Sushi is not only found in Japanese cuisine. In Bari, the capital of Puglia (Apulia), there is a tradition of eating raw fish that goes back many centuries. Whether octopus, sea urchins, or indigenous types of fish, you’ll find locals eating the fresh catches in the freshest way possible.
As our partner Augusto of “A Culinary Adventure in Puglia” explains, “eating raw fish is not only a secular tradition, but an institution of civil and social life which symbolizes belonging to the Earth and the Sea, and which is renewed every day at ‘nderr la lanze,” the famed fish market on the pier in front of Bari’s Teatro Margherita. In the heart of the old port of Bari, fishermen arrive daily with fish that has just been caught and is often consumed on the spot.
The variety of seafood found in the local waters is impressive: sea urchins, octopus, cuttlefish, mussels, scallops, razor clams, oysters, squid, anchovies, red mullet, prawns, and lobster. And tradition would say it should be eaten raw and undressed–so skip the lemon juice!
According to Augusto, the custom harkens back to ancient times and lives in the popular imagination of the locals. There is even a law on the sale and consumption of raw fish that dates back to 1500, and which seems to have been written specifically for the area around Bari. Today, the consumption of local seafood in this way is so widespread that periodically the government imposes no-fishing periods to repopulate the various species.
King of the raw seafood scene in Bari is the sea urchin, which, once you break open its hard, spiny exterior, offers up a savory, fragrant orange flesh that is eaten without the aid of cutlery, or perhaps with only a piece of homemade bread in order to fare la scarpetta (literally, make a little shoe [out of the bread], and mop up what is on the plate, or in this case shell).
Second only to the sea urchin according to Augusto is raw octopus. There is a specific dish called pulpe rizz (octopus curl) in which the octopi are cleaned of their internal organs and beak, stunned with a wooden stick, beaten on a rock and placed on the bottom of a basket. The pulparule (fisherman) stir the octopi for about an hour until the tentacles curl, forming a ring. In the local dialect this process is called arrzzè u pulp, and it causes the relaxation of the nerves, which makes the meat tender and makes the octopi take on the particular ringed shape.
Another delicacy are baby cuttlefish. Augusto explains that these so-called allìive are 3-4 inches long, spine removed, and served perhaps with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon: “If you do not want to consume it whole, cut the bag into rings and head pieces, and thus you have the tagghiatedd, or cuttlefish noodles.”
Interested in learning more about this amazing region and its cuisine? Check out our cooking vacation A Culinary Adventure in Puglia.
By Peg Kern
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