Slow Fish, Genoa Italy

Held every two years in Genoa, the ninth edition of Slow Fish had the theme “The Sea: A Common Good”. Rupert Parker was there

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Slow Food was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, promoting the opposite to fast food, and has since spread worldwide. It aims to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages sustainable farming and respect for the local ecosystem. Slow Fish this year focussed on the issue of plastics in our oceans, an issue already raised by David Attenborough, and looked at the impact of industrial fishing on local communities.

A hundred international delegates from around the Mediterranean (Italy, France, Malta, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey) as well as Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, the UK, Ireland, and South Africa attended. This mixed bunch, the stakeholders of the sea, were fishermen, trade associations, local administrators, researchers and chefs.

The quayside of the old harbour in Genoa is the obvious place to hold the event as the port is the busiest in Italy. A village of white tents holds various stalls, show kitchens and conference spaces, all with boats and water as a backdrop. There’s a section dedicated to beer and street food and, jutting into the sea, is the Piazza delle Feste, Here you can taste pizza and pane and sample Italian wines.

I always thought oysters were a natural product but Laurent Thomas, from France, is here to highlight the threat to traditional oyster farming. Triploid oysters, manipulated in the laboratory and reproduced in incubators with the assistance of antibiotics, are increasingly common. Apparently these have three chromosomes, rendering them infertile, which means they can be eaten year round. He reckons that his natural oysters have a superior taste and we sample his finest, both raw and cooked.

In Europe’s fishmongers, the prawns are increasingly imported from the Pacific or Indian oceans and farmed using unsustainable methods. However there are three Italian varieties – red from Sanremo in Liguria and Mazara del Vallo in Sicily and violet from Gallipoli in Puglia. These are not cheap but have a distinctive sweetness, far superior to the tasteless imported exotic varieties.

Anchovies are also hoovered up by industrial fishing fleets but in the Gulf of Catania, in Sicily, a handful of fishermen still fish using traditional methods. There are strict laws for catching these Catanian anchovies, known as masculine da magghia.The fishermen only go out early in the morning, using nets with a large mesh size so only adults are caught, but illegal fishing is increasingly a problem. I get to taste them both raw and cooked, deliciously sweet and firm.

In the conference area I hear more about how the bureaucrats in Brussels don’t listen to fishermen and even when they do, they don’t provide the enforcement to police the legislation. Ironically, outside the EU conditions seem to be better. Fishermen from Korea, Turkey, Tunisia and Japan describe how traditional, ancient practices are able to resist and adapt to changing ecosystems affected by global warming.

Every day there’s lunch at the market kitchen and I attend a demonstration by marine biologist Silvio Greco using tilapia. It’s been farmed in Italy for 30 years but most Italians don’t eat it, even though it’s a sustainable fish with no damage to the environment. To emphasise his point, he serves up a Ligurian tilapia lasagne and tilapia fillets with salmoriglio and there’s no shortage of takers.

Ultimately, though it’s the plastic which dominates. Apparently three quarters of the world’s 8.3 billion tons of the stuff has ended up in landfill which then gets into our rivers and seas. Several presentations deal with the packaging problem and reducing our use in the kitchen.

We also hear about what’s happening at the water’s edge – the mussel farmers of Puglia use materials made from hemp and the fishermen of Camogli have nets made from coconut fibre to catch a mix of horse mackerel, Atlantic bonito, saddled sea bream, amberjack, chub mackerel and small tuna.

We shouldn’t forget that fish is caught to be eaten. Every night there are dinners prepared by Michelin-starred chefs or other big international names, in the Il Marin restaurant in the Eataly building. I get to eat a delicious fish Bobotie from South African chefs Loubie Rusch and Jade de Waal. Still, discussions about plastic and the threat from industrial fishing continues long into the night.

The next Slowfood event will be Slow Cheese held in September 2019 in Bra, Italy.
Visit Genoa has information about the city.
Best Western City is a comfortable base in Genoa.
The Trattoria da Rina is one of the city’s best seafood restaurants.