13 June 2008

Shopping: the seafood

What a joy it is to plan meals and purchase foods here! I’ve already told you about Rialto, but I thought you should really see some of the beautiful fish sold there. Smaller but still very tempting arrays are available at fish stands in other neighborhoods too. The sea creatures for sale…

By my count there are at least six kinds of octopi and octopus-like things, from tiny, inky moscardini to the piovra with a brown-speckled head the size of a kid’s water balloon. That number doubles if I include squid and all the different squid-like things.

Among shrimp-like things the variety seems endless. The glassy-grey schie are the itty-bittiest, and peachy-pink canoce are almost the largest and the weirdest – all big “eyes” and fat tail with a big, pink bone down the middle. Mazzancolle, scampi, gamberi, and gamberetti fall somewhere in between. And there are still more kinds.

Crabs run the gamut from near-translucent moleche (little softshells) to big, spidery, concrete-shelled granseole, depending on the season. Clams come big, small, teeny, and straight razor- shaped. The latter are really something special. Venetians prefer their small, sweet native, or “true” clam – vongole verace. Sometimes there are cockles or winkles. Often there are live Maine lobsters, too. But oysters of any kind are rare and priced accordingly when they do show up.

And the fish? Please! You name it! The most noble is the sleek silver branzino (sea bass). The cutest is the tiny, glittery alice (anchovy). The ugliest is surely the monkfish, coda di rospo (“tail of toad”), but it could well be the tastiest too. The creepiest thing is any of the eels, whether alive and wriggling in a plastic bucket or stripped of all skin except on the snake-like, mean-eyed head.

Seeking strange things? Lately vendors have offered thousands of bovoletti (tiny land snails), all slowly escaping over the walls of their styrofoam prisons, their little antennae wiggling wildly. Excuse me – snails are not seafood!! Where in the world did these things come from? Is it “snail season” somewhere in Italy? Or are they farmed, like salmon?

Important to remember: no fresh seafood is ever sold in Venetian supermarkets. So if you’ve got a taste for a pretty little oval sogliola (sole) or a bowlful of big black cozze (mussels) for supper tonight, you’d better get yourself over to your local fishmonger before noon. And if it’s a Monday, just forget about it.