One of our favorite things to do when we visit other cities is to check out the markets. Vancouver's Granville Island Public Market, Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, Los Angeles' The Original Farmer's Market, etc. We love them all. It will come as no surprise then that the Rialto Market was at the top of my list of markets to visit while we are living in Italy. I wasted no time in making my way to wander the market a few times on my own, but last week I decided to take a guided tour of the market and its surrounding areas, since I still felt like I was missing out on so much of what it had to offer. I am glad I did.
My day began by taking the bus to Venice, then hopping a Vaporetto to the Rialto Bridge. I was to meet my guide in Campo San Giacomo di Rialto which is a square right next to the market stalls leading up to the Rialto Bridge. Lots of souvenirs to be found in this area. And crepes...just saying. Also, if you're on the hunt for gifts to bring back home, it seems to me that they're more affordable in this area than near Piazza San Marco. Also, you can buy postcards, fill them out, and they'll mail them for you right from the shop. No visit to the post office necessary. (Believe me, that's a good thing.)
My tour group was only 3 of us. Myself, the guide, and a guy from Canada. Apparently they don't have a minimum number of people required to do the tour. We lucked out. Our guide was very sweet, and very knowledgeable. She took us to the produce market first, which is open Monday-Saturday mornings only. Be sure to get there early, when the selection is best. The place is all packed up and gone by about 1:00pm at the latest.
When buying produce in Italy, there are a few requirements for the seller and for the buyer. The vendor must label each item with the name, price, and especially the origin of the product. The signs will tell you where each thing came from, and will also indicate whether the fish has been frozen or not. Bottom line: Try to read the signs before your purchase. Given the opportunity to shop at Rialto Market, you may as well be sure you're buying things that were grown/caught/produced very nearby. As for the buyer: Do not touch. No matter where you are in Italy, be it a supermarket or an outdoor produce market, you are not allowed to touch the produce with your bare hands. At a farmer's market, you must ask the vendor to get you the items that you want. In a supermarket, you have to put on gloves and place your produce in a plastic bag and then weight it and label it.
The fish market is beyond cool. We don't have anything quite like it where I live. We do have a pretty good fish market in my hometown, but it's not an outdoor destination. It's very expensive, and obviously, not everything is as locally caught as it is here in Italy. The sign on the building of the fish market still shows what the minimum size requirements were for fish that were to be sold there. It is my understanding that those regulations are no longer enforced. Unfortunately, because I had another couple of hours of my tour, plus a vaporetto ride, then a bus ride, I wasn't able to buy any fish during that visit. I will however, be returning with my husband soon so he can enjoy all that the market has to offer, and we can fill our bags with all sorts of things to try. If you plan to visit the fish market, keep in mind: It is only open Tuesday-Saturday mornings. Closed on Sunday and Monday.
The San Polo area, where the Rialto Market is located, and its surrounding areas have a lot to offer for those with food-related interests. There are spice shops, lots of meat and cheese shops, you name it. I highly encourage a visit, even if you aren't able to buy a fish or anything perishable. There's wonderful fruit for a snack while sitting along the Grand Canal. Or just wander to some of the quieter streets, and find yourself a cute little restaurant or cafe for a snack. As a general rule, you'll find the best places to eat in Venice by intentionally getting lost.
After we saw all there was to see at the various sections of the market, our guide took us for a little break to Cantina "do Spade", meaning "two swords". Rumor has it that Casanova had some sort of illicit rendezvous upstairs. Here we enjoyed some traditional Venetian snacks, or Cichetti. This was the perfect little place that I've been hoping to find among all of the touristy restaurants lining the canals. Cichetti is just about the most authentically Venetian/Italian food you'll find. It's not just about the food, but also the experience. A glass of wine and a variety of cichetti only cost a few Euros, and make for a wonderful break from the hustle and bustle...on top of being delicious. My recommendation? Be open-minded. Try whatever they have, even if you're unsure about it. I surely didn't expect to love salt cod mousse, but I did.