What is Cicchetti?

by sockii

Cicchetti is a type of "small plates" food served in the bars and osterias of Venice, Italy. Learn more about this traditional regional cuisine.

If you ever travel to Venice, Italy, you will hear talk of or see references to cicchetti - but what is it?

Think of cicchetti (pronounced "chi-KET-tee") as the Venetian equivalent of Spanish tapas. They are small, bite-sized snacks served in traditional bars and informal restaurants (osterias), to be sampled and enjoyed along with a cocktail or small glass of wine. They are typically eaten in the evenings, as local Venetians will travel from bar to bar, taking a taste from here and a taste from there - or perhaps put together a plate of "small bites" at one bar to make for a casual light dinner meal.

All photos on this page are by the author, sockii, unless provided by Amazon.

Cicchetti can consist of many different things: fresh local seafood and vegetables either fried, grilled, or marinated in sauce; meatballs made from various proteins or even leftover risotto; house-cured meats served on tiny sandwiches; light salads and much more. Dining on cicchetti is a great option when traveling in Venice, if you want to make for an inexpensive meal that truly reflects local flavors and recipes. (You'll also likely avoid plenty of tourists and tourist traps that way - these places are where the real Venetians eat!)

Seafood and vegetable cicchetti
Seafood and vegetable cicchetti

Cicchetti can also be fun and easy to prepare at home - especially for a themed dinner or party where your guests can pick and choose between many different foods to enjoy. (Another benefit of cooking cicchetti for a party is that it is often meant to be prepared in advance, and served chilled, at room temperature, or only quickly rewarmed before serving.) I'm thinking of doing a cicchetti theme for my annual holiday party this December, and recently put together a cicchetti plate as my audition dish for MasterChef Season 5 - see the photos of what I prepared below!

Several of the recipes I prepared for this cicchetti "feast" came from the cookbook Cicchetti and Other Small Italian Plates to Share, by Lindy Wildsmith & Valentina Sforza. This beautiful book features a wide variety of traditional and unique Venetian recipes, all designed to be served in this fashion as small bites, snacks or appetizers. While focusing primarily on the regional cuisine of Venice, the book also features small plates from other parts of Italy including Calabria, Apulia, Campania, Lazio, Sicily, Umbria, Piedmont, Tuscany and Le Marche. It's a wonderful "culinary" journey with beautiful full-color photos of most of the dishes - and easy to follow instructions. With few exceptions most of the ingredients used are not hard to find, at your local supermarket or an Italian specialty market.

I've really enjoyed cooking with this book so far and look forward to trying many more recipes in the weeks to come, as I plan and prepare for my holiday feast!

Other cookbooks focused on Venetian cuisine

If you are interested in Venetian food and more recipes for cicchetti, these other books are highly recommended - by me! I've used them all and some recipes from them are spotlighted in the photographs below.

Recipes from Cicchetti and Other Small Italian Plates to Share and Other Venetian Cookbooks
This was my "practice plating" that I prepared for the MasterChef casting call, featuring a variety of cicchetti.
This was my "practice plating" that I...
"Sarde en saor" is a traditional Venetian dish, where fried small fish are marinated with onions and vinegar.
"Sarde en saor" is a traditional Vene...
Salt cod Venetian style (Baccala' mantecato) from the "Cicchetti" cookbook.
Salt cod Venetian style (Baccala' man...
Polpettini (tiny fried meatballs) of tuna, lemon and anchovy. From "Cicchetti and Other Small Italian Plates to Share".
Polpettini (tiny fried meatballs) of ...
A salad of watercress, fava beans, golden raisins and pecorino Romano cheese, from "Venetian Taste".
A salad of watercress, fava beans, go...
Marinated radicchio from "Venetian Taste".
Marinated radicchio from "Venetian Ta...
"Jewish-style" fried artichokes from the "Cicchetti" cookbook.
"Jewish-style" fried artichokes from ...
Rosemary grissini - a recipe from "Venetian Taste".
Rosemary grissini - a recipe from "Ve...

Can't get to Venice, Italy any time soon?

Then get a taste for the city and its traditional cicchetti bars in these videos. After watching them, you may want to pick up one of these featured cookbooks and get to work preparing these tasty bites yourself!

Have you ever tried cicchetti? Or been to Venice? Your comments and thoughts are welcome!

Updated: 07/09/2015, sockii
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AngelaJohnson on 07/20/2015

All the food looks delicious!

Mira on 07/16/2015

Never heard of cicchetti. Good introduction. Good luck with the cooking show!

Treathyl Fox on 07/10/2015

I love tapas, dim sum, cicchetti … whatever you want to call them! Only problem is you can't eat just a “little”.

sockii on 07/09/2015

It's definitely a Venetian specialty you don't hear much about outside of Venice (and most Italian immigrants to America historically come from Naples and further south, so the food traditions in the US related to Italian food tend to be more Southern Italian than Northern.

candy47 on 07/09/2015

I grew up in an Italian household in New Jersey but I've never heard of cicchetti. It would be great for a cocktail party to serve small portions of an assortment of foods. Love it!

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