The cool January morning felt new and crisp. With a new city at our fingertips to explore, everything seemed possible. Our family of six bundled our jackets, put on our hats and scarves, and set out to explore the area of the island near the Rialto Bridge.
As we rounded a corner, there before us was a chocolate fountain in the window, gurgling with frothy, gluttonous chocolate, so smooth and creamy that we just stopped and stared. Our three year old, Peyton, peered inside the shop and spotted staff waiting with tasting trays of various kinds of chocolate.
A child’s dream come true!
We had stumbled upon Nino & Friends, and it appeared to be an Italian version of a Willy Wonka type of chocolate shop. It was our lucky day. As chocolate is my favorite, I was all in, and my kids knew it.
As we chatted with the staff, we found out that Nino & Friends was a small chain of chocolate shops with several locations in Venice. The treats they touted were gorgeous: limoncello bonbons, white chocolate with candied lemon peel, and salted cappuccino biscuits.
We let each child sample many treats, and the shop assistants were only too happy to oblige my four blond-headed, blue-eyed girls, and they were delighted as they oohed and aahed as each new flavor profile hit their tongue. We chose our favorites to take back to friends and family, and left the shop with contented smiles.
Several days later, we walked for hours, browsing shops and making friends with many pigeons in each piazza. But our animal lover, five year old Devyn, learned that if you offer Venetian pigeons a snack, the police will appear out of nowhere and warn you in a stream of quick Italian something like, “Do NOT feed the pigeons or you shall be fined!” while gesturing profusely.
We were tired, and ready to get off the streets, but we still needed to criss-cross the city again to get back to our apartment. With no public transportation other than boats, walking in Venice is the order of the day.
Suddenly, near the Teatro la Fenice, we spotted a gorgeous looking gelato shop under the name Gelatoteca Susa. Gelato is an Italian ice cream that can only be described as heavenly. Somehow in Italy, it’s extra divine.
The kids took ages choosing flavors, but finally settled on dark chocolate with a raspberry swirl, peanut butter salted caramel cheesecake, frutti di bosco (fruit and berries), and hazelnut and pistachio. We quickly came to realise that when you are walking along the canals of Venice with a gelato filled-waffle cone in hand filled with flavors like these, all seems right with the world.
PASTRIES & COFFEE
The next week, we’d heard about Rosa Salva, the family-run pasticceria dating back to 1879, and we were eager to go there early in the morning to try out the pastries for ourselves. By the time we arrived at 8am, it was already packed with people. The children politely shimmied their way through the crowd to get face to face with the culinary delights we came to find.
Behind the glass counters, the girls’ eyes lit up with excitement as they set eyes on a myriad of hand-made Venetian pastries. It was early in the morning, but there were already stacks of profiteroles, pyramids of carnival-inspired fritters, tiny bowls of creamy tiramisu, and piles of powdered cannelloni. How could we possibly decide?
We employed our favorite tactic: make friends with the people behind the counter and delight them by saying we would try whatever they suggested, since they knew what we would like the best.
Two workers consulted together quietly, pointing at the pastries, then at the children, and back again. They argued extensively over what to suggest, and finally settled on a classic cannelloni.
They wrapped up the six pieces into white paper pockets and offered my husband and I two tiny espressos for free, serving them to us with a with a “Mama Mia!” and an concerned hand gesture, communicating that we had FOUR beautiful little girls to keep track of in our travels. “How could you ever manage them all?” they seemed to be asking in Italian.
In Italy, to-go coffee is not a sit down affair, nor a walking one. Instead, the customers usually stand crowded around the counter and drink their espresso in just a few sips while chatting loudly with hands moving all the time, punctuating their speech with active hands as they talk. We watched as someone approached the counter and asked for a caffè sospeso.
What is that? We wondered aloud, excited to learn about a new Italian coffee beverage.
After serving the customer, the kind lady behind the counter explained that the term caffè sospeso means “suspended coffee” or “pending coffee.” It’s a charitable gesture where someone pays for two coffees, but only receives one, leaving the second coffee to be given as a gift to someone in need. The cafe keeps track of those purchases, and when a person who can’t afford a coffee comes in later, they are offered one for free, thanks to the person who purchased the caffè sospeso.