Fish in Puglia is a sacred saint subject! It is a very serious matter. People eat it at least four times a week and every time is a ritual.
“Il fritto misto”, or mixed fried fish is always eaten with the hands, when brought to the mouth is almost like playing a harmonica with the flesh and the bones.
Many fish sauces or broths are always used as condiments to pasta or rice and the fish cooked with those sauces becomes a second course, this way the preparation time is well spent and we have two substantial dishes at once. It is also a good way to save money on food. Pugliese cooking is today, as it was in the antiquity, a frugal cuisine.
One characteristic aspect of the fish in Puglia is the ritual of eating it raw on the bank of the Adriatic Sea.
In Bari there is a place called: “N-Derr’a La Lanze”, a centre of the mariners’ life of the old city, where fishermen leave their boats to rock on the calm waters of the port and where they sew their nets and curl octopi for hours. Curling octopi it is a spectacle to see! It is an ancient practice that goes back to the late 1500’s and is only done in Bari.
The City Council governing Bari in the 1500′s, established that the curled octopi had to be sold in a roll of one Kilogram at the price of 3-1/2 grain, which was the money value at that time. The curling serves the purpose of tenderizing the octopi, which then will be eaten raw with only a glass of white wine and a piece of fresh country Pugliese bread.
Many other seafood, or as we call them “frutti di mare” are eaten raw, such as sea truffles, mussels, clams, razor clams, oysters, sea-urchins, smelt fish and others found in the Mediterranean Sea. Sunday meals especially are not complete without seafood.
We have and old Barese saying that goes: “It is better to eat sea-urchins and seafood than to consummate a first newly wed night”. In other words, sea-urchins are only good when they are freshly caught, retaining briefly their color and taste of the sea, but marriage when built on solid foundations is always there.
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