November 5, 2011

Food by the Boatload

When visitors to Venice complain about the high cost of meals there, I don't hear much recognition of the effort it takes to get food into the city. Yes, prices are higher at restaurants that cater to tourists. And yes, the two-tier pricing system, for drinks and snacks taken al banco (standing at the bar) v. with table service requires decision-making that Americans are unaccustomed to.

Boat on Venice canal unloads to produce stand
But the high price of food overall is not a racket, despite the assumptions of many shocked travelers. Four euro for a can of Diet Coke! (Or 1.50 on the street.) Two and half euro for a single avocado! Seems exorbitant, until you consider what it takes for edibles to reach the neighborhood shop or cafe.

Everything that makes it to the city's interior streets  finishes its trip by handtruck, in small loads with a person attached. That person hand-lifted each parcel off of a small boat that fit through the small canals.

What actually surprised me, given the logistics, was how affordable many staples remained. We had an apartment with a nice kitchen, and so were able to pick up rice, polenta, fresh fish, salad greens, and wine on our strolls through various neighborhoods. The comparability in pricing of some basics to grocery prices at home made me realize how much of our food costs go to the overhead that large stores carry. By practicing those savvy shopper skills we often forget at home, we ate simpler, fresher meals that we lingered over and enjoyed tremendously. That really took the bite out of the occasional restaurant bill.

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