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Eating Out in Venice

If you've enjoyed the cuisines of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, the 'down-home' style of a Roman meal or the Sicilians' gift for seasoned fantasies, you might find the fare in Venice a bit disappointing. Indeed, other Italians tend to be rather disparaging about La Serenissima's attempts in the kitchen, lamenting that si spende tanto e si mangia male ('you spend a lot and eat badly'), but then they are rather fastidious about their food. For the rest of us, Venice isn't really that bad. Even that august collective of self-appointed foodies in Italy, Slow Food, have found about 20 places to stick into their annual Osterie d' Italia guide. Chowing down in Venice is, however, pricey. Search out the little eateries tucked away in the side alleys and squares, since many of the restaurants immediately around San Marco, near the train station and along main thoroughfares are tourist traps. Read the fine print if you want to eat seafood, as most fish is sold by weight. When considering a set-price menu, make sure you know whether or not all service charges are included - often they are not.

Breakfast (colazione) is generally a quick affair, taken on the hop in a bar on the way to work. For lunch (pranzo), restaurants usually open from 12.30pm to 3pm, but many are not keen to take orders after 2pm. In the evening, opening hours for dinner (cena) vary, but people start sitting down to dine at around 7.30pm. You'll be hard pressed to find a place still serving after 10.30pm. Cafes and bars, which also serve hot drinks and sandwiches, generally open from 7.30am to 8pm, although some stay open after 8pm and turn into pub-style drinking and meeting places. Restaurants and bars are generally closed one day each week; the day varies depending on the establishment. Closing days (where applicable) are listed but opening times are only mentioned where they vary substantially from the norm.

The standard name for a restaurant is ristorante. Often you will come across something known as a trattoria, a cheaper, simpler version of a ristorante (by tradition, at least). In Venice particularly, you will also come across another phenomenon - the osteria, originally a wine bar offering snacks and a small selection of dishes. The pizzeria, however, needs no explanation. The problem with all this is that nowadays the names seem to have become interchangeable. It would appear that restaurant owners consider it more enticing to punters to call their places osteria (or even hostaria, reflecting an olde-worlde approach). Don't judge an eatery by its tablecloth. You may well have your best meal at the dingiest little establishment you can find. In all cases, it is best to check the menu - usually posted by the door - for prices. Occasionally you will find places with no written menu. This usually means they change their offerings daily. Inside there may be a blackboard or the waiter will tell you what's on - fine if you speak Italian, a little disconcerting if you don't. Try to think of it as a surprise. If you encounter this situation in an overtly touristy area, you should have your rip-off antennae up.