Italy’s best kept secrets

A view of Messina

Culinary findings

“U ‘piscistoccu”

Messina, located on the northeastern corner of Sicily, has a very rich culinary reputation based on many of its local products, however, oddly enough, Messina’s most famous culinary tradition is a dried fish imported from the frigid waters of Norway. Known as “Baccalà” in Italian or dried cod, Messina’s most popular offering is not LOCAL at all, it’s cod caught in the waters off Lofoten Islands, an archipelago on Norway’s north coast.
Strictly air-dried, “Stoccafisso,” as the locals call it, has been a popular dish since the middle of the 15th century.

History recounts that in 1432 the ship of a rich and famous Venetian merchant, Piero Querini, ran aground on the island of Rost, in the Lofoten Archipelago. After just a few months the ship was repaired and set sail once again for Venice loaded with its cargo of dried cod.

At that time, Messina was a “must-stop” for ships sailing in the Mediterranean and those entering from the strait of Gibraltar, so Piero Querini’s ship made a stop in Messina and sold a large part of its cargo before reaching the final destination of Venice.

“Messinesi” quickly adapted this new food staple to their culinary traditions and prepared it in different variations (roasted, fried, grilled, on pasta, on salads, puttanesca, or simply with olive oil and lemon. The signature dish, which was a soup called “la ghiotta” with potatoes, olives, capers, onions, tomato sauce, celery, and olive oil quickly became “the dish” of the town.

Even today, there are a few well-known places in Messina that carry on this tradition with great satisfaction to local gourmet diners and a few connoisseurs. Back in the 60s, this food was in serious decline due to the change in eating habits and the arrival of “more modern” fast food. Today, thanks to a group of gastronomes, this succulent “piscistoccu” dish (as the locals call it) has returned to the top of the menu for locals and for those in the know!

If you have a chance to pass trough Messina on a cruise or land tour, I strongly recommend that you stop to savor this unique dish characteristic of Sicilian culinary tradition. Messina itself will delight you with a variety of historical, artistic and culinary venues that you can enjoy in addition to this gastronomic delight.

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