Tag Archives | etiquette and language

How to Eat Fish in Venice

Dining is one of the best parts of the Italy travel experience. Of course, as you’ve probably read before, there are rules when it comes to enjoying a meal in Italy. I hate rules. But I do appreciate tradition, as well as learning about how Italians use and eat different ingredients.

So I was excited when Nan McElroy, author of the Living Venice Blog and the “Instructions for Use” travel series, approached me with a post about eating fish in Venice. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did and I also hope that her tips come in handy when you’re in Venice for your next dining adventure.

Nosh Venice Fish, But Leave That Lemon Alone: Advice from a Fresh Fish Fanatic

Venice CalamariYou’re town for a few days, for the Biennale, for the Film Festival, for the Regata Storica; before cruise, after cruise, or for the month, and tonight, you’ve chosen the restaurant where you’ll treat yourself to Venice’s precious pesce.

If you’ve done your homework and chosen your eatery carefully, you’ll rarely be disappointed. Even non-fish fans, if they can be tempted, become converts, as often this freshest of fish bears no resemblance to the more common frozen fare — something that, should a restaurant even consider serving to a local, will at best cause them never to return; at worst, incite a heated argument that can end with the guest either storming out or being asked to leave. Harrumph.

Venice has always treasured (if not totally depended upon) its fish, whether from the lagoon or the upper Adriatic, and never tires of finding new ways to consume it and serve it to their guests. You’ll select from baked, grilled, sauteed, raw and even whipped versions of familiar (or less so) species; flat, fat, large and small; shellfish and mollusks, with and without shells, without and without backbones. Traditionalists will opt for the fabulous frittura, often rating various locales’ versions on crispness, abundance, and the fish-to-vegetable ratio — each important when defending your choice for the best fritto misto fried fish platter in town.

Fish Plate with LemonAnd the lemon wedge? A common fish-dish accompaniment anywhere else in the world, but  to a Venetian fish purist an appalling idea. Figurati should a slice wend its way to the plate.

Come mai, why is that? Because (explained the self-proclaimed fresh fish purist), the fish served at your dining table is a treasured thing: it’s just arrived from the sea (or better have), “swimming with its brothers” as they say, only hours ago; it’s expensive (we had to wait years for that branzino to get to a catchable age — not six- or 12-months for a force-fed farm-raised antibiotic-ingesting mutant); and a delicacy, whether a tiny schie lagoon shrimp, a robust rombo turbot, or a magnificent blue or yellow fin wrestled from the Japanese sushi trade.

And you want to put lemon on it? Macché! Don’t even think about it.

Branzino fishIt’s true — where lemons are concerned, what’s obvious to maniacal fresh-fish devotees may not be so obvious to everyone else. If you ask a few of them, they’ll tell you there are actually some fairly logical reasons to let the lemon lie.

First, the fresh fish you find served in Venice have marvelous, sometimes delicate flavors (mostly non-fishy, by the way); the chef has prepared today’s catch to enhance them. If you smother them with lemon juice, what will you taste? In their eyes, the lemon homogenizes these very distinctive fish dishes — and nobody wants that. In fact, lemon is more for fish that’s, well, been around, that has defects to overcome — not for fresh fish flesh. Finally, expert fryers will work tirelessly to serve you the crispiest frittura possible. So what happens when you squeeeeeeze a half of lemon over the mound of crunchy fried fish?

Lemon mush, that’s what. Una tragedia, a real heart-breaker.

In a labor-saving move, or perhaps because they lack the fish-faithful culture of a born-and-raised Venetian, many restaurants have just given in and included the lemon as garnish. There are other eateries though, who will flat refuse to serve you the lemon (along with any sort of grated cheese, by the way), so best be prepared.

Rhombo ChiodatoWhy not compromise? Before you request a lemon wedge, or crush the one on your plate over its contents out of habit, why not simply sample what’s been served to you as is? If you’re eating in a restaurant famous for its fish, you’ll be surprised at how unnecessary the lemon might seem (try a light olive oil drizzle if you must). And — you’ll be immediately categorized as a informed fish fan. (When in Venice, and all that…)

So, will you become Venice’s next fish purist? Who’s to say? In any case, the fresh fish found here is certainly worth indulging in. Enjoy!

Favorite Italian Words: The Sequel

Text in ItalianEver since Jessica at Italylogue wrote a guest post about her Five Favorite Italian Words, I have been getting great feedback about the post via comments, Twitter, and Facebook. For the past three months, the post has been one of the most popular posts on Italofile and I credit that to Jessica for her wonderful writing and to the Italian language itself.

So many people enjoy learning Italian. It is so melodic – it’s the language of beautiful poetry, music, and the closest to Latin, the “dead” language that spawned dozens of others. While not everyone can travel to Italy, everyone can try to learn Italian, which is the reason that the five favorite Italian words post struck a chord with so many readers.

One of those readers – we’ll call her N.A. – recently wrote to me asking where she could learn even more Italian words using the five-words-per-day method. Here’s a snippet of her email:

Recently I have started the plan to learn Italian by myself. I used to have a phrase book, and I also brought a better (Colorful) one with a CD. However, I found it hard to learn things too quickly, mostly sentences gave me the hardest time.

So I went back to the basics and rules, learned and reviewed them, and used sites which helped such as livemocha.com. Then I suddenly realized an easier way for me which is learning five different words everyday. Those words are preferably random, and not categorized, such as: family members, colors…etc.

So I started searching about this online when I found your blog which had a topic ”Five Favorites: Italian Words” I really liked the way they way [sic] written, the words are differently nice, the pronunciation is there, and the meaning with a lovely story also there.

This got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great to get a meme going around of other travel bloggers and Italian language learners to share their five favorite Italian words on their own websites? This way, we could help out N.A. (and maybe others?), promote the Italian language, and get to learn some new Italian vocabulary words ourselves.

The way that it will work is like this:

1) Write a post on your own site about your five favorite Italian words. You can choose anything you want, but do refrain from curse words. Also provide a short back-story on why you chose the words that you did…why are they meaningful/amusing/helpful/memorable to you?

2) Within your post, link to this post using “five favorite Italian words” as the anchor text. Also link to the friend or friends who tagged or linked to you (see #3).

3) Also within your post, tag (link to) 2 or 3 other friends’ blogs who you think would enjoy writing about their own five favorite Italian words.

4) When you’ve finished your post, also leave a comment here. This way N.A. or anyone else following this meme will know where to look for their next language lesson.

So, who is up for this challenge? I’m hoping that the following friends and Italian language lovers will consider writing a post of their own or spreading the word to others:

Cherrye of My Bella Vita

Madeline J of Italy Beyond the Obvious

Alex of Blog from Italy

Vince of Scordo.com

Robin of My Mélange

Jessica from Italylogue is, of course, off the hook. But if you’re reading this, Jessica, I’d love for you to spread the word (or, um, la parola)! And thanks again, Jess, for the great post!

Photo © dneese_l

Five Favorites: Italian Words

Since I started “Five Favorites,” a feature to showcase the expertise and interests of guest Italophile bloggers, we’ve seen posts about Lucca, Beaches in Calabria, and Recipes from Rome. This week’s installment, about the Italian language, is from Jessica Spiegel of BootsnAll’s WhyGo Italy guide. And, it’s so appropriate that Jess would write about language as she is so skilled at making words dance upon the page (or screen). Jessica’s list of Five Favorite Italian Words also got me thinking: what are your favorite Italian words? Feel free to comment after the post with your faves (though keep it clean – this is a family blog!). I think I, too, will have to save my favorite words for the comment box as I’m too scombussolata* right now to think of a few! Continue Reading →

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