ORIGINS

FISH

Fishing was one of the main economic and livelihood activities: in fact the fish was a fundamental food in the diet of Greek-roman populations. A custom of the imperial age wanted, even, to offer to important people a gift of an exceptional quality fish (tradition followed also in England, where the kings were honoured with the sturgeon). The known and cooked species were many and, to satisfy the demanding appetites, the Romans did not hesitate to create true breeding nurseries for breeding fish, both of sweet and salt water. These were called fishmongers and the most beautiful and great ones were owned by the patricians who showed off with them their prestige and power. The preferences for one species or another were dictated by fashion, but also by the social status; it went from the small fish for the plebs to those of exceptional size sold at high prices for the aristocracy. As regards to its gastronomic employment fish was the raw material of garum, the main condiment of the time, that is a thick sauce made from fatty fish, salted, spiced and preserved in jars under the sun for two or three months, the salt, antiseptic, prevented the rot and the product obtained was a thick sauce with a very strong taste very popular to flavour all sorts of food. There were different qualities, but the best was garum that came from the ventral parts of tuna fish.

Fish could be eaten fresh or preserved: the preservation technique involved consisted drying or brine, alternating layers of fish to as many layers of salt and putting it all in barrels or clay pots. Tuna fish in particular was the one they mainly used to preserve and, salted or dried was sold across all the Magna Greece. The iconography of the pottery found in southern Italy, especially in the area of the Calabria Tyrrhenian, shows the swordfish and tuna fishing, processed in suitable fishing nets not very different from the actual ones; the tuna-fishing nets for the processing and storage were made of a series of pools arranged on different levels designed to create nurseries for breeding and producing sauces and fish preserves.

Towards the end of the Roman Empire the conservation of sea fish had become a real food industry: the most active centres were located all over Sicily, but there were also others that the Romans had built in Calabria, Spain and in the Black Sea ports. The preserved fish, however, had a different market from the fresh one, as can be seen from the Edict of Diocletian (AD 243-313) where it was sold at a very low price; at least four times lower than first quality fresh seafood.