Seafood is fish in Italy and here's why...
When I moved to Italy with only the words: ciao, bravo, forte and pianissimo to my vocabulary, I quickly got to learning the lingo but one thing I never grasped was the blurry line between seafood and fish because in Italy, frutti di mare is also pesce.
We're all going to a fish restaurant - 'Fantastico! I love fish but don't eat seafood.'
'So, you don't eat fish?'
'Shall we go somewhere else?'
Endless confusion ensued every time in broken Italian but fortunately around here conversation about food takes up much of every day and discussion about linguistics is always in good spirit.
Everyone's happy talking about what we'll be eating next, especially seafood (or fish) because in this country it's usually considered a celebration.
Like looking forward to fish and chips at the British seaside, in Italy, a trip to the coast undeniably involves spaghetti allo scoglio, insalata tiepida di piovra, cozza marinate, carpaccio di pesce spada, tartar ti tonno, pescata del giorno, frittura mista and so forth.
On the Amalfi Coast, you can imagine it makes a delightful debate and highlight of the day, simply to be handed a menu.
Frutti di Mare o Pesce?
Let's get it straight: the word pesce /peh-sheh/ means fish but also (uncountably) intends anything from the sea.
Frutti di Mare, translated as seafood, are 'fruits of the sea' so technically, they're fish.
Much like in English, think ristorante di pesce - fish restaurant but pesce sulla griglia - grilled fish.
The confusion comes when ordering something from the menu in a ristorante di pesce:
Zuppa di Pesce (Fish Soup) is a much-loved Italian dish with regional variations across the land. In Naples this firm favourite is traditionally a soupy, flavourful broth of tomato containing pieces of firm fish, like Monkfish, together with molluscs such us cuttlefish, squid or octopus and prawns, clams or mussels and clams.
Fritto Misto di Pesce (Deep Fried Mixed Fish) - who doesn't love a crisp, deep fried delicacy? This one may sound like fish but it's more shellfish. Expect all kinds of delicious gifts from the sea on your plate, freshly fried in batter and served with a slice of grilled polenta or bread. What's caught in the net is what goes on the plate! Squid, shrimp, octopus and calamari, whole fish like anchovies or sardines or baby mackerel and bite-size pieces of larger fish such as mullet. See Marika's beautiful fritto misto above at Pier the Roof in Trieste. The Venetians love a tasty fritto misto from the lagoon which is saltier and smaller than Mediterranean food - have a read of 'What to Order in Venice' here.
There's one way of knowing what you order will be a medley of seafood - look for 'di mare' meaning 'of the sea'.
Insalata di Mare (Salad of the Sea) is a warm or cold antipasto 'salad' of octopus, squid and mussels but can include prawns, shrimp and clams with chopped tomatoes, olives and sometimes boiled potatoes drizzled in local olive oil - whatever has been freshly caught and fished. It's always been Emily's favourite thing to order, ever since she was five years old.
Another good indication of a dish that will not necessarily be fish is the fisherman's special...
Look out for 'del pescatore' or any 'pescatore' on the menu if you're in the mood for seafood.
Risotto alla Pescatora (Fisherman's Risotto) brings the fisherman's net to your table in a creamy risotto with fish broth, white wine and shrimp, squid, clams and mussels.
Told you the Italians love their seafood - let us count the ways...
Allo Scoglio translates as 'from the rocks'. Scogli is the Italian word used to describe the shoreline where rockpools form at low-tide with a natural catch of mussels, clams, octopus, crab and sea shrimp. Whether the famous Spaghetti allo Scoglio (Spaghetti from the Rocks) indicates a selection of these creatures sauteed in tomatoes, white wine, garlic and parsley tossed into spaghetti or whether it romantically harks back to fisherman who'd allegedly boil their molluscs with stones from the scoglio in the pot to detach mussels and clams from their shells before being made into pasta sauce, well, who really knows.
But see 'allo scoglio' on a menu and you're in for a seafood feast! Tuck that napkin into your collar, big sip of Pino Bianco, twirl that fork like a pro and let's get stuck into some beautiful spaghetti.
Buon appetito amici.