Keeping Kosher in Venice

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Venice, Italy. A city for dreamers and foodies alike. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Venice attracts people by the thousands every year. The floating city draws people in for its sights, its beauty, and its food.  Venice is not just a tourist destination; it is home to a sizable Jewish community. From restaurants to markets, life for the locals, as well as the tourists, is bountiful. One thing’s for sure: in the city of dreams, starving isn’t an option.

On a hot summer day in late July, a group of backpackers arrived in Venice with their belongings on their backs, and their stomachs rumbling. Though they had food from their journey, they were hungry for something of sustenance. To their surprise, the floating city had much to offer them upon their arrival. “The last thing you expect is to find a kosher pizza restaurant right on the water. It was like a dream!” one tourist explained. Venice is well equipped when it comes to feeding the Jewish locals and tourists. Besides for two restaurants (one dairy, one meat), the local markets are also fully stocked with a variety of kosher options. For American tourists who are used to seeing hechsherim on food, it may come as a surprise to them to find that food in Venice does not come with a hechsher. Baila Bryski, who has been a Chabad shlucha in Venice with her husband, Mendel, for four months, explained that many cities in Europe offer food manufactured by kosher companies without a hescher. This makes grocery shopping more difficult than in the U.S. where kosher symbols are conveniently marked on every kosher certified item.

A guide book is offered to aid locals and visitors alike to make sure their shopping needs abide with kosher laws. “The options are endless, you just need to know what to look for,” she explains. When asked what kind of advice she’d offer to first time visitors when it comes to food, she said: “I’d tell them to take granola and fruits with them when they travel from city to city, especially if they don’t know how the kashrus rules work around Europe.” Basics such as flour and grains can be found in local markets, while dairy products are imported from other cities, such as Rome. Many of the markets offer long life Cholov Yisroel milk, which only needs to be refrigerated upon opening. For kosher chicken and meat, Rabbi Banin often brings a shochet from Israel to shecht on premises. Additionally, Chabad of Venice has recently started a salami line called “Gustafino” which is great for travelers who are constantly on the go. “The tourists who would pass through here used to dry their own salami, but now, we have it ready made for them!” Baila explains.

Shabbos in Venice is a magical and out of the ordinary experience. As it goes with Chabad Houses of all styles around the world, a vast amount of preparation goes into events such as public Shabbos meals, Yom Tov meals, and holiday events. On a typical Shabbos, the Venice community welcomes anywhere between fifty to one hundred and fifty people. In the summer months, long tables are set up outdoors, along the water, offering a unique Shabbos experience for locals and tourists alike. When it comes to preparing for so many people, they have it down to a science. The meat restaurant, Gam Gam, doubles as the kitchen where they prepare food for large events. A tourist who spent Shabbos in Venice shared her experience of Shabbos there: “I’ve never seen anything like it! I arrived Thursday night, and they were already knee deep in cooking. They always make extra food because they never have an exact headcount. They offer the meal so that anyone can feel comfortable to just show up and dine in style.” For larger holiday meals, such as the Pesach seder, the restaurant kitchen is kashered, and preparations begin further in advance. “We were never hungry! It was so surprising to find so many kosher options in the middle of Venice,” a tourist explained. “It was fantastic!”