One cannot leave Venice without having tasted one of the trademark dishes that blends into one the city’s marine flavour and the aroma of the islands’ orchards: sarde in saòr.
It is a grass-roots dish made of few and humble ingredients, whole and extremely flavourful (the term “saòr” means in fact “flavour”).
Its origins go back to time immemorial. Imagine Venice after the year 1000, when most people had humble occupations and were used to eating what the land and the sea had to offer, and now add the challenge of preserving food in those times: well, sarde in saòr are a consequence of all this.
One of the most available and abundant resources for local fishermen, back then just like nowadays, were sardines. At times huge quantities would be fished, so how could people store these delicacies for a while longer?
Easily done… roll the sardines in flour then dip them into boiling oil; meanwhile in another pan brown thinly cut onion strips, and then flavour them with a good deal of vinegar.
Once the sardines are fried and the onions seasoned with vinegar, a layer of sardines is placed on a large plate, which is then covered with onions, followed by another layer of sardines and again onions on top.
The secret to this dish is to let it lie for a day or two because the longer it lies the tastier it gets. The vinegar keeps the ingredients fresh and organic. In times when fridges weren’t even conceivable, this allowed sarde in saòr to be consumed many days after preparation, and indeed would often be kept in the food supplies of fishermen and sailors at sea.
The mix of fish and vegetable provided a whole meal, and the vitamin C present in onions was a great counteragent to scurvy, which used to ravage boats and ships in those days.
Sarde in saòr are commonly served in all the traditional restaurants and bacari (Venetian bars) spread across the city and its islands. Over time the recipe for sarde in saòr has been revisited and today it can be enjoyed with the addition of pine nuts and raisin.