Food blogger, podcaster, cooking teacher, food and wine tour guide, restaurant reviewer, and now author, this is the energetic world of the irrepressible Monica Cesarato. Her delightful new book, Andar per Bacari has now been translated into English and introduces the Venetian concepts, flavors, and traditions that are unique to the city.
What inspired you originally to create a professional life devoted to all matters delicious?
My love for food and the fact that I wanted everyone outside of Venice to understand real Venetian cuisine. For years it frustrated me that most people considered Venice food bland and touristic. I wanted to show and prove to people how important Venetian cuisine was and how it had been underestimated for many years. With my blog, the food tours, and the cooking classes I can honestly say I gave a little help in changing the way Venetian cuisine is perceived today.
How did the course of your journey in Venetian cuisine change after meeting your mentor Ada Catto, of the famous Osteria Alla Vedova?
It made me want to learn even more about the real roots of the recipes and the real history of this incredible cuisine and its city, not just the word of mouth “my mum used to do it this way” kind of recipe. I wanted to understand why the recipes had such a different evolution here compared to other parts of Italy and how it changed so quickly after the WWII.
Also, it helped me to understand the history of Cicchetti and the importance of Osterie.
The title of your book encapsulates a wonderful Venetian concept that is impossible to translate literally. Can you please explain what Andar per Bacari means?
It is not a pub crawl; it is not just hopping from bar to bar. It is a way of enjoying life in Venice after work. A Bacaro is a special kind of wine bar which only exists in Venice – I explain the meaning of this word and how it came to be so famous in the book. The cicchetti and the wines of Venice are a way to socialize and experience the city through its food. It is an experience which involves all your senses: the taste for the food, the smell for the wine, your eyes for the beauty of produce on display, your ears while you listen to people chatting around you and the sense of touch, because believe me, after many drinks, you do tend to be very…affectionate to the people around you…hauhau.
And I would add also a sixth sense: you become aware that you are part of the life of the city, not just a mere onlooker.
It is a way to become a visitor and not a mere tourist!
Your book is testament that good things come in small packages! For such a slim volume it is packed with a wealth of information: Venetian history, charming anecdotes, authentic recipes, maps, and a listing by neighborhood of your favorite bacari. How does providing all this essential information fit into your concept of the educated tourist?
I think the biggest problem in tourism today is the lack of research before visiting a country. People come over to just take a quick selfie and tick the city off their bucket list. I think there is a need to go back to do a bit of research on how to visit Venice, starting from how to eat in the city. This book is meant to be a small help in navigating the city through its cuisine.
I truly believe that by educating people on what to do and how to eat in Venice before arriving will automatically convince people to stay longer and therefore reduce day trippers and over-tourism.
Gianni, your charming fishmonger, belongs to the enduring Venetian legacy of the Pescharia, which originated in 1097. You write about “the enchanted tourists, who stop to take a picture and block the passage creating traffic jams between the stalls.”
How can tourists be respectful of the Rialto market and still enjoy its vibrant colors and smells?
Well, maybe by becoming clients and not just onlookers! I mean by staying longer in Venice, instead of just one day, and when going to the market not just look, but maybe buy some fruits and some vegetables! And even more, to cook in the city!
You remark that cicchetti is constantly evolving by tracing its historical roots and contemporary influences. What do you think is next for this most beloved of Venetian edible treasures?
I am not sure. I hope this revival of Venetian cuisine means we keep the original recipes but also manage to create new twists to them without losing sight of what Venetian cuisine is all about: one main extremely fresh ingredient which is enhanced by a few little other ingredients, like herbs and soft spices. I love tradition and at the same time I love to experiment. Venice is a city which has kept evolving through its 1600 years history. I hope the cuisine can do the same.
Venetian cocktails are breaking free of the ubiquitous spritz. El Sbarlefo has introduced their signature drink, the Cinico, to great acclaim. Are you seeing more experimentation with classic beverages?
Oh yes, above all with the rebirth of Gin. There are many local Gin producers in Venice, making this incredible spirit with local botanicals and herbs. And every bar is trying to re-invent the Spritz using different ingredients. It is a very interesting time now in Venice for cocktails. To note the Venice Cocktail Week in October, a great time to experiment in the city with spirits!
Now that you’ve published your first book, what is upcoming in the delectable world of Monica Cesarato?
Ahhh, my world includes writing another two books, one dedicated to the islands of Venice an one dedicated to the artisans, for whom I have a separate dear corner of my heart dedicated to! And then who knows…more podcasts dedicated to Venice and the Venetians, like the one I ran Venice Talks, and I would really love to do more TV! I want the world to get to know and love Venice the way I do.
Photography by Rocco Paladino