Since I started this blog I've been collecting material about Venice food, crops, breedings, productions and stories for a project I'll hopefully tell you more about soon, and this has led me to the island of Pellestrina.
Pellestrina is a small fisherman's village in the south lagoon, about one hour and a half far from Venice. To get there, you can take a vaporetto for Lido and there in P.le S.M.Elisabetta take bus number 11. Just stay on the bus, you will then be boarded on a ferry and finally reach Pellestrina. There are many reasons to visit this island, but out of all the best one is the authentic and simple dimension of this place.
Life runs smoothly, most men work as fishermen and there really is an amazing peace. Walking on the side of the lagoon there are nets everywhere, of different types (some for cuttle fish, others for mollusks and so on) and in front of most of them... there's a grill. This is a dream life for me.... Big and small boats at all corners, an outstanding view and fresh grilled fish... Wow!
I went with a dear friend of mine to ask her father about the lagoon and how things have changed. He is about 55 and has lived there all his life and could never imagine being far from the sea.
Before talking though, he and his wife had prepared us an amazing meal. This is what I talk about when I talk about Italian hospitality: these people opened their house to me, Luciano caught all the fish himself and Betty, his wife, helped him prepare our banquet.
Yes, banquet is the word. A whole lot of mouthwatering food: we started with garusoi (sea snails, all cleaned!), canocie (squill fish), sarde in saor (Ciano's revisited recipe) and polenta. After that they made a risotto with bevarasse (small lagoon clams) and, as second course, a frittura di pesce with sardines and small soles. Oh my goodness.... I was in heaven. Everything tasted amazingly fresh and good.
These photos may not be the best examples of food photography, but I assure you that taste wise they were incredible.
After lunch we chatted in their living room. From their windows I could see the lagoon and there was a lovely breeze that refreshed the house. Luciano picks what we call bevarasse, but obviously in certain periods he catches other fish, like caparossoi (bigger lagoon clams), mussels, soles, sardines and so on.
When he was younger it was normal for a man born in the island to become a fisherman, while today things are very different. For example out of all the boys born in the same year as me (that is 1987) only one works on a fishing boat. Business is more complicated nowadays and many feel demotivated and try another path.
There are very severe laws concerning the type, size and season of the fish that can be caught. Every boat is equipped with a machine that automatically re throws into the water the fish that is under size, but it's not just this. It's the lagoon itself that has undergone many changes...
When the construction of the Mose sea wall began back in 2003, most of the lagoon clams in that area died. At the time it had been said that this was caused by the river flows, but honestly... if you ask me, I think that if one covers a water bed with a huge amount of concrete... well, something bad is inevitably going to happen. He told me that it was a disaster, that everyone of them could see with their eyes the sad reality that was coming...
I don't know how many strikes and protests these people have attended, what's sure is that it's difficult to have control over our own territory, with the Mose on one side and the cruise ships on the other.
In addition to this, in the 80s Philippine clams were introduced in the lagoon and now they are outnumbering the original variety. Philippine clams are bigger and grow very well in the waters of the Venetian lagoon, plus they go less under the sand ( let's say about 2 centimeters, compared to the 4 cm of our ones) so they are easier to catch.
If to this we add that obviously being bigger they weigh more, the picture is complete. I don't want to talk politics here, but what I can say is that what we choose to eat is politics... so when at the market don't let yourself be tricked by the better look of the bigger clams, because when it comes to taste it's not the same thing.
The nicest thing he told me concerned the relationship among fishermen: this is, of mutual help and support. He told me that among fishermen it's normal to share everything: everyone has to have an equal amount of fish, because maybe today I get to catch more, but who knows tomorrow. And obviously it's not just about the work itself, it's about the life they live, their relation with the lagoon and that sense of freedom that only the sea can give them.
He also showed me how he mends and sews his nets: with the aid of a tool that has the function of a ruler, pulling the thread and passing it under a string. Quite complicated... and his hands are covered with small cuts, even if he doesn't feel anything.
Antonella and I went then for a walk: to the beach first, where we had a chat caressed by the wind while sitting on a small sea wall, then on the side of the lagoon. Now there is a new cycleway where car don't pass and walking along it is really relaxing.
The beauty of the view will leave you speechless. Not many tourists come this far, the usual vacationers are families from the country side that spend their holidays in total peace.
I strongly advise you to visit Pellestrina if you have the chance, you will rediscover an ancient simple and authentic world. And if you want to get the full experience eat Da Celeste. That will really make your trip memorable!
Take a vaporetto to Lido
From Lido take bus number 11 to Pellestrina
The bus will then board a ferry and take you to the island