Natalie Tan

Simmer Down, Issue #29 05.11.2021

pasta in venice

There’s not much to do on a two and a half hour EasyJet ride aside from revel in daydreams, scored by a long playlist that muffles the bursts of quiet morning chatter and purchases of exorbitantly priced coffees and croissants that occupy the soundscape. Plump clouds crawl past the plane widows, heavy masses of tiny droplets resembling tufts of cotton candy suspended against a backdrop of blue. Once the plane lands and feet hit the tarmac, the air is heavy and wet, like offshoots of the clouds above exist below the sky in invisible sheets that wrap around every solid mass weighed down by gravity.

The Venice Marco Polo arrivals wing is low-ceilinged, with a colour palette that’s grey mottled with beige, or beige mottled with grey. It’s disorganized; there’s meant to be designated queues, but it’s not possible in the space provided, so everyone bundles in a single tightly-packed group until it’s time to separate into three prongs closer to the front. There are water taxis that sail into Venice, painted sunflower yellow, rocking in wait against the water’s murky ripples. All passengers are seated below deck and as the boat speeds up, faded pastel pink buildings come into view through the tiny windows, and everyone grows silent. There are no cars in the streets. To promenade through narrow passageways and step across short bridges eclipsed by buildings–pink, terracotta, stone or brick–is so different from walking alongside the London mammoths constructed of Portland stone, that one can’t help but feel magical, and utterly naïve.

People take their breakfast quick and standing, swifty sipping espressos and munching on small, sweet pastries while jovially conversing with anyone in their proximity. It’s a vibe that sets a positive tone for the rest of the day spent ogling Saint Mark’s Basilica and gazing at tourists lazing romantically in gondolas that glide down the canals. Dinner, leisurely, long, and lit by candles or streetlamps, is where absolute pleasure lies, especially when it takes the form of pasta.

Whether it be nests of smooth strands or cascades of tubular clusters, vibrant against well-worn plates, pasta in Venice is simplicity personified. It’s cooked until supple to the bite with a slight bounce–not hard and chalky in the way that TV chefs define al dente–and the sauce dresses rather than drowns, enveloping it to completion. Spaghetti with cuttlefish, slick and black, is adorned by tiny flecks of green parsley and nothing else, the ink which seeps into every strand imparting enough earthy, salty, and robust flavour to fully satisfy. Shrimp in their shells with striated clams and mussels coaxed open from the steam produced by wine and fish stock are strewn throughout platters of linguine allo scoglio. There is no sauce coating the linguine besides the pulp of a few cherry tomatoes emulsified with olive oil, seafood liquor, and pasta water; it’s practically invisible, but imparts an inexplicable balance and juiciness to the dish. Creamy lasagne di pesce is unparalleled – presented in small portions, slices made stark white by the bechamel and slices of fish within, the only colour faint from the sheets of light pasta and the slight browning on the top. Lasagne with butternut squash is similar in its appearance, dotted with orange, the top a deeper brown from blistered ricotta cheese. The taste of the bechamel is enhanced to god-tier by a generous grating of nutmeg, and can only be described as warming and well-rounded.

Nights of laughter, heart-to-hearts, and bellies full of pasta are finished off with dreamy tiramisu, espresso-saturated lady fingers swimming in mascarpone, or with a scoop of gelato–pistachio, fior di latte, stracciatella, chocolate–swirled atop a waffle cone. Food here is uncomplicated, it’s a few ingredients assembling into an expression of joy to in turn create brief moments of delight whether you’re alone or with another. While each element of the dish is presented on the plate before one’s eyes, it’s still hard to comprehend how food can taste this good.