Sagra dello Stocco
Every August 9 on the eve of ferragosto, the Italian summer holidays, fish aficionados from around the world travel to Mammola, Reggio Calabria, for the Sagra dello Stocco or stockfish festival. Like many Mediterranean food festivals, this sagra includes traditional dancing, music and the perennial balli dei giganti – a parade through town with larger-than life figures in medieval costume carried aloft by townspeople. However, it is the legendary pisci stoccu (in Calabrian dialect), served in traditional terracotta pans, that people clamour for and celebrate in the Piazzetta del Borgo in the centre of town. Traditional maybe, however a host of health benefits accrue from eating pesce stocco (its name in standard Italian). It is low in calories and high in protein. Oil processed from stockfish liver is a source of Vitamin A, D, E and Omega-3 fatty acids. The cod-like aquatic creature, which is actually imported from Norway, is cured as methodically as Parma ham, fine cognac or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and soaked for days in pure water from Calabria’s Aspromonte Mountains.
My first experience with the marine delicacy goes back to when I visited my parents’ home town at the age of seven. Too young to be impressed at the time, as an adult I have since come to appreciate both the taste of the food and the significance of the tradition being celebrated. Pesce stocco is a staple of Good Friday, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, but can be enjoyed all year round. Some serving examples: insalata di stocco, bucatini con stocco, frittelle e zeppole di stocco, stocco arrostito and, of course, the celebrated stocco con patate, olive, pomodoro e pepperoncino.