In Bari I meet ex-professional footballer Emanuele Cancellato in a bar in front of the old port. Although he travelled and lived in Italy during his career (Altamura, Ferrara, Monza, Nocera, …), he remained a true ‘Barese’. We sit down at a table outside under the parasol where he talks about his life as a zingaro or gypsy while I ask about his other passion: Bari. Emanuele: “We love fish here. We love to eat raw fish, at any time of the day. When you bite into an octopus, for example, feeling the fish crunching between the teeth in your mouth is a wonderful feeling. The fish crunching between the teeth, that feeling in the mouth, is divine,” describes Emanuele. “Only when you have that feeling you have a fresh fish in your mouth. So it is important to buy only small octopuses if you want to eat them raw.
In the past, the range of raw fish included also datteri. They are the tastiest seafood. The dark brown, bivalve molluscs are found in our limestone rocks. To catch them, you first have to break the stone with a hammer or pick and then pick them up with tweezers. Because their capture causes serious damage to the ecosystem, their sale has been banned since 1998. Datteri are our forbidden fruit,” he smiles.
Emanuele continues seriously: “Raw fish on the table is sacred to the people of Bari, especially on Sundays. The culture is to eat raw fish and also prepared fish at the family table on sunday afternoon. We sit down at the table from 12 or 1 pm to 5 or even 5.30 pm. Sunday is family day. Some start the meal with a frutti di mare (seafood) pasta or risotto, or with the raw fish as antipasto. But our raw fish can also be the main course. Another Bari tradition is to eat bracciole alla barese on Sundays. These are rolls that we make from pieces of beef filled with pancetta, grated provolone cheese and parsley. After we have fried the meat, tomato sauce is added. With this we eat the typical orecchiette pasta, also praised in Bari.”
I thank Emanuele for his passionate speech and continue my way on foot to the old town in search of the next local favourite.