Just returned from my second visit to Padova. It is a nice city with an amazing food market, and best of all, the town is not overrun with tourists. When bustling, it is the bustle of students, not tourists. We were the only people speaking English at our table in the Osterie we dined at, and the food is great. Similar food to what you will find in Venice (the Veneto) but at much much lower cost. It seems to me that Padova should be a choice destination for “foodies” who travel to Italy. (Fred Plotkin says that the Padova market is second only to Bologna. I haven't traveled all of Italy, but he might be right)
We flew into VCE and took a shuttle van directly to Padova. Arriving just after noon we were tired, hungry and ready for lunch. First meal was at Osteria Dei Fabbri. I had a light lunch here 4 years ago (tasty pasta fagioli) and thought it worth a return visit. It has the décor of an “old-school” traditional Osteria and a large fixed menu including many Padovani specialties. We started with polpette in a tomato sauce served aside polenta. Great start. For me the first meal in Padova needs to be Bigoli con ragu Anatra, the classic dish of Padova. Fresh made bigoli were fantastic. Also fresh strozzapreti with pancetta and fungi, and gnocchi with pancetta and a creamy sauce. The house made gnocchi were as light as clouds.
First dinner was at Osteria L'Anfora. This place has a bit of a funky atmosphere. I hear it is known as a popular place to hang out for aperitivo or late night snacks for students and University professors, but they do take their food seriously. The menu is a regularly changing paper page printed in Italian only. We started with a platter of mixed salumi and cheeses. Proscuitto, kinda thick sliced salami, and pancetta were all good, but the cheeses were the highlight. 3 kinds of asiago of different ages. We wanted to try shrimp in saor, bit it was finito.
We were waiting a long time for our pasta to arrive. Then finally someone arrived from the kitchen to explain. There was a mishap with the spaghetti con Vongole so they had to re-do all 3 of our dishes. This impressed me that they cared enough to re-do everything instead of serving us separately of just leaving 2 paste on hold. When it finally arrived the pasta with clams was perfectly delicious. Bigoli with sausage and rosole was also great. Was not familiar with rosole, I asked the server and got a long explanation in Italian that was beyond my limited vocabulary, I picked up the herb part. Next day at the market I saw the herby greens for sale there and understood. My 13 year old niece chose orechiette with tomato and burrata. She devoured every last little ear and loved it. She had a long list of foods to try for this, her first trip to Italy, but she still found her self drawn to the comfort of familiar foods. (She has made orecchiette with me at home, and anything with cheese is a favorite). There were many desserts to choose from, we scoped out the glass display case to help decide. Pear and chocolate torta was tempting, but panna cottta was on the “to-do” list and won out.
Next day we had a picnic lunch of “street food”. First off, a visit to the market is a must, open daily from 8 am till about 2. There is a large outdoor market with an abundance of fruit and veg vendors and a great indoor market with permanent shops. Any food lover could spend joyous hours perusing this place. We bought excellent strawberries in season and fresh shell peas to much on. Also some cheese and olives from the indoor market. A cool but sunny day, by noon the piazza del signoria was loaded with students sitting on the steps of the loggia and any other flat surface of the square. We enjoyed a piadina there sitting at the base of a fountain near the torre dell'orologio. (breseola with rucola and grana) We also had a unique panini from Violantes deli at the market. They call them “nuvole”, clouds. Light focaccia bread rolls are steamed in a little steamer oven, and filled with a large choice of eclectic ingredients. We chose porchetta with almonds, olive paste and cheese. Great combo, and the soft warm steamy bread was surprisingly excellent. Adjacent to the piadina shop, right next to Grom is another gelateria called Ciokkolate. Their slogan: “il gelato che meriti” the gelato you deserve!
Dinner on night 2 was the standout meal of our brief stay in Padova. Osteria ai Scarponi. A family run osteria with a new menu every 10 days or so. They menu is limited to about 5 paste and 4 or 5 secondi, but they now post it online so you can know in advance what to expect. The only antipasto they ever offer is “spuncioti misto”, a platter of mixed “cichetti” Padovani style. Our platter included scampi in saor as well as chicken in saor, both yummy, but with slightly different versions of the famous pickled onions. just enough sweetness from added raisins and pine nuts. I don't remember which was better, but there was none leftover on the platter. Also octopus salad with potatoes, the polpo was very tender. I am not expert on octopus, but this made me a new fan of the dish. (this was better than the versions we later tried in Venice.) There was also egg with asparagus, and some good giardinera in the center of the platter. Fresh house made bigoli with Padovani ragu was excellent. Not just anatra, but the duck was mixed with chicken and guinea hen meat for a very tasty ragu. The white vegetarian lasagna with green and white asparagus was OK but needed a bit more salt. The standout was black spaghetti seppia nero, served with lots of swordfish, and just the right limited amount of fresh tomatoes to give the dish a little tang. Yum.
We thought we were too full for dessert, so we decided we would pass, unless they had tiramisu, an important item on the “to-do” list. So, of course, they had tiramisu, and it was really good. We also could not pass up a taste of pazientina. A Padovani specialty. A torta layered with almond, cream and zabaglioni. So glad we tried this sweet Padovani treat. And why not finish with a grappa. What a great meal, enhanced by very friendly staff and great service.
Next day we shopped at the market for a “picnic”lunch for our train ride to Firenze. Organic bread at Sabon paneficio in the market and a nice variety of salumi and cheeses from various vendors. We also stopped at the elegant Pasticceria Graziati for some to-go pastries. We bought some good millefoglie, not the easiest thing to eat on the train, but who cares it was so good! And also tried their version of pazientina. Very tasty in its own right, but a very different version and not quite as good as the version at ai Scarponi the night before. (that said, I would eat this torta again any day!) Graziati is a little pricey, but if I had more time to spend in Padova, it would be a nice treat spot for a coffee, hot chocolate and a sweet, They have outdoor tables on the piazza and a cute little indoor salon as well.
So why aren't more food enthusiast travelers flocking to Padova? No, it is not Venice, but that is the whole point. A fun town to explore with great food and without the hoards of tourists.
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