Travelling in the Covid era – food and quarantine in Venice

The pandemic’s changed lots of things, and a good few may never be quite the same again. What it’s done to alter the face of Venice when it comes to mass tourism we’ll have to wait and see and hope for the best. But this is a clever, enterprising city, one that’s used to adapting to difficult circumstances. Living in the midst of water that might one day, out of the blue, swamp your home, it has to be. So the story I’m going to tell you , which is of interest to anyone needing food deliveries here, not just the few of us in quarantine, is, in many ways, unsurprising.

When the pandemic and subsequent lockdown hit, the city’s hospitality sector was devastated. I got here briefly a year ago in the gap between lockdown one and two. A couple of my favourite cafes had closed, seemingly for good. The rest had opened up, struggling with fewer customers and stricter rules.

I’ll try and tell you what that’s like now when I’m allowed out of captivity here. This time, knowing I had to quarantine for five days, I’d turned up with a sorry supply of dried fast food hoping to live off that and a supermarket shop by the helpful woman owning my rental. But I needn’t have worried because three young local chaps decided to set up a home delivery operation in a city with no roads, no cars, no bike or any of the other means used by giants like Deliveroo. You can read their story in Italian here on Corriere della Serra. In short they set up a website and an app that connects restaurants and food shops around the city with an enthusiastic group of ‘Cocai Runners’ who’ll deliver what you want at short notice to your door.

It is in Italian only at the moment, though. But fear not. Stick with me and I’ll show you how to master the Cocai app in English and set yourself up for deliveries from some of the city’s finest restaurants and some cheap and cheerful fast food spots too whenever you want them.

First up, the links. There is a website CocaiExpress website which will tell you very little at all. It’s basically a corporate hub. There’s also a Facebook page which is a bit more useful but only a bit. The heart of the whole thing lies in the phone apps, on the Apple store here and on Google Play here. Everything happens there.

The first thing you need to do is the trickiest and that’s setting up your account and giving it the address you’re staying. This is the screen and you need to get it right.

Sestiere will be one of the seven districts of Venice such as Castello or Dorsoduro. The number will be for your building. ‘Calle’ means your street or Campo. In the note — and this is important — find out the name on the bell for your place and put this in here as ‘Nome….’ Do all that correctly and your delivery person should find you without a problem and ring the right bell.

Now to the clever part. Once Cocai knows where you live, it can work out the closest restaurants that might interest you. Closer means fresher I guess but also a cheaper delivery fee.

Home screen — food, drinks, shopping, sweets and gelati all available

Once you’re registered you can go to the home screen and see what’s on offer. It’s not just food, there’s some shopping too.

Cocai knows opening times and estimated delivery times so you can plan ahead while browsing menus.

Let’s say I fancy a pizza. Al Profeta is very close to me so it comes top of the list.

There’s an estimate of delivery times, minimum order, some user ratings and the cost of delivery. Al Profeta do lots things beyond pizza but for something different I’d look at another favourite in Dorsoduro, Impronta.

That duck dish is fantastic. As you can see, the minimum order has gone up to €20 while the delivery charge has stayed the same.

Now how about something really fancy from Bistrot de Venise?

Lovely stuff but definitely one for a special night in for two with that minimum order of €40 and, since it’s a fair bit further away, a higher delivery fee. Not for a solitary quarantinee and frankly the Bistrot is such a famous place to eat I’d rather be there for the experience. But it’s great to have the chance to order in a bit of champagne and caviar and giant prawns if you fancy them.

If you’re in Venice for quarantine, leisure or work, Cocai Express seems to me a fantastic innovation. It’s a credit to all those involved, the developers, the restaurants taking part, and all those young runners weaving their way to the hungry across Venice. If you have questions please direct them at their Facebook page.

Oh, and you can pay by cash or card. I’ve only ever paid in cash so I don’t know how the card works. Again, I’m sure someone on the Facebook page can help. (Update — I’ve now ordered by card through the app and it’s dead easy.)

Cocai seems to me a great example of the entrepreneurial spirit that’s kept Venice going for a millennium and a half, through thick and thin. Now to think about what I’m going to order for tonight’s supper…