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.

Behold, the Schmalznudel

Before Mat and I discovered the glorious stroopwafel, there was the schmalznudel. It was in the lovely city of Munich that we would find this incredible little piece of pastry perfection. We asked our Airbnb host, Matthias, if he had any recommendations for a good breakfast in town, and he insisted we venture to one very special place.

‘Schmalznudel,’ he said. “A Munich institution. Ask any local, ‘where is Schmalznudel?’ – and they can tell you exactly where it is.”

Matthias attempted to describe the exact nature of a schmalznudel, though in the end we couldn’t settle on anything wholly familiar. What we could discern was that it was fried and doughy. We were intrigued at once. 

Though affectionately referred to as ‘Schmalznudel’, the little bakery is in fact called Café Frischhut. You’ll find it right by Munich’s wonderful daily food market, Viktualienmarkt, making it a very convenient stop for the visiting foodie. The bakery boasts just four different pastries – striezerl, krapfen, rohrnudel and most importantly, the famous schmalznudel:

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A ring of fresh, deep-fried dough circling a thin, almost transparent dough film; the schmalznudel is kind of like a large, flat doughnut. Direct from the fryer – you can observe the chef working his magic with impressive speed and skill through the shop window – the cooked pastry is wonderfully warm and full of the most incredible, rich flavour. Matthias had told us that a schmalznudel should be doused generously with sugar, and the waitstaff were also quite particular about this. I was of course very happy to oblige. We spied several locals on nearby tables upending that sugar dispenser with a vigour to behold!

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Over the course of a couple of visits, we also tried the krapfen (above), a doughnut filled with apricot jam, and the striezel, which is essentially a long, stick-like version of schmalznudel. Everything is fresh and hot, so the pastries have that wonderful crisp outside and a delightfully soft centre. The coffee is actually pretty decent too, which made for a couple of lovely, lazy Munich mornings sitting outside and happily basking in the schmalznudel buzz. It’s certainly very popular with Munich’s own; whilst we mostly found ourselves surrounded by greying locals (always a good sign), Schmalznudel is apparently also quite the destination for young folk on their way home after a big night out. A fresh schmalznudel sure sounds better than a dirty Macca’s run to me!

It was after our first visit, totally enraptured by the place, that Mat and I thought to Google the English translation of ‘schmalznudel’. You know something tastes damn good when the words ‘lard noodle‘ don’t sway your determination to return the very next day. Or ever, for that matter. Oh, dear schmalznudel: may our paths yet cross again!

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Schmalznudel – Café Frischhut | Prälat-Zistl-Straße 8, 80331 Munich, Germany

There’s Something About Stroopwafels

We need to talk about stroopwafels. 

Why, of all things, would I begin to recount six weeks’ worth of European adventure with stroopwafels? Good question. What I do know is that I can’t stop thinking about the goddamn things, and if any friend or family member ever travels to the Netherlands and returns without a packet (or five) for me, there will be severe consequences. 

Mat and I spent three days in beautiful Amsterdam to tie off our trip. A little weary after six weeks on the road, it turned out to be the perfect place to stop, unwind and soak in the last of Europe before our journey home. Amsterdam was just one of those destinations that made my heart sing. Tree-lined canals, cobbled streets flanked by those wonderfully tall, skinny houses, crossing the IJ by ferry to reach our little Airbnb houseboat, and an incredible world of cute little cafes and shops; the Dutch capital romanced us with a delightful, quiet charm.

And stroopwafels. 

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The stroopwafel, or ‘syrup waffle’, comes in two forms: the first is a large, freshly pressed treat usually found at bakeries and markets. We tracked down a small, canal-side bakery called Lanskroon – Google hinted this was one of the best places for a fresh stroopwafel fix, and it did not disappoint. As big as my plate, the stroopwafel consisted of two thin, crispy waffle layers with a thick syrup sandwiched in between. Fresh from the press, it was warm and crunchy and oozy, and tasted of caramel and toffee. It was divine. We shared Lanskroon mostly with elderly locals (through the trip, we realised this usually meant the discovery of some seriously top-notch eats), as well as a handsome little tortoiseshell-and-white cat. It was the perfect little morning pitstop.

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The second type of stroopwafel is a smaller, softer version, bought by the packet in stores. We picked up a packet of about ten in a busy sweets store called Metropolitan, located on Warmoesstraat right by the Red Light District. It wasn’t until we arrived back in Australia that we busted it open, at which point we realised what fools we had been for bringing home only one packet. These snacks are the bomb. And according to strict Dutch lore, there is a very special way one must eat these stroopwafels. You see, their size is quite conveniently appropriate to that of the rim of a coffee cup. After preparing a hot drink (coffee, tea, hot chocolate – anything goes!), one should rest a stroopwafel atop the coffee cup for about five minutes. Over the course of these five minutes, the steam from the hot drink softens both the lower waffle half and the delicious, caramel filling inside. The result is chewy and oozy and again, divine. And oh, the aroma! These stroopwafels had a hint more cinnamon to them, which I loved. It was a truly glorious week of nightly cuppas and stroopwafels before that final, bittersweet ritual, I can tell you.

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Really, that’s it for our little talk. Guys, stroopwafels are freakin’ amazing – if you ever have the chance, you should eat and/or buy as many of them as you can. Seriously. I’m not kidding on this one. And if anyone happens to know of a good supplier in Melbourne…

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