Imagine extensive salt gardens in a shallow Lagoon and a just a few islands permanently above water. That was Venice, or rather, Le Venetiae, part of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire during the 4th century AD. Venice developed close commercial relationships with her mother town Byzantium and the Levant. These commercial and family ties are the causes for Venetian food to look and taste so different.
From the 7th century AD, the merchants of Venice traveled alongside the Venetian fleet down the Adriatic Sea, towards Dalmatia, Greece and the Black Sea, to Egypt and the Middle East. In the 13th century, they reached China, India and South-East Africa (Zanzibar!!)
Lagoon cuisine was soon integrated with sophisticated spices that Venetian merchants brought back from their voyages. ut Venetians not only sold these spices all over Europe – they refined them, creating their own mixtures, called sacchetti veneziani. In some public and also private libraries belonging to former Venetian noble families, we can still find books describing these recipes, their origin and history.
As Venetians have always been open and curious, foreign merchants were invited to settle in the Lagoon. First, Greek, Dalmatian, Albanian, Armenian and Jewish communities moved to Venice. The Venetian sestiere di Castello became the first example of a globalized community when many inhabitants from Constantinople resettled here in 1453.
Soon a melting pot of tastes and scents developed in Venice, unique in Europe. The first “fusion kitchen” in the world was born. The 14th century belonged to the mercanti di spezie, the Venetian merchants: They created an exclusive commercial network with trading posts in the Levant (South-Eastern Mediterranean cities and islands, from Alexandria to Constantinople and on the Black Sea). By the year 1380, Venetian merchants also included the Western Mediterranean and regions beyond into their standard trading routes.