Dinnertime is sacred for an Italian family.
It’s a chance to get together around the table and share a meal, enjoy some wine, and engage in great conversations.
The heart of this tradition is the Christmas Eve spread. Through generations, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which includes seven seafood dishes, has been passed down. Some families share the recipes of their grandparents and parents as a way to celebrate their heritage.
” It’s a time for everyone to get together in the kitchen,” Anthony DiPietro, owner and operator of DeLallo Italian Marketplace Jeannette said. Making the meal is just as important as enjoying it. It doesn’t really matter how you cook it. It doesn’t matter if you bake it or fry it
Where did it start
According to the website of Italian Sons and Daughters of America, the Feast of the Seven Fishes (or ) is one of the most precious traditions in Italian culture.
It is loosely inspired by Italy’s Christmas Eve dinner, “cena della Vigilia”. According to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Oakland, the tradition dates back to the early 1900s when millions of Southern Italian immigrants crossed the Atlantic to start lives in America.
Sydney Dominick was a gallery presenter for the museum. He said that the sea is a result of immigrants who felt homesick for their homeland. The connection between their country and the U.S .
was represented by the sea.
The most common seafood and fish are baccala (sardines), smelts and shrimp as well as mussels and mussels. John M. Viola of New York City is a regional vice-president for the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, New York, and cohost and executive producers of the Italian American podcast.
” It’s about passing down the tradition to the next generations,” stated Viola, who learned to cook from his grandparents. It can be a great opportunity to take the children along to fish shop. It’s both an American and regional thing. It’s evolved.”
Traditions can take people back in time, Viola stated. He said that the tradition triggers fond memories when people see and smell the food. People are adding more expensive options to the traditional observance such as lobster legs and crab legs.
Having more options is part of the evolution of a meal, according to Shawn Cessna from McKees Rocks. He is the general manager at the Western Edge Seafood Outlet, Greensburg and Washington County.
” The beauty of seven fishes is that people can make them what they like,” Cessna stated. Because there are so many choices, some people alter the menu year after year. They still preserve the tradition by using the flavors of orange slices and paprika
He stated that one of his customers was planning to make seafood lasagna. Another will purchase crab cakes and roll them in logs and stuff them with calamari.
The majority of the fish Western Edge sells are frozen. Cessna stated that Wednesday was a busy day for Western Edge. A lot of the product was moving straight from the truck to customers.
Fazio’s Italian Foods in Arnold will sell 500 pounds of fish on Christmas Eve, said Richard Thimons of Brackenridge, who manages the store for his son, Richard Thimons Jr. of Harrison. According to the elder Thimons, Fazio’s Atlantic Cod is well-known for its freshly hand-breaded and battered Atlantic Cod.
” The Italian tradition is so significant,” he stated, “whether it’s made in our shop or in your home .”
Seafood is often eaten in place of meat during holidays in homes that follow traditional Roman Catholic customs. Its biblical significance is the seven-day creation of the universe and seven sacraments.
Wholey’s was packed Tuesday at Pittsburgh’s Strip District.
Cooper Sam Wholey stated that in Italy fish was plentiful and easily accessible for those who live near the sea. Shrimp, eel or calamari were some of the most popular choices.
“Fish are very versatile,” Wholey stated. It has amazing flavor profiles .”
Chef Rezero “Rizzi” DeFabo at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn, Crabtree stated that the region of Italy where his family is from — Cercemaggiore – is a “sister” city to Greensburg, which was where many Italian immigrants first settled.
DeFabo stated that “one slice Italian heritage is Christmas Eve meal .”
” I say that on Christmas Eve (that), frying pans in all shapes and sizes will go on the stove,” DeFabo stated. “The Feast of Seven Fishes has been a tradition that has been passed down through generations. This tradition was lost for some time, but is making a comeback.
“Grandma or Grandpa may be gone, but people are returning home to spend time with their loved ones. We have returned to simpler times, where we can make our own food .”
The next generation
DeFabo stated that younger generations add their own flavor to what is served. They combine a few items into a dish or a stew instead of seven. Some people add seafood to pasta dishes.
DiPietro stated that he plans on preparing some of the fish he will offer to his family at the store, as they will be working. He stated that baccala was a staple of the seven fishes. He said he remembers eating eel when a child, but it was too time-consuming to make.
” I tell my children that they must eat some baccala, or Santa Claus won’t come,” DiPietro stated. “This encourages them to at least attempt it .”
Wholey’s sells more than 100 varieties of fish from places such as Virginia, Massachusetts, Iceland, Costa Rica, Scotland, Portugal, the Mediterranean, Portugal, Alaska, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and more, co-owner Dan Wholey said.
” I love this Italian tradition,” said he. It’s not just an Italian custom. It has become a Pittsburgh tradition. There is a silver lining to the pandemic: it brought together families. People come to us who remember visiting here with their grandparents .”
Mary Wallace and Pam Cantalamessa of Uniontown have been making the trip to Wholey’s for nearly 10 years. Their families gather together to cook seven fishes meals in memory of their fathers Roger Palladino, and Tom Marano on Christmas Eve.
They serve lobster, shrimp, cod and crab, as well as calamari, clams, and tuna in pasta.
“It is a deep, rich, and deep Italian tradition,” Cantalamessa stated. “Coming to Wholey’s is a tradition .”
Sam Miceli from Charleroi was out shopping at Wholey’s this past week. Concetta Miceli, his mother, encouraged him to appreciate this tradition.
“My mother made baccala and smelts. She also made pasta with sardines, flounder, and calamari. He said that he had tried other pastas. “We had always had cannoli .”
Henry Dewey was co-owner at Penn Avenue Fish Co., in the Strip District. He said that he would work overnight Wednesday and Thursday to fulfill orders. Christmas 2020 was the best of his life. His market sells 35 types of fish.
” I went to an Italian friend’s house Christmas Eve once and it was incredible,” Dewey stated. “I tell people to slow down because it is a large meal with many courses .”