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Venice, 2008

The Rialto market

If you go over the Rialto bridge from St Mark, you immediately get into the wonderful Rialto market. It starts with touristy stuff, but you soon get into the food market. For foodies like me it is a real treat.

Even in late March the vegetable market is full of great produce. The asparagus is already in season in southern Italy and is sent North every day. The artichokes come in various colors, as well as already trimmed. How do these zucchini flowers manage to come all the way from Sicily without completely wilting? Some things are a bit unusual, like this radicchio di Treviso which can be eaten cooked as well as raw. You would never see this in the US: a store that specializes in horse and donkey meat and salami!

The best is the fish market. Stalls after stalls display a great variety of extremely fresh seafood like these mackerels. The branzino is a delicious fish that you will find in most restaurant menus. In the US, only the tail of the monkfish is usually displayed, but here they seem to take a pleasure in showing off its great maw. Among the cephalopods, the seppia, or cuttlefish is the most prized. It is served cooked in its ink, with fried polenta. The shellfish and crustaceans are also plentiful. There is a kind of shrimp called canocchie (or canoce in the local dialect), with what looks like big eyes on the tail. They are often served as part of a seafood appetizer. The spider crabs are still alive. They will soon become granceola al limone, served in their shell with fettucine.

Eating out in Venice is quite expensive, but we did find a few restaurants that we liked and would not completely break the bank. I might recommend Da Ignazio in the Calle di Saoneri in the San Polo area. Ai Artisti is a friendly wine bar on Fundamenta Toletta in Dorsoduro. Ai Vecio Fritolin, Calle della Regina in Santa Croce has interesting dishes. Vino Vino is near the Fenice on Calle delle Veste and is a good place to go after the opera. The Trattoria da Remigio, on Salizzada dei Graci near the arsenal, offers very good value for money. We were seated next to a group of men who were boisterously enjoying themselves. One of them though, the one in the tan sweater, who appeared to be the leader of the group, seemed a bit more subdued, as if something was on his mind, and I kept thinking: "This must be what the real last supper was like, not the serious affair of the iconography: a joyous celebration with one guy a little worried". We did not find out what the occasion was, if any, but at the end of the meal our waiter disappeared for what seemed like a long time. Finally we saw him coming down the street laden with several bottles of Prosecco that our neighbors had ordered. They were kind enough to give us a glass too. Maybe that is why this restaurant became my favorite.

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