One of my favorite things to do – and to bring others to experience – is a Saturday midday walk exploring the shops and bars of the Rialto market in Venice. While the Rialto market is open Tuesday through Saturday, the best and most vibrant time to go is on Saturday. It is a popular day for the locals to do their shopping, and there it is a gathering place for people to stop and visit with each other in between buying food for the weekend.
I have my spots where I always stop on any visit to the market. But lets start at the beginning.
The fish market part of the Rialto is right on the Grand Canal. Other parts of the market – the vegetables, the shops selling meats and cheese and wine and all manner of other foodstuffs are set away behind the fish. A warren of narrow streets hold many bars, cafes, and shops with specialty merchandise is adjacent. There has been a market, and market stalls, in this location in San Polo since the 11th century. It has always been the beating heart of Venice.
In the fish market, you can find all manner of local fish and shellfish (and some imported, from other parts of Italy and beyond.)
The vegetable and fruit market should always have what is in season. Look for the vegetables from the island of San Erasmo – this is where the most “local” of the vegetables will come from. All produce should be marked with its origin.
Besides the outdoor stalls, you can find many specialty shops with just about anything you might need for a meal – and much more. There are butchers, bakeries, shops selling pasta, shops selling cheese… here are some of my favorites.
I have been buying my wine as well as some spices and preserves from the family owned Drogheria Mascari for 15 years – a drop in the bucket of the almost 70 years they have been open!
In the front part of the shop, they sell spices, teas, preserved products such as mostarda, candies, pasta, and all kinds of other delicacies. In a back room, they have a large wine shop with varietals from all over Italy. Owner Gabriele knows his wine and can help you navigate a purchase. I cannot imagine a visit to the Rialto market without a visit to this shop. It is also a great place to pick up gifts for friends back home.
A five minute walk west along the important market street “Ruga Rialto” (it changes names a few times, but many shops and bars are located on this busy thoroughfare) will bring you to the best place to buy bread and pastries in the Rialto market – Panificio Mauro El Forner de Canton.
This is THE place to buy your bread and also excellent pastries. The staff is no nonsense and the place can get packed – just wait your turn and don’t expect a lot of smiles, just great bread and maybe a cannoli to munch on while you walk around.
Make your last stop for buying food Casa del Parmigiano. There are two reasons why.
The first reason – absolutely fantastic cheese and charcuterie served up by the friendliest, most patient staff in the Rialto market. Don’t hold back – go to town and stock up on the creamy gorgonzola dolce, melt in your mouth proscuitto, and of course some of the best Parmigiano Reggiano one can buy. The other reason – it is right next door to your first food and beverage stop – Al Merca!
Al Merca is THE place to get your first spritz or glass of wine of the day and stand outside drinking it with locals and travelers while watching the passing throngs. There is no inside; you order at the counter, then bring your drink into the campo. Al Merca has a great spritz and lengthy list of wines by the glass. They also have tasty little panini.
There are lots of other places to follow up with more wine and food on market days. After a spritz at Al Merca I like to head over to the Pescaria bar, adjacent to the fish market, for a tramezzino or two. Tramezzini are half sandwiches stuffed with various fillings – tuna, shrimp. proscuitto, or pork, among other things. Pescaria is the bar on the corner next to the fish market – you can’t miss it.
There are two places I like to stop for cichetti on Saturday mornings at the market. Cichetti are little bar snacks, Venetian style. You can get a small plate of baccala, crostini with seafood and/or vegetable toppings, meatballs… the selection is varied and there is something for everyone. It does help if you like fish!
All’ Arco is a little bar with a few outside tables on a corner in the warren of streets west of the market. The address is San Polo 436 on Calle Arco; wander down one of the streets off the fish market and you will find it (eventually!) It gets very busy on market days, but it is worth the wait for the plethora of tasty items on display. Simply point at what you want and the helpful bar staff will load a plate for you.
Another place I love to go not only on market days but any day – or night – is Ruga Rialto. Walking down the busy thoroughfare Ruga Rialto – a street which changes names often but connects the Rialto market with Campo San Polo and then Dorsoduro, you would probably walk right by this atmospheric osteria/bar.
The address is San Polo 692, but this is what to look for: a narrow entryway with a barrel out in front. Walk through the door to one of the true local’s bars left in San Polo. I am not saying there are not any tourists (because there are) but I can say that though Venice has had many changes over the past decade or so, Ruga Rialto remains mercifully unchanged. The bar staff are friendly, the prices are fair, it is funky and rustic, and there is a resident cat. Oh, and the cichetti are excellent. Ruga Rialto is open late into the night and they have a real bar – one you can sit at!
Another place to get a plate of food on a midday Saturday in the Rialto market is a plate of fritto misto – fried fish and vegetables – served up from an outdoor kitchen run by Muro Vino e Cucina, a restaurant across the campo from Casa del Parmigiano and Al Merca.
10 euros will get you your plate of fried fish and a glass of Chardonnay, which you can eat in the campo or even better, bring here:
There is something very special about wandering around the Rialto market on a Saturday, buying ingredients for an excellent dinner or for Sunday’s picnic, and enjoying a glass of wine or two and a snack with the locals.
Of course, we go to the market on the GrapeHops A Taste of Venice tour. Please come visit this legendary (and fun) market with a group of fellow foodies.
Shannon Essa leads small-group tours focusing on wine, food, and local culture in Croatia, Slovenia, Northern Italy and Northern Spain & Portugal.
Discover the backstreets of Venice or the wine, craft beer, and slow food of Piedmont, Italy. In Spain, experience the rustic foods and low-key lifestyle in beautiful Galicia, the wineries along the Camino de Santiago in the Bierzo region, or the justifiably famous wine regions and local food traditions of Catalonia. See many of Croatia’s most beautiful sights and learn about the rebirth of one of Europe’s oldest wine areas. And see all this with Shannon, who loves unique and out of the way wine and food experiences.
When not in Europe, Shannon does her eating and drinking in San Diego, California.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.