Eating in Venice: Black Ink Spaghetti (Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia)

Black pasta made with squid ink and seafood

Foodie Friday

Once we found a place to park in one of the few parking garages just outside of Venice itself, we gathered our things and headed to our hotel on foot. We walked through the bustling Piazzale Roma sort of the first piazza you come across on coming into the city. We kept on, eager to find a place to eat and our hotel before more showers arrived. It’s always a tough decision in Venice, where to eat. There are so many places to choose from, but what do you focus on: the menu, the location and view, or avoiding a touristy restaurant?

As we walked by Antico Gafaro, the smells drew us in. We took a look inside and it didn’t look touristy, in fact it was quite empty for 6:30 in the evening. That concerned us, but we pushed on and found a seat, led there by a nice Italian gentleman. As we sat and looked around, more people started arriving into the typical looking place. The kitschy décor was nothing to write home (or on a blog) about, it had the typical red curtains and simple art on the wall, comfortable wooden chairs and white tablecloths.

We looked over the menu and there were a lot of the typical Italian offerings. What caught my eye though was the black ink spaghetti (spaghetti al nero di seppia) with grilled squid. That’s not something you often see in America, at least I hadn’t. Maybe in the Little Italy of your choice.I decided to go for it, after all we were now on our trip and in Venice, why not?

The meal arrived in about 10 minutes or so and looked…well…black. It was delicious. The black ink surprisingly doesn’t impart an overpowering taste, but it does make the dish taste very distinctly (but not strongly) like seafood. It was definitely a more salty taste than other seafood pasta dishes I’ve tasted but I can’t say for sure if that’s due to the ink. The squid was cooked perfectly, not tough or rubbery. It’s a meal I can’t compare to other types of meals I’ve ever had, it’s just very unique and worth a try if you’re near Antico Gafaro or many of the other restaurants in Venice and along the Adriatic; it’s a popular dish. I can only tell you it was very well prepared at Antico Gafaro.

About the Ink

The black ink in black ink pasta comes from squid or cuttlefish, a relative of the squid. The ink is used by the squid as a defense mechanism; when it feels threatened, it ejects the black ink into the water to create a black cloud designed to confuse its predator. The ink is comprised mostly of melanin which is the pigment that gives us our skin color and is rich in antioxidants. The health benefits of the black ink are reported to include causing an increase in white blood cells production (boosting the immune system), and the ink is also reported to prevent the growth of new blood vessels, that tumors and cancer cells use to grow. Clinical studies has shown that black ink can be protective of cells during chemotherapy treatments. Over the year it’s been used to treat depression, menopause, post-partum depression, menstrual problems (cramps, headaches, and backaches), and skin problems. The ink also has antibacterial properties. The only down side is that if you have an allergy to shellfish, it seems you may also be allergic to the ink from the squid.

Where the use of black ink in pasta or rice originated is like trying to figure out who first made beer, pizza, or pasta. We’ll probably never know but has a tradition in Italian, Greek, and Japanese cooking. There are two ways a black pasta dish is prepared, you can use regular pasta and incorporate the black ink into the sauce of the meal, or the black ink can be incorporated into the pasta as it’s made, resulting in a black pasta that can then be cooked in the same way as regular pasta using any type of protein or sauce that you like. I had the former, I think the latter can be used for a more dramatic presentation as the appearance of the black pasta is offset by the colors of what goes with it.

Photos borrowed from: 01 | 02 | 03