Venice – San Polo – a walk around Rialto market

Wherever I go, a visit to the local market is a must. The oldest and most famous market in Venice is the Mercato di Rialto which has a history stretching back nearly one thousand years. Rialto, the area around the western end of the Rialto bridge, is a sub-district of San Polo, the smallest and oldest sestiere (quarter) of the city.

Rather than walk down to the bridge and back up the other side, I chose the lazy option and hopped on the vaporetto at Ca’ d’Or and got off a couple of minutes later at the Rialto stop immediately on the opposite side of the Grand Canal.

My map here, key top left.

There are two main parts to the market, the seafood section (La Pesceria), located in two dedicated buildings, and the fruit and veg stalls (La Erberia) which are outside under canvas in the square next door.

I was there in early October so autumnal fruit and veg were just coming into season. In the foreground on the stall below we can see Cachi (from Kaki in Japanese), a fruit we in Britain know as Persimmon. It’s a sweet, tangy fruit with a soft texture that is very popular in Italy.

Also seasonal are Giuggiole, (or Zizoe in Venetian dialect, Nzinzula in Sicilian, Su Zinzulu in Sardinian, Gensole in central Italy), which in English are known as Jujubes or Chinese Dates. They have a sweet taste, reminiscent of apples and dates and are often dried and used in sweets.

Chestnuts (castagne) and squash (zucca) were also coming into season.

These multi-coloured, crook-necked specimens (not sure what the variety is called in Italian sorry) were seasonal decorations for shop windows and restaurant tables all over town.

The displays of fresh chillis (peperoncino) were also very eye-catching.

These were grown on Sant’ Erasmo, a Venetian island known as ‘the garden of the Doge’ due to the abundance of ingredients produced there.

Sant’Erasmo is particularly famous for a purple variety of artichoke known as the Carciofo Violetto di Sant’Erasmo. The young buds, called Castraùre, are particularly appreciated.

Cardi are called Cardoons in English. They’re a relative of the thistle and the artichoke and despite appearances, have a taste reminiscent of artichokes rather than celery. Although quite hard to find, there are several different preparations for them.

Radicchio (chicory) is another typical autumn vegetable. This beautiful variety with narrow, tapered leaves is Radicchio Rosso di Treviso. Treviso is a town near Venice (see later post) with its own IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) for radicchio.

Here we have Bieta Cicoria (‘chicory chard’), once again from Sant’ Erasmo. It’s also known as Cicoria Catalogna, or Puntarelle in Rome.

This is Cime di Rapa (which translates badly to ‘turnip tops’), a bitter green that’s very common in traditional southern cuisine, particularly in Puglia, Calabria and Campania.

Celeriac (sedano rapa) was being sold ready peeled in tubs of water.

I think this round variety of cucumber (cetriolo) is called Carosello Tondo di Manduria (from a town near Taranto in Puglia).

Melanzane Perlina (native to Ragusa in Sicily) was a new kind of aubergine for me. Unlike other varieties the pulp is virtually seedless and not very watery, which makes it particularly suitable for frying.

At least half a dozen varieties of fresh mushrooms were on the stalls. These are Barboni (Goat’s Foot Mushroom) which are quite hard to find.

And here are Chiodini (Honey Fungus) and Finferli (Golden Chanterelle or Girolle).

There were also many varieties of apples and pears.

One famous Italian variety I’m familiar with is the Annurca from Sarno in Campania. I remember a teacher there telling me that as a child one of her chores was turning the apples on a daily basis so they would ripen evenly, as they lay on long beds of straw (my post here).

In addition there were all the other usual visual delights typically found in an Italian market such as, the mottled pink of Borlotti beans,…

…yellow courgette flowers…

…and multi-coloured Fichi d’India (‘Indian figs’ but actually prickly pears) which were brought back from the Carribean by Columbus, who thought he’d disovered them in India, hence the name.

Over in La Pescaria the stalls were crammed with seafood from the Venetian Lagoon and neighbouring waters.

There were the usual suspects such as Branzini (sea bass) and Sarde (sardines).

Also Triglie (mullet) and Scorfano (scorpion fish)…

… as well as Dentice (snapper). However Mormore (striped seabream) were a new variety for me.

Vongole Verace (carpetshell clams) are popular all over Italy, however in Venice they distinguish between the common Bevarasse (the smaller clams on the left in the picture) and rarer and more expensive Caparossoli which both have distinct flavours.

Places to eat and drink around Mercato di Rialto next!

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