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Digital Subscriptions > Italia! > Jul-18 > Vero Italiano LA PESCHERIA

Vero Italiano LA PESCHERIA

Join Mario Matassa for the second instalment in his series uncovering the secrets of Italian food. This time he goes to the sea, where he braves an early morning, much indecision and the fiery Italian passion for all things seafood.


The boats start coming in at breakfast time and within a couple of hours everything has been brought ashore and sold

Going on a road trip is something that just happens when an Italian living in the flat, hot, landlocked plains of Emilia gets a sudden craving for fish. It just takes one person to mention the idea on a Thursday night at the bar and, suddenly, you are in a car with three other people, speeding down the motorway to a port in Romagna at 4 o’clock in the morning. This particular occasion was not a first for me, and it won’t be the last. But there really must be an easier way to get a portion of fish. And why does it always entail a pre-dawn wake-up call?

For Italians, fish is the most prized of ingredients. A plate of seafood is always an occasion. So when Gigi, my local barman, mentioned that he could really go for a plate of fresh grilled sardines, the supermarket was never a serious option. Good fish must always be fresh – and it is better still if you can eat it on location.

As Gigi did his best to redefine the speed limit, the discussion inevitably turned to matters of the sea. As much as Italians enjoy eating seafood, they also enjoy talking about it. We would arrive at the port by 7am, just in time to see the boats coming in. By 9am, our three freezer boxes would be filled. That would leave us a couple of hours to scour the restaurant billboards for a lunch venue. Gigi was having sardines. Francesco, beside me in the back seat, wanted a fritto misto. Vittorio, up front, was undecided; it was a contest between a grigliata mista and a zuppa di pesce.

I mentioned antipasto, which resulted in confusion and agonised indecision. Then when someone mentioned pasta – specifically, “If the pasta is made in house I’m having vongole” – a further tier of choices meant that the conversation carried on all the way to sea. By the time we arrived, the consensus was that we should push the boat out, so to speak, and go the distance: antipasto, primo and secondo.

With more than 7,500km of coastline it’s easy to understand why Italians eat a lot of fish. And the range is staggering. Red and grey mullet, red snapper, scorpion fish, sea urchins, fresh anchovies, carp, grouper, musky octopus, mantis shrimp, razor clams, catfish, sturgeon, dogfish, goby, pike and sea bream are just a few of the less obvious fish that are eaten regularly in Italy. One of the difficulties with this range of choice, no matter how good your Italian might be, lies in translation, as local dialects have different names for fish. But wherever you go, in a good restaurant the catch of the day dictates the menu.

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About Italia!

Making the most of the Italian summer is what the magazine is all about this month, with a zesty mix of inspiring features and beautiful photography to transport you to your favourite destinations.