Venice on the palate


Venice on the palate

JOAN HAMBIDGE reads cookbooks about exotic destinations and orders takeaway food.



MY kitchen features a large collection of cookbooks. Leipoldt's Cape Cookery. Huisgenoot's Wenresepte. Kook en Geniet. Biba's Italy. Books that often gather dust but still captivate as reading material.

My cookbook in progress will be titled: How to Heat Up Your Takeaways and Other Advice for Solo Diners. The most wonderful book on my shelves is Tessa Kiros's food and travel book about Venice: Venezia: Food and Dreams, published in 2008 by Murdoch Books. It has 150 recipes with 120 stunning photos that take you back to all the landmarks in the city, as well as signature dishes. In December 2012, I visited this city for the third time. And one travel companion gave me this book as a gift with Peter Ackroyd's 2009 study: Venice: Pure City.

Kiros has sections such as: Eating in Venice, Essential Recipes, Cicchetti (small bites), Antipasti, Zuppa/Pasta/Gnocchi, Risotto, Secondi, Contorni (sides) and Dolce (sweet things). She also gives advice on the etiquette of the vaporetto. Enter immediately and move to the back to make room for other passengers. And “permesso" if you suddenly want to get off. She explains how to stand on a gondola if you want to look like a gondolier. Each photo takes you back to this marvellous city. In winter, it was wonderful because there were few tourists. A few snowflakes, but not too cold. “La Dominante", “Serenissima", “City of Water", “City of Masks", “The Floating City", “The City of Many Bridges"…

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Henry James loved Venice. On the balcony of the Casa Alvisi (the home of the New York hostess, Katherine Bronson), he could look down on the city. In the 1880s.

He noted:

The deposed, the defeated, the disenchanted, the wounded, or even only the bored, have seemed to find there something that no other place could give. But such people came for themselves, as we seem to see them — only with the egotism of their grievances and the vanity of their hopes.

Elizabeth Lowry, the author of the exceptional novel The Chosen, writes about James's open wounds and how this city could bring him respite. She was referring to The Aspern Papers.

One must read James alongside Kiros's book. And watch again The Talented Mr Ripley


Cities have personalities, like people.

Venezia is an ambivalent city: also called a “lagoon city".

The food of a particular region reveals something of that city's people and culture. I always try strange dishes in a city: Eels in Tokyo. Crocodile carpaccio in Mombasa. Piranha in the Amazon (the Pygocentrus nattereri tastes like chicken). Fish kebabs in Bangkok.

Why are there so few authentic South African eateries in Cape Town?

Years ago there was a miraculous Cape restaurant across the street from the Gardens with chicken pie, venison, real bobotie and rice.

These dishes can now be found on wine farms and in the Bo-Kaap. And here and there in hotels.

Polfyntjies vir die proe. A good cookbook — as Kiros proves — is like a collection of poetry. For rereading and revisiting. Opening up many memories. Reviving the longing for San Marco Square and the walk across the Rialto Bridge.

♦ VWB ♦

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