The ticket inspector on the number 12 vaporetto is a wonder. He is unfailingly pleasant as swarms of confused tourists descend on his boat with fifty euro notes for seven euro fares. And questions. So many questions. He chats to one passenger in French, switches seamlessly to English with the next and ends up back in Italian all the while smiling apologetically as you wait for your change. The boat heaves with passengers on their way to get glass from Murano and that all important canal photo from Burano.
If you’ve never heard Burano, you’ve still probably seen it. Burano is one of the more remote lagoon islands in Venice, where each house is painted a bright colour. It features on Instagram and travel sites with clockwork regularity. Local legend has it that fishermen painted them so that they could see their house from far away at sea and find their way back. A more mundane origin story was that the colours were used to denote the boundaries between properties. Residents still have to get permission from the local council to change the colour of their house. It is an experience to wander around, especially when you get off the beaten track, but in the centre every bridge hosts an aspiring influencer trying a variety of poses.
There are plenty of options for lunch on Burano, some with glowing recommendations, but we decided to try somewhere a little off the beaten track. Trattoria Alla Maddalena is located over the bridge from Burano on sleepy Mazzorbo. Just a few minutes from the throng of selfie sticks and you are walking through the tranquil vineyard of Venissa on your way to Alla Maddalena’s quayside terrace. The restaurant has been here since the 1950s and run by local families ever since. The food is fresh, locally-sourced and significantly cheaper than what you will pay for anything of this quality in Venice or even on Burano. Scampi, softshell crabs, spider crab and clams all feature, but there is also wild duck that has been hunted in the lagoon for those not inclined towards shellfish.
Moeche, softshell crabs, are a specialty in Venice in the autumn and early spring. They only occur when the crabs have shed their shell and not yet grown a new one. They are flat, about the circumference of a table spoon and served whole. They are usually deep fried in a light batter. Occasionally, they are put in the batter beforehand so they can eat it before they are fried, resulting in a creamy omelette-like texture. It’s not a dish for the squeamish.They are often prohibitively expensive in Venice, but Burano is a traditional fishing hub for them.
Looking at the menu, we want to try everything, but settle on a seafood theme. We start by sharing a portion of gnocchi with spider crab (14 euro). I have spent a long time in my life hating gnocchi, they always seemed stodgy and uncooked, but these are perfect light pillows. They are doused in a crab and tomato bisque with flakes of crab flesh. We have tried versions of this dish in Venice before, but this is by far the best. For mains, we share a portion of deep fried scampi (18 euro) and one of moeche (20 euro). A couple sits down at a nearby table. They order a well-cooked steak and chicken schnitzel. I spent many years in Venice avoiding all seafood and sticking rigidly to tomato pasta. I want to tell them not to make the same mistake.
The moeche and scampi both arrive in generous heaps with deep fried strips of courgette and pepper. The batter is light and gently coats the crab. The crabs themselves have a creamy texture from the batter they have eaten, combined with a rich fishy flavor. The scampi is also perfectly tender and delicate. The fried vegetables offer just enough variety. All this is washed down with a young white wine from the Veneto, that fizzes ever so slightly. The quayside terrace feels a million miles away from from the bustle of the city, catching the afternoon sun perfectly.
Another great thing about La Maddalena is its proximity to the vaporetto back to Venice, just a few seconds from the front gate. We are too full for dessert, but we round out the meal with two more glasses of wine, pay our bill, and lounge in the sun until our boat back to town turns the corner.
Trattoria Alla Maddalena, Venezia Burano Mazzorbo 30142