. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: Seven Fish Dinner Urban Myth?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Seven Fish Dinner Urban Myth?

In the past but especially in the recent years I've been asked about the Seven Fish dinner that supposedly is part of my homeland traditional Christmas eve dinner.
I had spent 24 Christmas eves in Italy and never heard of such a thing. It is part of the Christians rules to eat "magro"; so yes we do have dinner based on fish but I never heard of a fixed amount of it that needs to be prepared. Now I thought that the fish feast was maybe a tradition from who knows what small town so I went on the Italian Google to look what will came up.
The only Festa dei Sette Pesci held in Italy was in Florence for a Chinese festivity in April!!!
Just to make sure, I activated my special research unit in Italy (composed by my father and his friends, they work much better than CIA and M16 together) to find out more about at this point the mysterious fish orgy.
The first call was for my father, he didn't know anything about it and came up with the same Tuscan restaurant that likes Chinese food, than he called Annamaria which is an expert in Italian traditions, and I'm sure the phone call chain went on for a while. After all that I'm pretty confident in saying that the seven fishes is not part of the Italian culinary nor any religious traditions.
Now my question is from were Rachel Ray and Mario Batali and other hundreds of quasi Italian chefs took the 7 fishes dinner tradition from?
Are they sponsored by the fishing commerce board if such a thing exist?
Has the fishing association hired some famous lobbyist?
I hope to get an answer to the fish affair and I hope to have some help in solving the mystery from you guys.
I wish you a fishy Christmas eve and a great holiday season.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

12 comments:

DiNitro said...

Well being an Italian, my family has been celebrating the Italian 7 Fish Xmas Eve Dinner for over 50 years now - actually since my Grandparents came here and settled in the Boston area during the 1910s. I grew up on the 7-fish Eve dinner and even this past year, the family celebrated it again. It is a big event in the Boston area for many Italian families and the fish markets go crazy trying to keep up with it - so this is not something that Mario and Racheal Ray dreamed up - it's for Real.

Where and when it started I do not know. My family harks from Gaeta, Italy, just north from Naples and not far south of Rome. A US Navy base is located there. I am told by my older relatives who have been there, that they all celebrate there, so maybe it is a Napolese kind of thing.

The big challenge of course is how to select and prepare 7 different fish dishes. It is a challenge. we usually have the salt cod fritters (Zeplas), shrimp cocktail, fried smelts, stuffed squid, octopus salad, a fish sauce for the pasta, and a final 7th fish, either as tuna in the antipasto or often as salmon or some other fish cooked by itslef. So there you have it. We have been doing this for over 50 years (my recollection and personal experience), and my family attets to have been doing this since they were all kids (goig back to the 1910s).

Tracie B. said...

look! we have one confirmation! i've also heard about this 7 fishes legend, and since moving to southern italy almost 4 years ago, i've yet to find a person that knows what the hell i'm talking about.

but if we put too much trust in the food tv chefs, they'll have us thinking that bologna is a small tuscan hill town (al'tyler florence).

De Vino said...

I haven't heard anything yet from my southern friends.
I believe that the fishes became 7 during the trip to America :)
So the 7 fishes are unheard so far in Italy but is known to be an Italian tradition in the States.
The mistery gets more interesting...

Anonymous said...

I am 53 years old and my family has celebrated the traditional La Vigilia dinner for well over 80 years. Our family is from Calabria and Naples so maybe it is a southern tradition. We always had at least 7 different kinds of fish, began the dinner will antipasta and set extra plates at the table just in case the Christ Child would appear.

Luna said...

I am 40 years old and have celebrated this wonderful tradition my entire life. Many of my Italian friends (Northern and Southern Italy) also celebrate this dinner. I can't believe you have never heard of this!

bactrian5 said...

I was married to a girl whose family was from the hill country east of Naples. Her grandmother had fish dinner each year on the Sunday before Christmas. Escarole soup and about 4-5 fish dishes.

Anonymous said...

For the La Viglia my family (origin, DelVecchio and Giampa) includes an oyster soup with acini di pepe in a seasoned tomato sauce. My great grandmother, an Italian immigrant in the late 1800s made it and passed it along to her children. I've seen 63 le cene della Viglia di Natale with Italian great grandparents and grandparents and we've always had a meatless Christmas eve meal. Every year the fish selection changes depending upon what's fresh and affordable. My great grandparents and grandparents were from all part of Italy, all arriving prior to 1900 and they, from stories and my own personal experience, abstained from meat on Christmas which meant salads, fish, pasta aglio olio and soup. I've heard all types of reasons for the 7 fish meal but we just have a great fish, pasta, salad and soup meal. My son who is 4 generation on my dad's side learned from my brother who learned from our mother and our great grandmother. Buon appetito e mangate il cibo del cervello. Sorry for my poor Italian. tanti augure e buon natale. -Giovanni

Arianna said...

My family has also celebrated this for many years. We make a squid salad, and the rest of the fish go in our fish sauce with pasta. Family names are Madonia, Rossetti, my family came from northern and southern Italy.

barbara said...

ARIANNA.........MY FAMILY NAME IS ALSO MADONIA AND ROSSETTI. COULD WE BE RELATED? IM FROM BOSTON AND LIKE YOU HAVE CELEBRATED THE 7 FISH FEAST ALL MY LIFE AS DID MY MOTHER AND BOTH GRANDMOTHERS. IF ANYBODY HAS EVER LISTENED TO THE SERGIO FRANCHI ALBUMN CALL BUON NATALE HE SINGS ABOUT THIS BEAUTIFUL TRADITION.MY DAUGHTER'S NAME IS ALSO ARIANNA. CONTACT ME, IM ANXIOUS TO KNOW IF YOU COULD BE A LONG, LOST RELETIVE. LOL

Lisa said...

My Family is from San Pier Niceto in Sicily and we have been celebrating 7 Fish Christmas Eve dinners for as long as I can remember!

Virginia M. said...

I'm not Italian, but I married into a Sicilian-American family and I grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with Neapolitan and Sicilian friends. The first time I heard of the Seven Fishes was when we moved to Philadelphia 15 years ago (I am now 56). None of my husbands' relatives in Calatafimi, Sicily follow this tradition. I also did an Italian Google search on "Sette Pesci" and pretty much nothing came up. I wonder if it is an Italian-American creation, taking the traditional Roman Catholic non-meat Christmas Eve dinner (in my Polish/Irish/German family we ate cod or salmon) and expanding it to reflect the abundance of the new world?

darkcrash said...

Interesting...I read somewhere that the 7 fishes represented 7 stations of the cross, or something...I am really the last person to comment on religious matters...I had an amusing exchange with a manager at Trattoria Cinque in Tribeca...they are serving it, this manager is from Italy, the chef is Milanese...but as far as he was concerned, it's an american tradition...not known to their families at least. The menu looks great:
http://www.zagat.com/Blog/Detail.aspx?SNP=NNYC&SCID=40&BLGID=25360