La Frittella Veneziana


Every February, or sometimes in March, for a few weeks Venice becomes a playground for adults. The city is invaded by hoards of party animals filling the narrow paths to such an extent that the local police has to limit the Calli to one-way traffic only. About this phenomenon, the thoughts vary a lot. From those who say it’s just a lot of noise and drunk people dirtying La Serenissima, to those who love it and take out their holiday to match the period of the Carnival. If you like it or not, there’s still one thing that we all can agree upon. One aspect of Il Carnevale that conquers all and sets every disapproval aside… And that’s La Frittella or La Frito’a as it’s called in dialect.

The wonderful Pastry of Venice La FrittellaLa Frittella is a wonderful pastry that’s served in this period and only in this period. It’s full and heavy and if it’s made in the correct way it has that perfect balance of sweet and rural aroma, characteristics which have made it famous in all the world. It’s the Queen of all the wonderful Venetian dishes and it has no equal in its simplicity and its excellence.

The recipe is quite simple. Eggs, flour, butter, and milk. Throw it all in a bowl and add some raisins, some pine nuts, a little vanilla, and a pinch of salt. And of course, yeast. Then you form roles, an inch or a little more in diameter, deep fry them, and you’re done. Now even if this seems simple enough, you will find a huge variety of taste and quality. First of all, many have fillings. Custard, Eggnog… Nutella and sometimes you can find even stranger things inside them. So to add to the great difference in baking perfection from one pastry shop to another, you also have to judge the content, the stuff inside.

The conclusion is that it’s better to study the Frittella in a scientific way and try it in as many different places as possible, in one pastry shop after the other. That’s what I do.

The word, Frittella, doesn’t actually imply something special. It means it’s fried or deep-fried, fritto, no more no less. And this word can get you anything from sweets big as a dinner plate to something not sweet at all, depending on where you are. But the Venetian Frittella is by far the most famous.

The origin dates as far back as in the Roman empire, and maybe even further. Although back then it probably was quite different. The Romans had a sweet called Frictilia, which is something similar. Anyway, in Venice, they have always done them. It was a simple but exquisite pastry and it became immensely popular.

In the 14 century, the Republic confirmed the official recipe of the Frittella, the one and only way to cook it. Today that document is deposited in Rome, in the Casantense Library. And it’s the oldest written gastronomic document from the Republic of Venice existing today.

In the 17th century, the bakers specialized in baking the Frittella, created a Guild. There were 70 of them and they divided the city between them, in restricted areas, and inheriting the trade from father to son, cutting everyone else out. They often fried them outside, in oil, lard, or in butter, and they were sold immediately.

In the 18th century, it was declared the Official Pastry of the Republic of Venice.

There are two reasons why they even exist and why they’re made in this, particular way.

The first has to do with the ingredients. Flour, eggs, milk, sugar, well that’s what more or less anyone has a lot of. And they had it also back in the middle ages. Plus the fact that in this period there was an abundance of lard. The pigs were traditionally slaughtered in winter. Before Lent, which starts forty days before Easter, there was a period of surplus, which ended with Shrove Tuesday. You were supposed to eat meat, pork and all kinds of derivatives as well as for example Frittelle. And these were very often fried in Lard.

The word Carnevale probably comes from the Latin words Carnem and Levare, Meat and Remove, indicating eating in excess the week before Lent. In fact, even today the Carnival in Venice finishes with the Shrove Tuesday.

So the second reason is right there, with the week before Lent, the Shrovetide. The Carnival week, or weeks, was eating time. And there’s no better way to fill up with calories than eating Frittelle.

The best time to visit Venice

the best time to visit venice

There are two periods of the year when Venice is a little less crowded. It’s November and it’s January. Every now and then people ask me about when to come to Venice.

Over the city of VeniceWell, this is what I think.

Don’t come in July. The summer months can be so full of people that you’ll have difficulties even move around. The streets are jam-packed, the restaurants are crowded and people tend to be a little less patient and kind.

On top of that, you have the heat. Venice is not as hot as southern Italy… Or Turkey or Greece. But while Turkey, Greece, Puglia, and Sicily have the breeze coming in from the sea, at least by the coast. Venice is inside a Lagoon and there’s not much wind. While in southern Italy the air is dry and warm, in Venice it gets wet and hot. The subjective temperature exceeds the one further south. No, I wouldn’t recommend the summer.

Autumn and Spring are nice. Not so hot, but it’s still crowded.

Piazza San MarcoTo me… and to a lot of us who live here all year round, the best time is right now. January. Ok, it’s cold and sometimes it’s windy and right out freezing. But you have space, and that’s something rare in Venice. In the evenings you can walk over San Marco and you’re almost all alone. In the mornings you can step down to the waterfront and you see only two or three boats far away.

Ponte dell'AccademiaThe Accademia bridge is almost empty, while in summer it takes you five minutes to cross. On the Vaporetto, you can even find a seat and sit down. When you enter the local bar the barman will chat for a minute or two while serving you your Cafè macchiato.

And the air is fresh and easy to breathe. On those special days when the low sun just about reaches over the roofs and finds its way down to the Calle. When the sky is so blue it almost hurts your eyes. When the lagoon isn’t gray like in summer but white as the snowy mountains up north.

That’s the best time of all to visit Venice.

Romeo and Juliette

romeo and juliette

under water boat veniceThis morning I found this boat.

Is it sunk because of the heavy rains? Or was it the high water? Sometimes boats are moored with fixed lines that are too short, so when the tide rises a lot… and I mean a lot, the lines hold the boat down on one side until the water can enter over the gunwale.

