In the whimsical adriatic city of Venice, the citizens practice a wonderful little custom called the “giro di ombre” (the wheel of shade). It is not a custom of all Venetians, but mostly men and usually older men. However, this being said, you do not have to be a man to participate. You not have to be old. Anyone can do it, and in fact many younger Venetians (including women) are now caught up in this thing called the giro. Mostly though, you will see groups of men, three, five, or six, maybe more, one can even do it solo. I often go solo myself. Don’t worry about being alone. You will make many friends along the way, for that’s part of the “giro,” making new friends, eating, imbibing, in general, having a great time.
What is this giro di ombre you ask?
The giro di ombre is a splendid little ritual that began around venice’s rialto market some 600 years ago. The merchants of the rialto market, wanting to take a little break from hawking their wares, would run to the nearest wine bar to get out of the sun and have a little nip of wine accompanied by little tidbits of food(cichetti) to go with the wine. When these merchants went to the wine bars, known as bacari, translating to “house of bachus,” they’d say they wanted a “ombra,” the latin word for shade. They wanted to get out of the sun and into the shade. In time, a glass of wine in venice became know as an “ombra.” So if one day you have the good fortune to make it to one of venice’s many enchanting little wine-bars
(bacaro), you belly up to the bar, order “un ombra rosso” if you want a glass of the house red, or “un ombra bianco” if you’d like a glass of white wine. It’s as simple as that, and you are speaking in the wonderful venetian dialect. Like a true venetian!
When you go into the wine-bars of Venice, you will undoubtedly see a tantalizing display of food attractively displayed in platters on the bar. These items of food are “cichetti,” tidbits of prepared food that come in very small portions so you can try three, four, five, maybe even six or more. The cichetti generally cost about $1.00-$2.50. They are made to be very affordable and are in small portions so people can order a few different items for variety.
What are the cichetti, you ask? Just what the venetian dialect means, cichetti are small tidbits of food. There exist quite a good variety of items as far as cichetti are concerned. The most traditional and popular cichetti are; grilled shrimp or squid, braised or fried meatballs, cotechino, musetto (pigs snout sausage, “yum!”), nerveti, octopus salad, bacala mantecato (whipped salt-cod), and sarde en saour(sardines marinated with vinegar and onions). You might also find a nice array of small sandwiches (panini & tramezzini) that are filled with all sorts of tasty fillings such as crab salad, speck (smoked prosciutto), shrimp, ham with mushrooms and tomato, and much, much more. These sandwiches are also part of the cichetti and are priced around $1.00 or two as well.
You might be thinking that cihetti are like Spanish tapas. “Yes,” exactly. I might add that the venetians started this ritual a couple hundred years before the spanish did, only the “cichetti” of venice never caught on all over the Italian peninsular the way that tapas did throughout Spain where tapas and tapas bars are a way of life.