Guides: Venice's Best Pastry Shops for Carnival Treats
Venice’s Carnival is legendary. The masks, the 1700s costumes and frocks, the elaborate make-up and the all-around exciting extravaganza – it’s all worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime. The city is busy, but the cheerful atmosphere that envelops every alley and every square during this heartfelt festivity is worth elbowing for. If only for the luscious sweet treats one gets to taste at this particular time of the year.
Among the many Venetian treats that are typical of Carnival, frìtole (fried doughnuts of sorts) are the best known and most loved. For a few weeks, you’ll find them populating the counters and displays of all the pastry shops and bakeries dotting the floating city. Variations on the theme are potentially endless. The starting point is always the frìtola sensa gnente – the first of its kind, and the most classic and traditional among them. But then, one can also find frìtole stuffed with custard or boozy zabaione cream or ricotta, as well a frìtole of various shapes and sizes – small and big, round or with a hole in the middle.
Prices for a frìtola served at the counter range from 1.50 to 2.50 euros – it’s a popular product after all. And if the price tag isn’t of much help when it comes to discern a bad frìtola from a good one, warning signs can be found in the amount of stuffing (too much isn’t good) and in the state of the icing sugar (it should powdery rather than sticky), as well as in the scent of rancid oil or in the excessive oiliness of the frìtola itself.
Among the many pastry shops offering frìtole during Carnival, I’ve selected a few that have, in time, become personal favourites. Many of them are tried and true Venetian institutions. And each of them have gained a place in my heart (and on this list) because of their excellence in producing one particular kind of frìtola – an expertise, this, that sets them on a league of their own as compared to the rest. That said, they all excel at the art of the fried dough in a way or another, so you really can’t go wrong.
This tiny pastry shop tucked in the heart of Dorsoduro produces what are considered the best frìtole in town. Their fame among locals and visitors is such that, during Carnival, you’ll find a queue of people stretching all the way around the block, all of them waiting for their frìtola fix. Don’t get discouraged and join the queue. You’ll very soon know what the fuss is all about. Their frìtole alla crema are nothing short of sheer perfection. Though the frìtole laced with apple slices are also worth a try – if nothing else for the fact that you won’t find them elsewhere.
This elegant café and pastry shop, located in front of Venice’s stunning marble-gated hospital (pictured above), produces a heirloom version called frìtola col buso (with a hole). The recipe is that of a basic frìtola, but they make a hole in it so that it can cook more evenly. Airy and pillowy as a result of the long fermentation, and light and not at all greasy despite the frying, these frìtole are punctuated by delicious raisins soaked in grappa that make them all the more irresistible. If you’re partial to the stuffed version, though, you will also find their other specialty – frìtole with chantilly cream. It doesn’t get much lusher than that.
One of the oldest pastry shops in Venice, Rizzardini is an institutions for sweets and pastries all year round, Carnival being no exception. Their frìtole stuffed with liqueur-spiked zabaione are cult – and easily the best in the province. Don’t miss them out.
Majer has a number of locations spread around town, and as with most chains, I am often suspicions, if not a tad biased. All doubts have been swiped away as soon as I’ve tasted their delightful frìtole stuffed with ricotta – a first! And although the combination is not really traditional, the result, sitting halfway between a cannolo and a doughnut, is outstanding.
Finally, this much-loved pastry shop made the list not just because of the quality of its frìtole, but also (and perhaps most importantly) because of its strategic location. Set just a steps away from the train station, it’s the perfect pick if you don’t have much of a chance to wander through the city yet still want a little Carnival-inspired sugar fix.