…. Or has the old feud between the Castellani and the Nicolotti families awakened?

These two families dominated Venice for hundreds of years. And they eventually divided Venice into two parts: The Castellani ruled the northern and eastern parts, Castello (…obviously), San Marco, and Cannaregio. The Nicolotti held the southwest, Dorsoduro, San Polo, and Santa Chiara. And they couldn’t get along. They even dressed differently to be able to distinguish friend from foe.

chiesa di san trovasoThe church of San Trovaso who was situated where the two territories met, was equipped with two main entrances. And to this day it remains a double-gated church. So fierce was the hate and hostility between them that they couldn’t even go to mass without quarreling.

The Origin.

It is supposed that the feud had its origin as far back as the rivalry between the two cities Jesolo and Eraclea before Venice even had become Venice. And they kept it up for many hundreds of years. One couldn’t do business with the other side. Nor could he socialize or often even talk to them. Love and passion were a big no-no.

the fist bridgeAt the Fist Bridge, Ponte dei Pugni there were organized fights. At first, maybe people just met and brawled but as years went by the battle became more organized.

First, they had to decide where to meet. There were other bridges where these battles were held so you needed to know which one. There’s another one close to Campo di Santa Fosca at Cannaregio. Then the canal had to be cleaned from pointy or sharp objects. Then time and participants were decided.

The Fight.

At the evening of the fight, the two teams gathered at each side. One after the other they went up on top of the bridge and tried to beat the opponent. The idea was to simply throw him in the canal. That’s why it was so important that the water was clean, to avoid injuries. When one fighter was defeated the next took his place until one team had won. Unfortunately very often it didn’t stop there. After the athletes were all thrown into the water, the audience and all kinds of hooligans and troublemakers went up and then maybe it wasn’t such a clean fight anymore. Sometimes the fists weren’t enough and knives and other more serious weapons took their place.

I needn’t say this became an increasingly big problem for the authorities. The hostility between the two communities tended to increase from these events rather than diminish, even though the reason they were held was to offer an outburst of the tension building up between the two fractions. So after a series of laws and regulations aiming to limit the effects they finally came to an end in 1705 when all fistfights on bridges were banned.

love black and whiteThis story is even more interesting when you consider that Luigi da Porto, who wrote Romeo and Juliet on whom Shakespeare based his novel, was born in Vicenza and lived all his life in the Venetian orbit. Possibly he took much of his narrative from the reality he had right in front of him and then placed the story in Verona, to disguise it from powerful neighbors and friends.

Then again… who knows what a writer from the 16th century was thinking…

High Water

high water

venice floodedAcqua Alta.

Monday the 29th October 2018 at 3 p.m. the water level reached 156centimeters over standard sea level. That’s the fourth-highest level since the measuring started in 1923. Around 75% of the city is flooded and in most places, even rubber boots aren’t enough. You need waders if you don’t want to wet your feet. As most tourists do not bring waders when they go to Venice, you’re left with two options… Stay in your hotel or get your feet wet. Many of you choose the second alternative and right so. Feet can be cleaned and dried.

steel panle blocking waterThen there are the shop owners and Barkeepers.

For them, a day like this is a nightmare though. Their establishments are always on street level. They try desperately to keep the water out but it’s a battle they can’t win. Water has a bad habit of getting through anyway; anyone who’s spent a rainy night in a tent knows that. First, they block the doorway with a removable bulkhead of wood or steel, bolted to the doorframe. If water is at these extreme levels they might have to top up with one or two panels over that. Then they use sealant under, over, and on the sides to prevent the water from coming through. Inside they use submersible pumps to keep the levels as low as possible because all these precautions are more or less futile…

Cause the worst part is the infiltration from the drains. Venice is a floating city and the water is underneath us. If the outside level raises, so does the water we’re sitting on. So even if we can keep the outside water out, it still comes up from the drainage… And that water is not nearly as clean as seawater.

san marks square high water 29/10Saint Marks Square.

At a certain point, police closed off San Marks square. They claimed it was for security reasons. True or not true the water was roughly 70 centimeters high.

The record this time was 156 centimeters. We talk about these numbers and every Venetian knows what they mean. It’s really centimeters over the medium sea level in Venice (Punta della Salute) as it was in 1897. 95/100 cm is where problems really start. At that point, you can no longer walk around unaffected with normal shoes. Depending on where you’re heading you will find yourself blocked by flooded passages. In the most frequent areas, they set up “passerelle”, a temporary footbridge made by a steel structure on which a wood panel is placed. But these are often crowded and slow. At 130 cm it can be difficult even with rubber boots. Yes, and at 156 cm you need waders.

water buss stop piazzale romaAnother problem with these levels is that when water reaches the panel placed on top of the steel structure of the footbridges, they don’t lie down on top of the steel anymore but float away. As long as people stand on them they stay in place but when they don’t have anyone on top, they escape. That’s what happened at the Vaporetto-pontoons around 150 cm. People just couldn’t get safely to the boat. So they closed all traffic around 2.30 p.m. It started again at 5 p.m. when the water was down a bit.

All schools in Venice and Mestre were closed Monday and Tuesday.

So on top of all this, we also had to keep our children at home, with nothing to do… Park was out of the question and no one was into football. The only good thing about high water is that it’s a tide and it ends. After a few hours, it sinks. The drying up takes a lot more time though.

It can seem an exotic event, and foreign newspapers often write about it with a tone of excitement. You see pictures of San Marco flooded, maybe with a gondola in the middle.

But to us, it’s a bitch, no more, no less…