Visiting a city is about seeing the sights, the monuments, the museums, knowing a bit about its history and breathing in the air – feeling like a local for those few days.
However, besides these well-known techniques, there are also others which can help you to get to know the character of a city even better. And, in combination, all of these techniques can help you feel a bit more like a local.
You could describe some of these techniques as being ‘recreational’ and perhaps a bit less cultural in nature: the first of these techniques is to go shopping at various places – not just the souvenir shops, but also the places the locals use, such as markets and the ordinary shops.
Another way of getting to know the place you are visiting is to sample the typical local cuisine – something very often more difficult to find, being increasingly superseded by an international pseudo-cuisine which aims to satisfy the primary need to feed customers, with something to suit everyone, whilst at times sacrificing tradition for questionable reinterpretations along the lines of ‘Master Chef.’
The classic Venetian cuisine offers a vast range of dishes which have their roots in ancient local traditions and also reflect contributions from other countries of the Mediterranean with which, in the past, Venice enjoyed important ties and contacts thanks to maritime trade.
At the present time there are many trattorie and restaurants which offer a choice of menus featuring typical Venetian recipes, often, as has been said, with milder flavours, accommodating somewhat to cater for the palates, tastes and habits of all the many tourists coming from every part of the world.
However, there are also trattorie which, at the right times of year, offer typical dishes prepared according to the old recipes, with names which take you back in time: ‘castradina’ is a soup made with mutton; ‘sarde in saor’ is an ancient technique for preserving sardines; ‘bigoi in salsa’ is spaghetti grazed with a condiment made from anchovies; ‘sepe col nero’ is a typical recipe for serving cuttlefish; and various risottos such as ‘co i bisi,’ with peas, or ‘de go,’ featuring typical small fish harvested in the sandy sea-beds of the Venetian Laguna.
Recipes range from fruits of the sea to the produce of the land, and, in particular, the first-fruits of the various islands of the Venetian Laguna – not to forget the various meats.
Some recipes can be prepared quickly and with a small number of ingredients, while others are more elaborate and take longer to prepare.
There are typical, traditional dishes which I think more or less everyone ate when they were little. To this day they have the same effect as Proust’s ‘madeleine;’ they take us back to our childhood when we returned home from school to find generous portions of these dishes waiting for us on the table – served steaming hot.
One of these recipes, which was often prepared at home, is the famous ‘fegato alla veneziana’ (Liver Venetian style). Its ingredients are white onions and cow’s or calf’s liver. In the past even pig’s liver was used – which has a stronger flavour.
Having the sliced the white onion into thin strips, toss it for a while in a large frying pan with a little butter, add half a glass of white wine and leave it to evaporate, making sure the onions don’t turn golden brown.
Meanwhile, slice the liver into little pieces or strips and add them to the frying pan with the onions, leaving it to cook for a few minutes, but not for too long, otherwise the liver will become too hard.
The sweet flavour of the onions tempers the strong taste of the liver and the dish is served with yellow maize polenta (semolina).