The Smaller the Better

SLOW Fish Genoa 2011

From fishwitches, sandwiches made with bread from Triora–the Ligurian village famous for its Medieval witches—to jellied cubes of green tea with strawberries and head-on prawns, this year’s Slow Fish international gathering had it all: a multi ethnic sea fare complete with wines to taste and enjoy, but also plenty of food for thought regarding the grim future of fishing as we know it.

  Slide Show: SLOW Fish Genoa 2011

The biennial Genoa Slow Fish is a manageable fair, not overwhelming as the Salone del Gusto, he alternating huge biennial Slow Food Torino gathering. Its message was very clear: ‘If we want to continue eating fish tomorrow, we must take action today.”

As the Slow Fish leaflets pointed out, the boom of sushi bars and the increasing demand for fish in restaurants all over the world, especially in the US and the affluent countries of Europe, where people opt for healthier food, poses a real danger for the future of many sea creatures. Nevertheless, a Slow Sushi Bar dominated the fair’s colorful Market, strategically placed at the entrance, before the Presidia stalls where unique and protected foods from Italy and other parts of the world were displayed. But contrary to many sushi bars, theSlow Sushi served no Bluefin tuna or any other species that were even remotely at risk.

Not surprisingly, though, the most exciting dishes I tasted featured small humble and plentiful fish like anchovies and sardines. Being in Genoa, farinata was the traditional fare. This simple chickpea flour pancake–called socca in Nice–is my ideal street food. It is often flavored with seasonal ingredients like thinly sliced artichokes or peppers; very appropriately here fresh anchovies were added to the chickpea batter. At the stand of Zena Zuena, a popular Genoan Focacceria, cooks struggled to satisfy the continuous demand, preparing large copper pans of farinata con alici (anchovy farinata)which after just a few minutes in the blazing hot pizza oven emerged deliciously crisp and irresistible.

Anchovies were the basic ingredient for the dish Mehmet Gürs demonstrated and served during his performance at the Theater of Taste, aptly entitled “how big is yours.” The well-known chef of Istanbul Miklarestaurant is an active campaigner for the protection of endangered Bosporus fish, and especially lüfer, theBlack Sea bluefish. Gürs uses only small local fish to create the creative dishes of his elegant New Anatoliancuisine. In his signature meze very thin pieces of buttered olive bread topped with filleted fresh anchovies were briefly fried and served imaginatively on small carved stone stands, accompanied by ‘lemon foam’–a light lemony mayonnaise.

The inimitable Italian talent of adding status to the humblest, traditional foods was at play in the majestic, if somewhat exaggerated display of salted sprats from the Adriatic. This most simple and plentiful sea creature was promoted under the name Saraghina, on a gilded red throne!

Alternating chefs from various Italian regions prepared different seafood-based dishes every day and served them at the Taste Islands, and at Osteria del Mare. Alongside popular seafood stands, where visitors had to pay in order to taste live oysters and other delicacies, was an impressive stand of Italian farmed fish. It offered free of charge bites of raw branzino, marinated in orange and gin, with a negroni reduction.

Raw fish seemed to be the craze in Italy at the moment, as I realized at restaurants both in Genoa and Milan.Antipasti menus seemed to consist almost entirely of raw fish and the trend brought to the Slow FishKoppert Cress from Holland, growers of tiny multicolored designer shoots, ideal garnish for sushi and fishcarpaccio. Alongside these exotic greens was the display of a nursery from Albenga, on the Italian Riviera: fragrant old-fashion plants like sage, burnet, marjoram, myrtle and caper bushes in bloom awaited fish cooks with more traditional tastes.

And, of course, there were all kinds of educational workshops, for children and adults, and truly passionate accounts, like the cry for help from the African delegation: “Once rich in fish, the seas off the continent’s western coast have been depleted by huge factory ships from Europe and Asia leaving pollution and social devastation in their wake,” they lamented. There were also accounts about the actual status and future of eels, and debates between amateur and professional fishermen. Finally, I think you will permit me to mention the first ever Greek participation in Slow Fish. The very active Alexandroupolis chapter of Slow Food brought to Genoa tender marinated octopus and other fish meze from Thrace, the northeastern corner of Greece. The Thrace Tasting Workshop was one of the fair’s sold-out events.


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