Just One Street Over | A Cicchetti & Wine Tour of Venice

Venice really does sound like something out of a fantasy novel. It’s an historic city of small islands in the middle of a lagoon, a pattern of criss-crossing canals and labyrinthine streets. It is a city traversed only by foot or water. You might find Venice swollen with thousands of masked and costumed revellers, or perhaps with the supernatural tides of the acqua alta. Venice is art and music and elegant decay.

Venice is cicchetti, and Venice is wine.

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We met Elisabetta in Campo de la Maddalenna late in the morning along with three other couples eager for a taste of the real Venice. It was clear that Elisabetta was a character; she was perpetually smiling and had a vigorous affection for the city she called home. She promised to show us the side of Venice many travellers miss, imparting a simple philosophy: ‘just one street over’. Yes, the city might seem crowded and touristy to those on the well-worn sightseer’s path – but divert as little as one street over and oftentimes you’ll find yourself in a whole other Venice. 

With that we slipped into this other Venice: cool and quiet streets where Elisabetta revealed her font of local knowledge. She led us to the Grand Canal where we crossed standing in a traghetto – a gondola used by locals simply to cross the Grand Canal when there is no bridge nearby. On the other side was the Rialto Market and here we explored the inspiration for all great dishes in Venice. This is the place where Venetian chefs shop for fresh, local ingredients on a daily basis – except for Mondays, when the market is closed (and this, Elisabetta urged, is why you should never eat at a Venetian restaurant that serves seafood on a Monday). 

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Most of the day’s catch had long disappeared by the time we arrived, but a few stalls still glistened brightly with octopus and crab, squid and scallop. It was precisely this moment in which Mat and I knew that upon next visit to Venice we would most definitely be staying in an apartment with a very well-equipped kitchen. Outside, the produce section was vivid with colour: red radishes and purple plums and more sun-dried tomatoes I’d ever seen before.

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It was quickly time to delve into the part of the tour we’d all been most eager for. Again, Elisabetta led us away from the throng – and yet not so far at all – to the door of our very first bàcaro, a special type of wine bar indeed. Bàcari are the home of cicchetti, Venice’s answer to tapas or pintxos. 

Cicchetti is perhaps the heart of Venetian food culture. Cicchetti bars began popping up around the Rialto Markets as a place for Venice’s fishermen and market workers to finish their day’s work with a quick bite and a glass of wine – no matter that these customers would, of course, be finishing their day’s work still very much in the morning hours. And for this, cicchetti is traditionally a daytime offering, extending to early evening at the latest and often with a closed period during the afternoon. 

Elisabetta magicked us through four different bàcari, each with its own unique history and personality. The cicchetti came thick and fast: little deep-fried sandwiches, toothpicks pierced with cured meats and pickled vegetables, polenta and crusty breads topped with all manner of fresh, seasonal ingredients. The cod paste was a wonderfully surprising favourite. You see why we eased into bàcaro life so very comfortably. In these small, hole-in-the-wall bars our little group hovered happily, a piece of cicchetti in one hand and a glass of local wine in the other.

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By two o’clock we’d arrived at our final cicchetti bar, where a sparkling Raboso wine enchanted a stay far, far longer than anticipated. It is indeed the custom to hop from one bàcaro to the next, but it seems we found ourselves rather content to while away the rest of the afternoon in this one. Elisabetta eventually sang her goodbyes, but the cicchetti and wine did not stop flowing at all. I would certainly recommend not planning anything for the rest of your day should you partake in this tour. The lovely folk at this cicchetti bar took care of us very well.

It is a very special kind of bliss to slow down and explore an incredible place like Venice through its food, and even moreso to be guided by the hand of a kind, passionate local. To spend a day learning and eating and drinking our way through the city centre’s quiet little corners, Elisabetta at helm and flanked by fellow foodies from across the world – this was one of those beautiful, perfect travel days that makes my heart swell just to remember. If you have but one day to spare for Venice, honestly – find a way to squeeze this tour in. The cicchetti trail waits for you too. x

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DETAILS:

I booked this tour through Urban Adventures, a wonderful little company that runs day tours all over the world. I have been on several UA tours now (including one in my hometown!) and absolutely adore them.

The Cicchetti and Wine Tour of Venice runs twice a day: 11.30am for the morning tour and 5.15pm for the evening tour. Tour duration is 2.5 hours. The tour does not run on Sundays or during the low Winter season.

Cost of the tour is currently $108.34 (AUD) / $84.80 (USD). Believe me when I say it is worth every penny and more.

The Alchemy of Autumn

If you were hanging about Little Wanderings this time last year, or happen to follow me on Instagram – you probably have an inkling that I have a certain fondness for Autumn. It is, without question, my favourite time of year. It feels magic. The reds and golds that blaze through the trees signal a seasonal alchemy that sets my little creative soul alight. 

