Catania Fish Market. Flickr/jbdodane

Editor’s Note: Sicily is slowly opening again to travel.  Read an update on the current travel situation in Sicily, and learn how Sicily is Enticing Travelers.

The terrace that overlooks the main area of the Fish Market gives a bird’s eye view of the slice of Sicilian life below Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz

I could hear the fishmongers shouting their best price and haggling with the local customers.  When I smelled the odor of fresh fish and saltwater, I knew I had found Catania’s La Pescheria in Sicily

Cantania La Pescheria

The fish market is lively, boisterous, colorful, and gritty with an exhilarating atmosphere. If anything sums up the beating heart and soul of Catania, then it’s this place –full of life and as down-to-earth as the locals themselves.

The streets near Catania’s Duomo are transformed into a loud and fast-paced market, now expanded from selling fish to just about everything.  A great place to catch a glimpse of Sicilian life, it instantly awakens all the senses – and the appetite! More of the fish market after some history. 

Cultural Influences that have Shaped Catania

A trip to Sicily is a journey through history, from the occupation by the Greeks and Romans, and later the Arabs, Normans, and Catalans. 

The mix of influences over the years have changed the way Sicilians eat, so you’ll find ingredients and dishes you’d expect to see in Greece, Spain or even North Africa.

You know the fish is fresh - their eyes are bright and the shells and scales glisten in the sun Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz
You know the fish is fresh – their eyes are bright and the shells and scales glisten in the sun Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz

Fish and seafood are some of the most essential elements in Sicilian cuisine.  Browse the offerings and ingredients at the local markets, and you will get an insight into the island’s history through its food. 

Where is Catania?  

Located off the tip of Italy’s “boot,” in the shadow of Mt. Etna, and surrounded by the Mediterranean and Ionian Seas, Catania is the second-largest city in Sicily with about 300,000 residents.  Originally founded in 729, B.C., Catania is a down-at-the-heel city that’s had its fair share of tragedy.  In 1669, Mt. Etna erupted and flooded the town with lava, killing some 12,000 people.  Then in 1693, an earthquake hit killing 20,000 citizens.  

The terrace that overlooks the main area of the Fish Market gives a bird’s eye view of the slice of Sicilian life below Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz

Cantania Fish Market near the Piazza del Duomo

The Catania fish market is located in the heart of the city adjacent to the Piazza del Duomo, the historical city center of Catania. The entrance to the Catania fish market is located just behind the Amenano Fountain. The baroque Carrara marble fountain takes its name from the Amenano river that had once flowed on the same spot. 

It was created to adorn the market square in the 1800’s and aid the fishmongers in washing away the bloody aftermath of market day.  Step behind the fountain, and you’ll find a terrace that overlooks the central area of the fish market. Descend the lava stone steps to enter the market and be prepared to be amazed! 

Stalls at Catania Fish Market in Sicily
Stalls at Catania Fish Market in Sicily. Flickr/simplethrill

Welcome to La Pescheria

The hectic bustle of the famous market is a must-do attraction in Catania and one of the largest fish markets in Sicily. As old as the city itself, it’s a great way to experience the abundant fishing and seafood culture of Sicily, with an atmosphere that’s hardly changed in hundreds of years.  

Every morning on weekdays and Saturdays, fresh fish and food of all kinds are sold here, from around 7:30 am until 2 pm, though some stalls begin to shut down before noon.  The lively scene is especially chaotic on Saturday morning. 

Local housewives, entire families, and elderly pensioners jostle through the crowds perusing the merchandise and looking for the day’s bargain. 

The bounty of the sea is all here in a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and sizes. Snapping away furiously with both my iPhone and camera, there was more than the eye could take in. 

It’s pure street theater, a visual and auditory overdose of the senses.  

The heart of the market is closed in on three sides by ancient stone buildings. In contrast, on the fourth side, the buildings recede to create a corridor overlooking the market. Leaning over the railing, I felt as if I had a front-row seat to one of the greatest shows on earth, with a bird’s eye view of the spectacle below. 

Observing the exchange between buyers and sellers of the fish market from a privileged position above allows you to understand the relationship between the place and people better. 

