Venice: 3 Unexpected Surprises

Even when the sun is NOT shinning, Venice has secrets and surprises.

 In my post last week on the  Festa della Madonna della Salute Salute,                   ,  I promised to share the unexpected ‘gift’ I received on my last trip to Venice.

After 30 years of small travel (no epic round the world trips, no treks to isolated tribal villages, no backpacking for $5.00 a day)  I am a traveler not a tourist.   I search for people and places rather than museums and monuments.  And of course ANY market I can find.

As a traveler NOT a tourist, I spend time trying to understand life in the town or city I visit.    The treasures I find can be a hidden craftsman studios, a local personality, chatting with the baker or for me the biggest treasure is interacting with a local.

I have been VERY fortunate to meet several open, welcoming people during my trips:    Yvonne in Sorrento a very talented jewelry maker, Tina in Naples who introduced me the home industry of gloves , the baker in Burano, an artist in Spello who did not speak English but still did an interview with me and many more.  In Venice I met Monica.

Monica Cesarato is a powerful woman who runs cooking classes, home stay language lessons, tours of Venice that cover events not in a tour book.    Her passion for Venice is infectious.

I had met Monica Cesato via her web site and

Monica became an instant friend

Monica arranged a special day for me.  Since my visit to Venice was to attend the Festa della Madonna della Salute Salute, Monica knew about the special dish  castradina a cabbage and mutton ste, that is eaten as part of the festival and wanted me to meet a ‘famous’ woman in Venice.

Through Monica I was able to interview Ada Cato, a well known local cook who had worked at the famous Venetian restaurant, Trattoria La Vedova,  for 40 years.  Ada had the original castradina recipe.

Irma & Monica

As in Italian America families too, it is who you know!   Monica’s long time friend Irma is Ada’s niece!  So now I have two new friends as we walk from .Piazzale Roma.across to the other side of Venice.   Three Italian women.  Ok so one is Italian American but if I do not speak, no one will notice.

I had no idea what to expect.  Would Signora  Cato want to spend time with a stranger?  Would she think my questions shallow or worse…  Our chat started with some of the back ground of her career as a professional cook (chef), what went into the castradina, the festa I had come to watch and report on.

However, quickly our chat became much more.  Monica translated since I understand half (on a good day) of what was said.  But all three woman were kind, spoke slowly as it to a child so I understood them.   But no translation was necessary for the laughter that came with our afternoon together.  

Meeting Ada was my third gift.   The entire afternoon was a memorable event.   Even with a language barrier we were able to exchange ideas.  Not only on cooking because I have no interest in cooking (much to the shock of most Italian woman)  but we spoke about Sig. Cato’s husband who was a gondolier.       She sparked an interest in a story I shall write later this year when I return to Venice. 

At the end of the day, three new friends:  Irma, Ada, Monica

How do you thank new friends for giving up their afternoon to meet and chat with a stranger?

We agreed on my next trip Ada would share her dolce recipes with me.   I do not cook but I CAN bake!

I shall see you soon.

For the recipe for Castradina, go to Monica’s web site:  Cook Venice…  or plan to sign up for a lesson on your next trip Home to Italy.  

Monica’s web site Cook Venice has all the details on Castradina:

Castradina alla S’ciavona
According to tradition, the mutton meat (salted, smoked and dried in the air) was imported into Venice from Dalmatia, which used to be part of the Venetian Republic in the old days and was also called Slavonia (slave land). The name of the recipe “alla s’ciavona” comes from the fact that the meat was downloaded by the Dalmatian merchants in Riva Degli Schiavoni, which in Venetian means The Riverbank of the Slaves and which was called exactly like that because for the Venetians the Dalmatians were considered a bit like slaves, since they were under the dominion of the Republic of Venice.


Castradina from the shop by Marco Secchi

Ingredient for 6 people
1,5 Kg of spiced mutton meat
1 savoy cabbage
2 onions
salt and pepper
Put the meat in a bowl with cold water and leave to stand for 24 hours (this helps to realise all the spices, the salt and to make the meat tender).
Take the meat and with a cleaning brush and running cold water clear away all the salt and the spices, until the meat is nice and clean.
Place the meat in a deep pot and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the meat, rinse with cold water, place it again in the pot and bring again to boil with clean water. Remove the meat again and repeat the operation for 4 times.
Now cut the meat into small pieces, add some water, salt, pepper, add some onion, the shredded cabbage and some thyme. Cook for 2-3 hours, until the meat is tender.
Serve with polenta slices.


Published by Lee Laurino

A traveler not a tourist, searching for experiences not in travel books. Solo traveler who travels as long and far as possible sharing photos of the people and places I discover

4 thoughts on “Venice: 3 Unexpected Surprises

  1. You can eat your way throughout Italy even if you do not like to cook (me). When you are ready to go Home to Italy, check in with me, I try to find the off the main trail things to do and see. I am back for another adventure in Oct.Doreen, i see that you are a professional writer…..I may never get to that level with my future Italian/American app but i did meet a writer who lives outside of Venice…..shall have to tell her about you.


  2. Wow you had a great time! Also Venice is charming when there's the fog, since it gives the city a sense of mistery, as you can see in the movies recorded in Venice or regarding Venice. Did you eat the \”sardee en saor\” too?


  3. so very true, all photos do not have to be sunny and with people and I hate the travel selfie…. I did not try sardee en saor, that must be sardines and I am not fond of those…but when I return in October I shall be cooking with Ada and hope we start at the local market….ps I enjoyed your post on Trieste, shall try to go there too


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