The Venetian term bacaro comes from Bacchus or bacche (“berries”, though here indicating grapes). The Venetian phrase far bàcara means “to paint the town red” in the name of Bacchus, and so, on the high wake of the “good wine”, the typical Venetian osterie were born.
At first the term indicated the cheapest taverns, meant for the common people: both good and shoddy wines were served, but most of all a lot of cicheti.
Cicheti are savouries: a small anchovy, half a egg, other kinds of fish, maybe fried, the classical stoned olives stuffed with a piece of pepper, tripe or spienza (spleen).
The bàcaro, though, has recently been rediscovered and has turned into a place where you can find almost everything: from fried salt cod (baccalà) to dried tomatoes in oil, from olives both big and small to baked cuttlefish, small toasts with baccalà mantecato (“creamed salt cod”), rissoles, croquettes, octopus, nervetti (“chopped calf’s gristle”) with onions and beans, as well as fried prawns and tropical shrimps skewers.
The right time to try out a bàcaro is right before midday, when all dishes are fresh out of the kitchen, and in the evening, too, because some dishes are prepared nonstop.
An ombra of wine
Venetians have the habit of taking a giro d’ombra (literally, a “shadow tour”), i.e. they go from bacaro to bacaro and have a glass of wine with their friends, in a friendly and easy-going atmosphere.
Legend says that, a long time ago, itinerant traders served wine in Saint Mark’s Square. They used to follow the Bell Tower’s shadow to keep their wine fresh. Hence the use of calling a glass of wine ombra (“shadow”).
Drinking an ombra in Venice is a social ritual, an expression of friendship and sympathy, repeated day after day and hour after hour.