Rialto, Venice’s top chefs call for action: “Let’s join together to save the market”


Gruppo 25 Aprile’s appeal is taken up with music and speeches to prevent the death of the Pescheria. For a thousand years the stands have been the beating heart of commerce, which now is at risk of closing.

By Gloria Bertasi

VENEZIA. The smell of the sea, words shouted in dialect, the bargaining and the unmistakable shopping bags with wheels which now one sees only among the calli of the lagoon capital. The Rialto fish market, more than just an assemblage of shops, is a genuine symbol of the city, so much so that the idea that this place might close in the near future has caused, for the first time, all of the star chefs of Venice to react in unison.

The workers

The workers of the Pescheria are not only simple fish merchants. Every morning they give advice and the creativity of the chefs comes to life, among these stands that for a thousand years have been in the same place, under the heavy red tents, alongside the courthouse, in a place that has been a crossroads of people and merchandise since the time of the Serenissima. Yet the fish market is in crisis: at the last offering by the City (related to the Bolkestein directive) for the assignation of the 18 places for stands available, only 9 requests were received. The offering is no longer active, but walking now in the morning in what was once the liveliest market in the city reveals how Venice has changed. Clients are fewer and fewer and getting older, and often, apart from the tourists who take pictures of the stands as though they were a church or a palazzo, nobody buys anything.

Fears of closure

The risk that the market will disappear some years from now, or change its role to offer goods which are closer to the tastes of the visitors – something which has happened in other areas of Venice – is not remote. Some, however, are trying to resist; the committees and groups of residents, who are working against the transformation of Venice in to a theme park like Disneyland.

The committees

Since August, the activists of Gruppo 25 Aprile began shopping regularly at the market and from the contact with the workers the idea of a Sunday event in the Pescheria with music and socializing was born. But doing the lion’s share were in fact top chefs like Donato Ascani of the restaurant Glam (Palazzo Vernart). “If the Rialto Fish Market were to close, I would leave Venice. For me it is unthinkable to shop elsewhere”. Ascani goes to do his shopping every morning, like the housewives of old; he buys his fish in the Pescheria and, close by, at the Rialto Market, he buys fruit and vegetables. “Venice gives so much to a chef – he says – it’s fish is the best”. Two days ago, more than two hundred people, among whom were the groups 25 Aprile, VV San Marco, Venessia.com and the sisters of Ponte Storto, who buy fish at the market for the students of the school San Francesco di Sales, gathered at the market. On an improvised stage actor and director Alessandro Bressanello’s group Ground Zero performed; fish seller Andrea Vio is the bassist. On Sunday Bressanello sang his new song “Venessia xe un pesce” (“Venice is a fish”, which is also the title of a book by Tiziano Scarpa), which is dedicated to the Pescheria: “When I go to the Pescheria to buy a little fish, I see few Venetians…”, goes the song. “For me it is fundamental to go to the market, the things I offer to my clients are connected to what I find here – relates Ascani – we are discussing with other restaurants and we would like to propose a “street food” event for weekends at the market, to make a contribution towards reviving it”.

The star chef

Matteo Bisol, who directs the Venissa at Torcello, is also convinced that it is right to mobilize in support of the market, “it would be a shame if it was no more – he said – many people go there just to see it; we could organize less traditional activities, like guided tours or cooking lessons, aimed at contributing to the market’s survival”. This is the idea that Venetians have as well: afternoon openings, aperitifs with the fish merchants or a chef who offers recipes and cooking classes. Not everyone, however, believes that the trend can be reversed. Irina Freguia, of the restaurant Vecio Fritoin, is embittered by what she sees around her: “There are no more residents, we’re being invaded by shops that sell frozen meals and takeout of low quality. The liberalizations have damaged Venice – she remarked – the laws should be changed in a special city like ours”.

Source: Corriere della Sera, 24 Sept. 2018

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