If you need proof that Venice has not dwindled into a soulless museum city, join the locals doing their morning shopping at the Rialto fish market. There are 20-odd fishmongers in the ancient pescheria on the bank of the Grand Canal, with noisy seagulls swooping down to snatch the entrails every time a fish is gutted. All of them are characters, but if you are staying in a holiday let and want to cook pesce alla griglia or spaghetti alle vongole, the man to seek out is charismatic Marco Bergamasco. Marco works directly with local fishermen, either from the waters of the lagoon or out in the Adriatic, and if one day his stand seems to have a lot less on display, he’ll explain that the icy Bora that blows down from Trieste and can last for six days, buffets the boats out at sea, so fishermen stay at home mending their nets.
The city’s top chefs buy their fish from Marco, journalists queue up to interview him, and he is Jamie Oliver’s favourite, featuring in his Great Italian Escape TV series. Marco is an encyclopedia on lagoon seafood, with anecdotes galore: he’ll tell how the wriggling eel is anguilla in Italian but bisato in Venetian dialect, and that it’s served roasted as a traditional Christmas dish. “Unlike many of the Rialto fishmongers, whose stalls are passed down from generation to generation,” he says, “I started out as a graphic designer. But I was always fascinated by fish, always reading and studying, and when I was offered my own bancarella 23 years ago, I couldn’t resist the challenge. I have never regretted my choice.”