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Disnar, or the food of champions

Historical Regatta of Venice | Cantina Do Spade

Every first Sunday in September, all Venetians know what they will find in the city. Or rather, on the Grand Canal. The Historical Regatta, entertaining thousands of visitors each year – from the city and beyond – with the historical parade in 15th-century costumes and its breathtaking competitions on traditional boats of the lagoon. The Historical Regatta of Venice, though, has another traditional feature. Or rather had, since it is not customary anymore: we’re talking about disnar.

The disnar of the Historical Regatta of Venice

Disnar dei regatanti: the “dinner of the racers” of the Historical Regatta, was literally the dinner offered to authorities, but most of all to champions, on the Thursday preceding the Regatta.

They say this tradition was established to let all champions, even the poorest, have a full belly after a rich meal, so that they could compete as equals. But there were three more goals, besides the nutritional one:

  • mingling with the other crews;
  • knowing your enemies;
  • asking the major for forgiveness for violations made during the year.

Despite the edginess preceding every Regatta, the atmosphere was joyful, to such a point that, in 1893, the major and poet Riccardo Selvatico recited his poem La Regata. Just to give you an idea, it begins as follows:

No gh’è ne la storia

Del mondo una festa

Più bela, più splendida,

Venezia, de questa:

De re e imperatori

Delizia, martirio

De artisti e scrittori,

Superba memoria

De un tempo passà.

Inutile invidia

De cento cità!

“In the history of the world there is no celebration more beautiful or more wonderful, Venice, than this: a delight for kings and emperors, an agony for artists and writers, a superb memory of a long time gone. Hopeless envy of a hundred cities!”.

Even during wartime Venice never abandoned this event, although it changed its location – a squero rather than a restaurant -, and reduced its menu.

The menu of the disnar

Menu Disnar 1912 | Cantina Do Spade

The menu of the disnar in 1912

According to L’Adriatico of June 28th, 1912, the menus of the disnar, too, underwent some changes with the passing of time. Whereas at the beginning of the 19th century, crews and city government gathered in queer trattorias, as for example in Santa Margherita or San Pietro di Castello, as time went by trattorias and menus moved to the city centre and to an upper level.

The article, though, explains which were the most simple typically Venetian dishes that the crews and government members ate, as well, that is:

  • risoto coi figadini, a first course typical of the Venetian tradition, where risotto is prepared with chicken livers, browned in a lightly fried mixture of oil, celery, onions and carrots;
  • figà garbo e dolse in tortiera, also known as fegato in dolce garbo, “sweet-sour liver”. This is not Venetian-style liver, but rather liver slices which are coated in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and flavoured with vinegar and sugar;
  • polastro rosto co la salata, simply roast chicken and salad;
  • dolse e fruti, i.e. what ends each meal: cake and fruit.