word, “cicchetto”, then you should also know the word “bacaro” which is another Venetian word for “osteria.”
APERITIVO VS. CICCHETTO
There are a few differences between going out for an aperitivo and cicchettare:
- Apertivo here in the Oltrepò means that once you buy a drink, the buffet at the bar is included and you can enjoy whatever is made available. When you go out for a cicchetto, you not only pay for your drink but also for every dish or open sandwich you order.
- Why is cicchetto more expensive than a standard aperitivo? Quality. I’ve got pictures below to show what is offered at these bacari. A standard aperitivo will get you some mini pizzas, chips, focacce, olives, parmigiano, and if you’re lucky, some slices of salame.
- Usually, when you go out for an aperitivo, you just go to one bar and you stay there. From what I understood, cicchettare involves bacaro-hopping (going from one osteria to the next), kind of like tapas.
I don’t believe that it is just coincidence that tapas and cicchetto are similar. The Spaniards ruled over what is now Italy from the late middle ages until the early modern period. Although Spain never ruled the Republic of Venice directly there was still much trade and interaction with the Spaniards. Therefore, I believe that it also had an influence on Venetian culture. Take for example the name for “street”. In Italy, when you see a street sign, you will find the name of the street preceded by the word “via”. In Venice, you won’t find the name of the street preceded by the Italian word, “via”, but by the Spanish word, “calle”.
That’s just what I heard from some locals and to me, it makes sense. However, I would love to hear from any expert on the topic to see if I am correct or not!
Getting back to what’s important: Cicchetto.
The last time I was in Venice, I stopped by a few bacari to cicchettare and luckily had the patience to take pictures before I devoured the food. If you are planning to visit Venice, take note of these bacari that I went to as they are not to be missed!
At Osteria Do Colonne where you can find crostini with prosciutto and mushrooms, crostini with lard, grilled squid, polenta, sardines and baccalà.
At Vino Vero: an excellent wine bar, friendly service and mouth-watering crostini
At Paradiso Perduto. My friends (locals) recommended I come to this place. Unfortunately, it was closed the day I was in Venice. If you get a chance to try it out, let me know what you think!