Fish Story

It might seem that Italy exists just so people can eat and then talk about it forever. This is especially true of Sicily, where eating is an art as well as a necessity and where fish is essential to almost any menu. 

Fishing has been part of Sicilian culture from ancient times owing to its Mediterranean location. The annual mattanza, or massacre, of bluefin tuna is a long tradition here and is vividly portrayed in the well known book, Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily, by Theresa Maggio. This is what happens after la mattanza.


A meal begins with the purchase of fresh fish either from local fishermen or at the fish market, such as this one in Ortigia, an island that is part of the city of Siracusa.

fish market array.jpg

A few steps further on you'll find wine, cheese and fresh pasta.

cheese shop.jpg

Pick up some fresh strawberries and zucchini at the produce market...

produce market.jpg

...and you have all you need to make lunch or dinner. 

Such pleasures are not new. At Piazza Armerina near the town of Enna, fish was included in splendid meals eaten in ancient Roman times at Villa del Casale, the home of a wealthy trader, where these feasts and their preparation were recorded in mosaics.


Above, the fishermen present the catch to the wealthy owner, who is seated in his fine boat. There are plenty of fish in this sea, which is depicted as if it were next to the Villa del Casale, though, in fact, the Villa is located quite a ways inland.

Below, the fish motif appears in a mosaic on a floor of a of the room in the Villa. It may refer not only to the abundance of fish in the region, but also to the zodiac.

There are probably as many fish recipes as there are Sicilians. My favorite is swordfish cooked in a thick tomato sauce with capers and olives from La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio by Wanda Tornabene.