Venice specializes in fish and seafood, together with exotic ingredients like pomegranates, pine nuts and raisins, harking back to its days as a port and merchant city. The surrounding Veneto vies with Lombardy for the risotto-making crown – the end product tending to be more liquid than those to the west, usually with a seafood base although peas (bisi in the local dialect) are also common, as are other seasonal vegetables including spinach, asparagus and pumpkin. The red salad-leaf radicchio also has its home in the Veneto, as does the renowned Italian dessert, tiramisù. Polenta is eaten, too, while pork in all forms features strongly, together with heavy soups of beans, rice and root vegetables.
Pastries and sweets are also an area of Venetian expertise. Look out for the thin oval biscuits called baicoli, the ring-shaped cinnamon-flavoured bussolai (a speciality of the Venetian island of Burano) and mandorlato, a cross between nougat and toffee, made with almonds.
The Veneto has been very successful at developing wines with French and German grape varieties, notably Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. The quintessentially Italian Bardolino, Valpolicella and Soave are all from the Verona area and, like so many Italian wines, taste better near their region of origin. This is also true of Prosecco, a light champagne-like wine from the area around Conegliano. Grappa, the local firewater, is associated particularly with the upland town of Bassano di Grappa, where every alimentari stocks a dozen varieties. Made from grape husks, juniper berries or plums, grappa is very much an acquired taste.