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Eating new foods in Italy.....

I am so glad I can't see you rolling your eyes! But as a clinical nursing instructor, I always told my students that the only "stupid" question was the one they didn't ask.....so here goes! ;)

We are anxious to try lots of new regional food in Italy. However, fish with faces on my plate is a total ick. Is there a way to politely ask the waitstaff to "de-head" my fish before serving it? Are sardines usually filleted and cooked prior to serving? I think tentacles (octopus) might not make it to my stomach, either.

My gramma used to fix tripe as a special treat for my father once a year-but the fuss my mother made over how awful it was has certainly influenced my tastebuds. Gramma was thrilled that my Dad loved her cooking, and I am pretty sure she wouldn't serve anything that bad! :)

Off to think of my next ridiculous question.....

Posted by
21709 posts

And you probably not going to like seeing a whole shrimp but sometimes the eyes fall out and are just on the plate. But all fish are not served whole either. How do you deal with whole lobsters? Look around and see what is on other plates. Are you asking about raw sardines?

Posted by
2353 posts

For fish look for fillet - no head! filetto di pesce - That's all I got on the seafood cuz I eat none of it!

Try the Tuscan steak - I can guarantee there will be NO head nor eyes attached or nearby on the plate!

Posted by
6868 posts

Are you open to having your fish served "crudo" (raw) style like sushi? Think carpaccio. Or having lots of vegetables or pasta. They typically serve whole fish in restaurants. The presentation simply looks more appealing (and natural) that way, and some types of preparation work better with the whole body/skin. Sardines could be stuffed, fried, and added in very small chunks to pasta in a way that wouldn't offend you (based on your description). I think you're asking for your dishes to be (somewhat) Americanized, which is to say a lot of fileting and chopping up, so as not to resemble the original animal. I don't know if it will go over well culturally because I've never tried it. Hopefully others will chime in.

What I would recommend is getting a culinary book where you can highlight certain dishes that are guaranteed to be prepared a certain style. I bought this book for Sicily and it was excellent (keep in mind that Sicilians use certain words/phrases that are different than mainland Italians, and have their own regional specialties):
http://www.amazon.com/Eat-Smart-Sicily-Decipher-Adventure/dp/0977680118

Posted by
27709 posts

Have you eaten calamari at home? Comes in white rings for frying or breading. Look like flat wide onion rings. Squid.

Then work up to polipetti, usually crispy and deep fried whole. Yum. Baby octopus. Tiny things. Crunchy like onion rings in a bunch.

Then you get to Polpo, octopus. They are huge creatures and you would never see a whole one in a restaurant, nor even a whole arm. You get maybe 4 or 5 inches, you probably would never recognise it. Gently grilled. Yum.

Posted by
18296 posts

" Comes in white rings for frying or breading. Look like flat wide onion rings."

They don't look (or taste) anything like onion rings to me. To me they look and taste like someone cut up a piece of rubber tubing.

"sometimes the eyes fall out"

Thanks for the image, Frank.

Posted by
95 posts

As to Lee's comment: "sometimes the eyes (of the shrimp) fall out"....."Thanks for the image, Frank", I couldn't help laughing. Have you ever seen shrimp eyes? Shrimp are usually not that big, and their eyes are even smaller. I would say the eyes of scampi (larger shrimp) are even smaller than a small peppercorn, so if they do fall on the plate it looks like a teeny peppercorn landed on the plate. If you can imagine, lobsters also have miniscule eyes.

As the OP's question of not wanting to see the fish's eyes/face, maybe you can cover it with the garnish if there is some parsley sprig or tomato sluce on the plate. Or, cover it with a slice of bread... as for asking to decapitate the poor fish prior to being served, it may look rather strange to see a "dug out" whole fish.

Speaking of being turned off by unsightly foods, the thought of seeing bloody juice from
a rare (red) piece of meat or thinking of eating steak tartare (basically eating raw hamburger), that turns my stomach inside out. At least the aforementioned seafood should be cooked and non mobile.

Posted by
8100 posts

Baby calamari are tender and delicious, nothing like the rubbery rings like you get in cheap seafood places. (think Red Lobster)

I have covered up the head of a fish with a piece of lettuce on a few occasions.

Beef Carpaccio and steak tartare taste marvelous. A real taste treat.

That said, I don't enjoy organ meats from any animal very much nor blood sausage.

Posted by
142 posts

Thank you for the advice, and the laughs!
If eyes of any sort end up on my plate, I will indeed just cover them with the garnish.

Posted by
95 posts

I understand the OP is concerned about the new foods in Italy that she may encounter, but I just wanted to add that at least in Asian countries the fish head is considered a delicacy because when eating it, there are no tiny fishbones to worry about. There are fishhead casseroles that use that as the main "meat" flavoring for the rest of the casserole vegetables and the resulting soup/gravy. Of course, a larger fish head is used in these dishes, so the fish headbones are larger pieces and one doesn't find tiny, sharp bones, the meat there is safer to eat. You may think, what meat? Well, there are the fish cheeks, which are usually given to children, because they are nice chunks of boneless meat. Since there are only two pieces, for those who are real food connoisseurs of fish eating, they are coveted. Plus, the meat is very tender.

As for the shrimp, it is not their eyes or heads that are disturbing. It is the fact that their legs and whiskers are not trimmed before cooking. A sign of good quality shrimp cooking is to see trimmed shrimp on the plate, no messy legs and whiskers, which are inedible anyway. I imagine people leave those appendages for two main reasons : 1) takes too long to trim them, and 2) makes the shrimp look bigger than it actually is. But, trimmed shrimp look much cleaner, so I always trim them when I cook shrimp.

Just wanted to share this with you all.

Posted by
21029 posts

I traveled through Italy for nearly 2 months last year and ate a good bit of seafood. I wasn't consciously avoiding whole fish--other than for economic reasons--but I ended up mostly with filets. I don't think you'll have much difficulty getting fish in a form you're comfortable with. A lot of whole fish (probably not sardines, though) is priced by weight, so it will be obvious from the menu that you're dealing with a whole fish.

Posted by
142 posts

Acraven, thank you! That is very helpful information.

Posted by
16883 posts

The first time that I ordered spaghetti with prawns in the Cinque Terre, it was memorable, as the prawns were whole and many eyes broke off into the pasta. If you do order a nice whole fish (priced by weight and often more expensive), then ask the waiter to bone it for you after cooking. Sardines often won't be filleted, but if you see alici marinate, those usually are, so they hold longer.

At sandwich shops in the Florence markets or other spots in the city center, you can make a very small investment in a tripe sandwich and also another sandwich like boiled beef, in case you don't like the first one.

Some vegetable dishes may be new experiences, too, such as the bread-thickened ribollita soup around Tuscany. Also in Tuscany, if you don't like your steak rare, then look toward other meats.

Posted by
21029 posts

Don't expect to find seafood widely available in inland cities. I was really excited to learn early in a two-week stay that Orvieto has a Sicilian restaurant with an emphasis on seafood. The seafood-loving locals were thrilled, too.

One thing that surprised me last summer (clearly my memory is selective) was the flat-tasting bread in central Italy (Lazio and Umbria??). They bake their bread without salt, allegedly for historical reasons related to a tax on salt many centuries ago. It's past time for a change, guys. That bread is tasteless.