What Are Cicchetti And Where Can You Find Them?

For many Venetians, life wouldn't be complete without a wide variety of savory cicchetti. According to CNN, cicchetti consist of an endless variety of snacks, bites, and small plates that are served at bars called bacari. As The New York Times reported, these dishes are a deeply-ingrained part of local culture — and, as such, they offer a perfect way for visitors to experience all that the city has to offer. And the best part? Because cicchetti are relatively inexpensive (just $1-$6 per dish, reported CNN), you can often try a wider variety of regional specialties and ingredients than what you might find in a single restaurant dish.

Cicchetti are part of a longstanding tradition in Venice that continues to evolve to this day. If you're curious about the long history and origins of cicchetti, examples of popular cicchetti dishes, or where you might be able to find this Venetian specialty, read on.

What are cicchetti?

The word cicchetti (known in Venice as "cichéti") likely originated from the Latin word "ciccus," meaning "small amount," reported CNN. There is no single dish or ingredient that defines cicchetti. Rather, these dishes are defined by their size — typically very small — and the setting in which they're served.

Mask maker Sergio Boldrin told CNN, "Cicchetti is the glue that holds Venice together. It is impossible to think of finishing work without stopping for a drink and a snack on the way home, meeting friends, catching up on the news of the day."

The word for the bars that serve cicchetti —"bacari" — is believed to have roots in the expression "far bàcara," meaning "to celebrate." Per CNN, cicchetti are typically served with a small glass of wine (called an "ombra") and eaten standing up, either at the bar or just outside the establishment. In addition to being delicious, cicchetti serve an important purpose: They help people avoid drinking on an empty stomach.

Venice's cicchetti are often compared to Spanish tapas, reported The New York Times. The difference, however, is that cicchetti offerings are highly variable and tend to change by the day (or hour).

Examples of cicchetti

Cicchetti are highly-adaptable and unique to each chef. But that being said, there are some traditional dishes and ingredient combinations that make for popular cicchetti. According to The New York Times, common types of cicchetti are crostini topped with fish, meat, or vegetables. Other popular options are fried meatballs called "polpette."

There are a handful of specific cicchetti that are favorites among Venetians, reported Par Taste. Baccalà mantecato, for example, consists of sliced, grilled polenta topped with creamed cod. Per Italy Magazine, other cicchetti might include components like artichoke hearts, olives, deep-fried pieces of cheese, and boiled eggs. Fried sardines marinated with onion — known as sarde in saor — are another classic, reported Saveur. This dish makes for a particularly popular cicchetti because it doesn't need to be kept cold in a fridge.

While the offerings are certainly varied, most cicchetti incorporate ingredients local to Venice, especially seafood and seasonal produce, reported The New York Times.

Where to find cicchetti

It goes without saying that the easiest place to find cicchetti is in their hometown: Venice. According to CNN, the restaurant All'Arco is a favorite spot among locals that serves an ever-changing selection of crostini. Meanwhile, if you're looking for a taste of history, you can head to Cantina Do Spade or Cantina Do Mori, which were founded in 1488 and 1462, respectively.

Even if you're not ready to drop everything for an Italian vacation, there are still ways that you can enjoy cicchetti from the comfort of your own home. Try your hand at a couple of simple dishes, like these from Sanpelligrino: The brand shared explainers on how to make the aforementioned baccalà mantecato and another cicchetti consisting of boiled eggs topped with anchovy.

Alternatively, you can check out Food52's guide to throwing a cicchetti party with dishes like meatballs, stuffed pepperoncini, and fried, goat cheese-stuffed olives.