A university town that blends trend and tradition, Padua is a small enclave of Medieval architecture, impressive art and great food.
When you get tired of the crowds and exaggerated restaurant prices in Venice, hop on the train and head to explore its often-overlooked neighbour, Padua. It might not have the dazzling palaces on every corner, stunning views of the lagoon and handsome singing gondoliers but the city’s compact historic centre indeed packs a punch. With its ancient porticoes, famous frescoes and elegant piazzas, Padua is a gem for foodies who also want a good dose of cultural delights to go with their meals. Here are the locals’ favourite spots that represent the best of the city’s and Veneto cuisine.
Padua was once renowned for its coffee roasting traditions. Today, Manin remains one of the very few places in town that still prepare their own blends in the shiny roasting copper machine that takes a good part of the tiny café. There are no tables as this is not a place where locals linger: they come here for a quick espresso, to grab a handful of old-fashioned colourful sweets or a bag of freshly-ground coffee and rush out to the buzzing city streets.
Torrefazione Caffè Manin
Via Manin Daniele, 56
Historic pastry shop
Open since 1919, Pasticceria Graziati is one of the oldest pastry shops in the city with the third generation of Graziati family keeping the sweet tradition going. Pasticceria Graziati is famous for its delectable millefoglie pastries and la pazientina, an elaborate sponge cake with elegant folds of chocolate layers, which can only be found in Padua. In summer months, you can sit at an outdoor table facing the piazza, but there is also a beautiful tearoom with vaulted ceilings and a proudly displayed 13th-century door found on the premises during a recent renovation.
Piazza della Frutta, 40
Sotto il Salone, the Padua’s 800-year-old covered market is the jewel of the local food scene. Under the elegant porticoes, 50 small shops sell artisanal cheeses, prosciutto, salami, fresh meats, handmade pasta, bread and various delicacies from the Veneto region and other parts of Italy. I like strolling from one shop to another, listening to locals discuss a pasta sauce recipe, order fresh pastries for a birthday party and watching them pick the best horse meat cuts (yes, it is a regional specialty! You can also find a donkey salami at the market).
Sotto il Salone
Piazza della Frutta, 45
La Folperia, a street food stand on Piazza della Frutta, is a real institution in Padua. It has been selling traditional regional seafood fare for over 40 years. Barbara and Max, who runs the stand, pick up the freshest catch of the day from fishermen in Chioggia and make simple mouth-watering dishes such as baby octopus with parsley and lemon juice, sea snails with garlic, fried soft crabs, creamed salted cod. The kiosk doesn’t sell drinks, but the Bar dei Osei, located right beside it does. This tiny bar is famous for its simple panini sandwiches with hand-cut porchetta or mortadella, which locals wash down with Prosecco from the famous Valdobbiadene area.
Piazza della Frutta, 1
The moment you enter Ristorante da Giovanni, a half-a-kilo slab of butter and fresh, crunchy bread arrive on the table to get your appetite going. The restaurant’s meat-loaded serving trolleys have earned it a reputation for the best traditional Gran Bollito Padua-style. Generous chunks of hen and rooster meat, tongue, veal and cotechino are piled up on plates and devoured in large quantities by locals and tourists alike.
Ristorante Da Giovanni
Via Moroncelli, 22
The Drogheria Preti shop is the closest you get to an Aladdin’s cave. If you are looking for an extraordinary gift for a foodie back home, this is the place to check out. The current owner, Daniele Bettella, has preserved the original furnishings from 1936. The range of products stays truthful to the old-style drogheria shops: almost a hundred types of spices, dried fruit, everything you might need for making liquors at home as well as natural wood polish, rare pigments for paints, resin for furniture restoration. Here you can stock up on high-quality chocolate, sugared violets, local drinks such as Kranebet juniper liquor, traditional jujube liquor called Brodo di giuggiole and some rare alcoholic infusions with mountain herbs.
Prato della Valle, 26
Quench your thirst
After indulging in all the local cuisine, w(h)et your palate with a glass of local wine. Veneto is the land of Prosecco, which can be enjoyed with just about any type of food. Its tingly, dry bubbles cut through sweet desserts, amplify meat and cheese boards and meld beautifully with seafood dishes. Col Vetoraz and Bortolomiol are both renown for their Prosecco Valdobbiadene DOCG so make sure to ask for one when eating in Padua.
Want to sip on a red instead, Zenato’s Valpolicella Superiore DOC is a fantastic Ripassa wine, created using a recovered traditional method for making Amarone wines. A dry red, it equally pairs well with almost anything you could want to eat in Padua (except maybe that diplomatico you had for dessert!)
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