Ruga dei Spezieri (Street of the Spice Merchants). Walking through the streets of Venice the names give you an unmistakable idea of what it was once like, and nowhere more so than the Rialto Market area. Pesceria (fish market), Erbaria (market of herbs and fruit) and so on and so forth.
Whilst some of these names remain relevant, Ruga dei Spezieri is appropriate now only due to one spectacular shop ‘Mascari’. It is quite probably my favorite shop in Venice.
The Drogheria Mascari was opened in 1948 by Luciano and his wife and is now continued by their two sons. It is the oldest specialty food shop in Venice. There is a sensation of familiarity that they have managed to convey even to those visiting for the first time. You feel at your ease, as you watch them lean, climb and with unwavering confidence find the hidden spice that is located just out of sight.
What is so wonderful about this shop is that it remains contemporary despite not having changed for last 50 years. This is because it has consistently valued and searched for quality under all its different guises. There is a sense of adventure as you step onto the threshold because you a presented with roots you have never heard of, Teas from all over the world and fruits pickled into unrecognizable forms.
I imagine this must be a fraction of what Venetians would have felt as they witnessed the pleasures and treasures of the merchant ship voyagers.
Venice has always been a contradiction in this way. One foot firmly in its traditions, proudly in North Italy, and the other flank, that which faces the sea, open-minded and heavily influenced.The spices that arrived in the market, and can still be found here today were used in everything, from medicines to perfumes, so it is no wonder that this store has become such an heirloom.
But if you are just visiting Venice for a short time, then it is also the first and perhaps only place you need to go when considering what presents to bring back or mementoes of Venice. (The packaging alone makes me it worth buying a present).
Before leaving, or perhaps, first of all, it is important not to miss the back room that stores over 600 different wines and much of the regions finest spirits. This, of course, includes high-quality grappa from Bassano Di Grappa and Prosecco from Valdobbiadene.