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Autumn means beautiful, brilliant change. I am so lifted and inspired by this season. Almost too much so! I find myself almost overwhelmed by creative desire at the moment. I want to write. I want to scrapbook all my travel photos. I want to learn how to paint in watercolour. I want to bake delicious new things that make my house smell divine and then curl up on the couch and devour a good book. 

I’m reminded of something that Isobelle Carmody – my favourite author, who I’m lucky enough to have heard speak several times – mentioned during one of her events at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival last year. She said that she sees her creative life as a kind of tapestry. This tapestry is woven with many different creative threads, and she approaches her work by simply pulling on whichever thread will be the most fruitful at the time. This idea really resonated with me, though I think I’m yet to truly develop the intuition – or perhaps discipline – to reach out and run with my own most-fruitful threads. This current burst of Autumnal inspiration has made me realise it’s something I need to work on.

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And follows another piece of Carmody wisdom I seized during the same talk: that there is a time for creative input, and there is a time for creative output. I’d just come back from Europe when I attended this event and was feeling stupidly guilty for not having blogged whilst travelling. This input/output notion hit a nerve, and I brought it up later with Isobelle when I got to the front of the signing line. She urged me not to feel guilty; instead I must surrender to those input periods (in this instance, travelling) in order to truly take everything in – so that later, when the time does come for output, I am truly primed to draw on that experience during the creative process.

Autumn is one grand, tangible transition – and right now I get the feeling that it’s also a transition from a high-input period to a high-output period for me. It does make a natural kind of sense, I suppose. The cooler weather is certainly more conducive to days inside tinkering on little projects than the adventuresome call of summer sunshine. It feels like a kind of reverse hibernation, and I’m excited to wake up and see what I can create. x

Hutchy Kitchen: Mum’s Easter Egg Cake

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This cake came to life many Easters ago, when my mum thought to use up some surplus solid chocolate eggs in a humble little butter cake. Unlike chocolate chips, the chocolate eggs all sank to the bottom of the cake during baking. This was not a bad thing. Turns out those Easter eggs would form a heavenly, chocolate base – a little crisp and caramelised on the very bottom, and still soft and creamy on the inside. It was one of those serendipitous baking moments that changes everything. When I left home and started my own recipe scrapbook, this is the recipe I scribbled on the first page. I titled it, ‘BEST. CAKE. EVER.’

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Mum chose a very good foundation for this baking triumph, to be sure. The original recipe was a chocolate cake from ‘The Royal Children’s Hospital Auxiliary Cookbook’, one of those wonderful old compilations that’s bound with flimsy wire combing, has no pictures and absolutely minimal directions. It seems a lady named Jill Watson, of the Oesophageal Atresia Research Auxiliary, kindly donated her chocolate cake recipe to the tome – and my goodness, am I grateful she did. In her own modest words, “This cake is beautifully moist and keeps for days.”

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I whipped up a couple of these cakes to take to work last week and they disappeared quick as lightning. After five months working at this company, it suddenly occurred to me that Mum’s Easter Egg Cake was the perfect bring-my-baking-to-work debut. Seasonally themed? Check. An unwavering history of deliciousness? Check. So simple that two can be baked on a work night without any hint of a kitchen meltdown? Check. I even sprinkled on some crushed speckled eggs for a little extra Easter goodness. Now counting down the days until I can bake up and devour yet another with my family over the Easter break! x

Mum's Easter Egg Cake
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Ingredients
  1. Cake //
  2. 125g butter
  3. 2 heaped tbsp desiccated coconut
  4. 1 cup white sugar
  5. 1 cup self-raising flour
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 1/2 cup milk
  8. 175g / approx. 25 solid chocolate Easter eggs (if baking out of season, use roughly chopped chocolate chunks or chocolate melts)
  9. Icing //
  10. 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
  11. 1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
  12. 1 tbsp / 14g butter, melted
  13. 100g speckled eggs, crushed (optional)
Instructions
  1. 1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line and grease a loaf tin.
  2. 2. Add cake ingredients in listed order to a mixing bowl and combine using an electric mixer for 3-5 minutes.
  3. 3. Pour mixture into loaf tin. Dot the Easter eggs evenly across the top.
  4. 4. Bake at 180°C for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  5. 5. Allow cake to cool completely before icing. Combine icing ingredients in a small bowl, then gradually add and mix in dashes of boiling water until a smooth, spreadable consistency is achieved.
  6. 6. Spread icing evenly over top of cake. Sprinkle the speckled egg pieces over icing.
  7. 7. Enjoy!
Adapted from Jill Watson's Chocolate Cake, 'The Royal Children's Hospital Auxiliary Cookbook'
Adapted from Jill Watson's Chocolate Cake, 'The Royal Children's Hospital Auxiliary Cookbook'
Little Wanderings http://littlewanderings.com/
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