Last updated on November 27th, 2023
Have you heard about cicchetti but you aren’t sure exactly what they are? And does your tongue get tied when you try to pronounce cicchetti?
Even after living in Italy for twelve years, it wasn’t until I spent some serious time in Venice (in the Veneto region) that I actually wrapped my head (and tongue) around the cicchetti culture and the correct pronunciation! It’s not easy.
After time spent with Venetians and a bit of practice throughout my years in Italy, I am confident in sharing my top tips for getting the cicchetti pronunciation down once and for all.
Whether you are just trying to improve your Italian or you have a whole trip to Venice planned, you are in the right place. In this article, I will not only cover how to pronounce cicchetti but I will explain exactly what it they are, the tradition behind them and where best to eat them in Italy.
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What Are Cicchetti?
Cicchetti, sometimes seen written as cichetti or cicheti in the local Venetian dialect, are small snacks or bites that are typically served in bacari in Venice.
Bacari are cicchetti bars or small restaurants specializing in serving cicchetti. They are not dissimilar to wine bars serving up small nibbles with a wide selection of regional wines.
I would go as far as to compare cicchetti with the English translation of finger food, because this is exactly how many cicchetti are eaten.
Common cicchetti examples include simple snacks like olives, cut up vegetables and small bites of meat or fish. Other examples include:
- small sandwich bites
- crostini, similar to open-faced sandwiches
- a small piece of fish or boiled octopus
- a square of polenta topped with sauce
- a fried meatball
Cicchetti are generally very inexpensive, costing anywhere from €1 to upward of €5 each, at the most chic places. If I am having just a quick sip of wine and a bite “on-the-go” I will just get one or two but for a more ‘meal’ experience, I would order several and try to get a table.
Cicchetti for Venetians are a social event, an act of coming together or a meeting point for the locals to catch up, even just for five minutes over something to eat and drink. Whether it’s the fishermen early in the morning, the businessmen in the evening or the girlfriends in the afternoon, there is always someone somewhere enjoying cicchetti in Venice.
Good To Know: Today, it’s not uncommon to go on a cicchetti tour or bacaro tour and go around tasting various nibbles, even sitting down with several cicchetti to make a whole meal out of them.
Origins Of Cicchetti
The tradition of cicchetti was born out of the Italians needing to put something in their stomach before they drink. Italians generally don’t like to drink on an empty stomach which is why the general tradition of the aperitivo with small snacks is diffused throughout the peninsula.
And because in Venice it’s always acceptable to be drinking a small glass of something, there was inherently a need to eat something small too.
Most Popular Cicchetti To Try In Italy
Here are my top recommendations for what to try in terms of cicchetti while in Venice:
- Baccalà mantecato: cod spread on a toast of polenta
- Polpette di pesce: fish balls
- Sarde in saor: sardines cooked with raisins, pine nuts and vinegar
- Frittura: a selection of local fried fish on a skewer.
- Crostino con salmone affumicato: open-faced smoked salmon sandwich
- Polpette Veneziane: deep fried beef meatballs.
- Bruschetta con pomodoro e basilico: toasted bread with fresh tomatoes
- Bruschetta con gorgonzola e noci: toasted bread with nuts and gorgonzola cheese
- Cuttlefish: a small cuttlefish cooked in ink and served on a toast of some kind.
- Affettati: local cured meats such as bresaola, sporessa and coppa, just to name a few.
- Tuna Salad: open-faced sandwiches topped with local tuna fish salad
How To Pronounce Cicchetti In Italian
Cicchetti is pronounced cheek-keht-tee in Italian. It’s believed that cichetti comes from the Latin word ciccus meaning “little”, referring to the small size of these nibbles.
Listen to the pronunciation of cicchetti here:
Fact: Cicchetti is the Italian plural form of cicchetto, a single snack or bite to eat but you will rarely hear this in Italy, if ever, because the concept of cicchetti embodies a tasting of several different nibbles.
Phrases With Cicchetti In Italian
Here are some common phrases that you might hear or use while in Venice:
Dove posso andare per i cicchetti a quest’ora?
“Where might I go to have cicchetti at this time of the day?”
Con questo vino bianco, che cicchetti mi potrebbe consigliare?
“With this white wine, what cicchetti would you recommend?”
Buongiorno, Vorremmo due bicchieri del vostro vino bianco e un piattino di cicchetti, per favore.”
“Hello, We would like two glasses of your white wine and a small plate of cicchetti, please.”
How Not To Pronounce Cicchetti
Beware of these mispronunciations of cicchetti!
Listen to the mispronunciations of cicchetti here:
How To Eat Cicchetti In Italy
The formula for eating cicchetti is pretty simple to understand:
Small Bites + Small Glasses
Eating cicchetti is traditionally a very fast affair, done standing with a small glass of either local white wine (oftentimes very cheap) or even a small spritz.
Fact: Cicchetti usually don’t require a fork and knife but a toothpick at the most. Usually you eat cicchetti with your hands.
What To Drink With Cicchetti in Venice
Small glasses of white wine, usually very young and cheap including local favorites:
- Prosecco (still and sparkling)
Spritz are also very popular in Venice with cicchetti, traditionally the Select Spritz (a spritz made with a type of bitter similar to Campari.
When To Eat Cicchetti In Italy
Anytime is a good time to enjoy a small glass of wine and some cicchetti in Venice. Hit up the Rialto market early in the morning and you will notice locals actually finishing their night shift with a morning small glass and small nibble.
Any time of the day in Venice you can find cicchetti and bacari open with a wide selection of finger foods.
Where To Eat Cicchetti In Italy
My recommendations below are considered the city’s most famous and historic places, making them quite busy.
Cantine del Vino già Schiavi
Fondamenta Nani, 992
Located in the hip Dorsodeuro District, Cantina del Vino già Schiavi is most famed for their crostini.
S. Polo, 436
Located just behind the Rialto fish market, All’Arco is perhaps Venice’s most famous and historic bacaro, serving up daily fish cicchetti specials.
Cantina Do Spade
San Polo, 859
Specialty: Polpetta di spianata calabra, a fried spicy meatball
Cantina Do Spade is the place best if you want to try things other than crostini or open faced sandwiches such as meatballs or fried bites.
Campo San Giacometto, Ponte di Rialto, 122
Bancogiro is best for people who want to make a whole evening of their experience here, first having an aperitivo with a small glass and plate of cicchetti and then heading to their restaurant for a traditional Venetian meal.
Where To Eat Cicchetti Outside Of Venice
Bacari and wine bars that specialize in cicchetti are not very common outside of Venice. The cicchetti tradition is extremely nuclear and today, remains one of the unique characteristics of the Venetian culinary traditions and part of the city’s cultural identity as a whole.
More recently, however, there have been small places that have opened up in larger cities outside of Venice, bringing the tradition of cicchetti to the rest of Italy.
Via Francesco Hayez, 13, 20129 Milano
Not the traditional formula of eating and standing but Cicchetto is rather a restaurant with tapas-style cicchetti that you would order sitting down with a spritz.
Bulli & Balene – Spritz e Cicchetti
Via dello Sprone, 14/r, 50125 Firenze
Bulli & Balene is the most authentic experience I have had to cicchetti in Venice because of what they serve and how it’s displayed. I highly recommend it!
L’Antagonista – Spiriti & Cicchetti
Via del Commercio, 28a, 00154 Roma
L’Antagonista is a great small joint with a lot of students and young Italians who come for an aperitivo and a small nibble with similar cicchetti bites you would find in Venice.