It’s probably safe to say that Venice beat Walt Disney to the title of “most magical place on earth” by over a thousand years. But like so many things, The Most Serene Republic is a city built on compromise.
The first people to settle on these damp heaps of mud didn’t do so out of choice. They came here to escape the rather unpleasant chaps who had a penchant for coming down to Italy and setting things on fire. The islands we now refer to as Venice, scattered as they are throughout a shallow Adriatic lagoon, started life as seasonal refugee camps. It wasn’t until AD 421 that Venice became a permanent settlement, and even then, it was a destination for groups that had been driven from their homes elsewhere.
It’s a place chosen by people who didn’t really have all that much choice left. And even after things got a little more permanent – mud and wood gradually providing the foundation for masonry and stone – Venice spent much of its history practicing its own version of realpolitik and enjoying its independence thanks to the grace of some other Empire’s favour. This compromise is also clear in the food.
I had intended on kicking off what I hope will become a short series of articles exploring the intricacies of Venetian food with something inflammatory, maybe along the lines of “don’t come to Venice for the food.” But that would be disingenuous, not to mention a tad libellous. A more accurate, and certainly more diplomatic opening would be don’t come here for “Italian” food. Venetian food is the product of a unique set of geographical and historical circumstances that have given rise to a food culture that is entirely its own, rarely fussy, often surprising, and if you know what to look for – or more importantly where to look – groan-inducingly delicious.
So join me next week for Part One: This Food Was Made for Walking.