Built on a handful of islands around Rialto (118 islands later on), Venice was first a hamlet amongst terre a fior’d’acqua and barene (stretches of mud that are regularly under water, depending on the tides)
Le barene (terra anfibia) seen from above, green in summer but brown in autumn and wnter
Starting with salt gardens amongst nothing else but water and a few islands permanently above water, as part of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, it developed close commercial relatioships with Bisanzio and the Middle East, trading everything for what it had – fine and coarse salt.
By aptly marketing itself (–> the word furbizia developed from here, being able to arrange oneself with the world and sometimes dire circumstances in one’s life), the merchants of Venice traded and intermediated all kinds of goods, luxury and not; and they collected a lot of know-how from the east and its ever-traveling merchants. This know-how helped build a commercial empire and political clout that was even strenghtened at the times of the first crociate – the crusades, when Venice provided in its arsenal – the Venetian word became a mainstream expression – the ships the European monarchs needed to get their troups across to the Holy Land.
Il Leone di San Marco with open book, that means Venice is not engaged in a war
In any case, Venice cuisine developed from the local garden herbs, vegetables, fish and ducks from the lagoon, and on the other hand, from the sophisticated spices that Venetian merchants brought back from their voyages. But Venetians not only re-sold these spices – they elaborated on them, creating their own mixtures (i sacchetti veneziani spice mixtures). In some noble and merchant families, we can find libraries full of these treasures.
The Canal Grande where many of these nobles and merchants trading in spice lived
Venice soon opened embassies and trade posts all over the World know then. For this reason, and because Venice people have always been open and curious, many people who could or would not find home elsewhere, settled in the lagoon. Many minority population groups flourished in the lagoon, such as the Greek, Albanian, Armenian and Jewish communities. Many countries held trading posts and opened embassies in Venice, like the Germans and the Turks.
The Church of the Greek Community in Venice: San Giorgio dei Greci Campo Ghetto Vecchio – here lives the Jewish community Fondaco dei Turchi – trading post of the Turks on the Canal Grande
The foreign guests in the Lagoon also brought with them their culinary treasures, with the result that curious Venetians integrated these traditions into their own cooking habits.
What has come out is a melting pot and bridge of tastes and scents of the East, unique in Europe, but mostly unknown to most of us nowadays.
Le barene and the island of Torcello on the left
On this website, we aim to gradually explore and divulge bits and pieces of this rich culinary heritage, by providing some hints on the ingredients, cooking recommendations and by indicating where one can taste these unique recipes when visiting Venice and its lagoon.