For the kosher traveler Venice is a wonderful place to spend a few days or more. On our current stay there we rented an apartment and brought with us a couple of pots so breakfast and lunch were a breeze. Part of our enjoyment of Slow Venice was shopping with the locals in the small supermarket just over the footbridge which supplied us with milk, eggs, yoghurt and Barilla pasta. The large outdoor market was a twenty minute walk away, and there we rubbed shoulders with local Venetians and were able to partake of the proliferation of colorful produce and the very fresh fish. There were many kinds of greens and mushrooms that we had not seen before and we enjoyed trying them out. Also readily available were sun dried tomatoes and pure olive oil which turned our pasta into a gourmet’s delight.
In terms of strictly kosher provisions there is a grocery store called Volpe (Ghetto Vecchio, phone: 041-715178) that sells kosher produce and bake goods. It is located just a few steps down from the Chabad House in the Ghetto. The store has long hours and excellent baked goods that are under the supervision of the local Jewish community (not Chabad) and while the counter people and we had no common language we had no trouble making our purchases and enjoying the fare. The fresh rolls and cakes added a nice touch to our late morning breakfasts and evening tea.
Right across from Volpe grocery is a kosher pizzeria, run by the local Chabad that serves coffee and sandwiches as well. We did not have the opportunity to sample their wares, but the aromas wafting out of the small storefront were mouthwatering.
The high point of our Kosher Venice was the famous Gam Gam Restaurant located at 1122 Cannaregio, Venice (Main entrance of the Ghetto by the GuglieBridge). GamGam has been around for close to twenty years under the kashrut supervision of the Chabad Rabbi Rami Banin and is the most remarkable of restaurants. During the week it looks like a typical Venetian restaurant that fronts one of the many canals. In fine weather diners can choose to sit at outdoor tables and enjoy the water traffic and soak up the unique atmosphere of Venice. If weather is inclement the indoor seating is in two rooms that are tastefully appointed with pleasant lighting and ambiance. When we ate dinner at GamGam on a weeknight, many if not most of the diners were tourists who did not look particularly “kosher” or Jewish, and were just looking for a good place to eat. That reassured us that prices were reasonable. The menu included some Venetian specialties such as pickled sardines (yum) as well as typically Israeli and Jewish cuisine. It was all tasty and prices seemed on par with other restaurants in Venice.
The fun begins on Shabbat and Jewish holidays when GamGam undergoes a facelift and becomes the local Chabad House, serving meals to one and all without charge. Donations are of course gratefully accepted and in fact encouraged but no one will be turned away, and the hospitality is amazing. Hundreds of people are served wonderful three course meals prepared by the Rebbetzin Shachar and her staff every Shabbat of the year. It is both remarkable and heartwarming. The Shabbat that we were there the restaurant was packed to overflowing, and four long tables were set up outside to accommodate the overflow. Rumor has it that during high season in the summer meals take place in two shifts and over 300 people partake at each meal. Eating at long communal tables with fellow Jewish travelers is always an interesting adventure and this is an experience not to be missed!
One last kosher option is the guesthouse/pension Giardino dei Melograni (phone number: 39 041 8226131) that is located right next to the Chabad House on the large square of the Ghetto and is under the supervision of the Chief Rabbi of Venice. When we visited Venice they were sporadically operating a restaurant on the patio adjacent to the hotel called Hostaria del Ghetto, and we ate a lovely late lunch there accompanied by a bottle of Italian Kosher Prosecco. (Maybe that’s why the lunch was so lovely!). The restaurant was not inexpensive, but the food was tasty and authentically Venetian. Several days later we walked by the restaurant and it was closed, so it pays to make sure they are open before making plans.
All in all, Venice is an easy destination for the kosher traveler, and highly recommended.