In Sicilian markets you find artichokes sold with the stems still attached. The reason  is that the inside of the stem is an extension of the heart of the artichoke, which is the real meat of the blossom  Photo Credit:  Sharon Kurtz
In Sicilian markets, you find artichokes sold with the stems still attached. The reason is that the inside of the stem is an extension of the heart of the artichoke, which is the real meat of the blossom. Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz

Watching from above is not enough to complete your experience,  as there is nothing better than immersing yourself in its smells and colors below.   

Walking among stalls of all manner of marine life while some of them are still moving is an adventure; after all, they have recently left the Ionian Sea! 

Fish Market Rituals have not changed in centuries.

Fishmongers yell out the price of their fish and haggle with customers,   barking about their bargains in Sicilian dialect to anyone who will listen. They are often joking with customers and throwing good-natured disparaging barbs about the freshness or price of their neighbor’s catch with cheerful banter. 

Colorful umbrellas protect the fish from the sun and shade the stallholders who carefully prepare the fish. At the same time, they periodically toss ice water over their bounty to keep it chilled and fresh.  

The heavy thwack of the sharp cleaver makes quick work of preparing the giant tuna into slices as the customer waits. Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz
The heavy thwack of the sharp cleaver makes quick work of preparing the giant tuna into slices as the customer waits. Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz

The cacophony of sellers – calling out with arms flailing and voices raised, echoed off the ancient buildings. The heavy thwack of sharp cleavers with wide blades beating rhythmically against chopping boards marked with knife marks from years of use created the auditory experience.

This was matched by the vision of the fish being sliced open and gutted by solid, strong men in stained aprons.  The blood washed away with water from the cooling of the fish – remains the same as it has always been.

Luckily, I had my iPhone video feature going to record the memory of sights, sounds, and pageantry of a morning at the fish market in Catania.   And that was just the beginning!

Catania Fish Market, Sicily from Sharon Kurtz on Vimeo.

Seafood at Catania Fish Market

Here you can buy a vast array of fresh fish and seafood; some were so fresh they were still flopping around.  Giant swordfish heads point skywards, with their own pink cuts displayed next to their menacing snouts.

Heaps of octopuses continued to gyrate next to buckets of snails and crates of oysters. At the same time, mollusks, cockles, and clams were squirting water into the air alongside beautiful arrangements of eels and rays.

The Octopus were still wriggling, having recently left the Ionian Sea  Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz
The Octopus were still wriggling, having recently left the Ionian Sea. Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz

Trays of silver sardines lay on mountains of crushed ice, alongside gleaming squid, prawns, and more kinds of fish than I’ll ever know the names of. 

The fishmonger’s skills of displaying fish were impressive, their shells and scales glistening in the sun. The smell of the sea invaded the urban space, as did the freshly gutted entrails carelessly flung here and there. 

The wet ancient stone floor of the market was littered with scraps of fish and puddles of water, so I recommend you don’t wear open-toed shoes! But wait, there’s more to see and taste. 

The open air markets in Sicily are a daily shopping ritual for locals   Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz
The open air markets in Sicily are a daily shopping ritual for locals. Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz

Fruits & Vegetables at Catania Fish Market

The freshness of the ingredients is the key to Sicily’s delicious food, and the market was overflowing with local seasonal produce, meat, and cheese. Branching off from the fish market square enclosed by the ancient buildings, I walked up a few steps where the market creeps into the narrow streets in each direction.

I loved poking through every stall; it’s a great place to soak up some local atmosphere even if you don’t actually buy anything. 

As I entered the fruit and vegetable area of the market, the vibrancy and colors of the produce looked like a still life painting.   

Lining the street were stalls overflowing with oranges, lemons, artichokes and eggplants. The rich and fertile soil of Catania’s volcano provides nourishment for everything planted on it’s neighboring slopes, including mushrooms from the mountain villages surrounding Mt. Etna.

The abundance of dried fruits, dates, nuts, and spices are a legacy from when the Arabs occupied Sicily. 

prepared antipasto offerings  are plentiful - perfect for a take-away picnic lunch   Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz
Prepared antipasto offerings are plentiful – perfect for a take-away picnic lunch. Photo Credit: Sharon Kurtz

Take-Away Foods at the Catania Fish Market 

It was around lunchtime, and I was starving. The aroma of freshly grilled artichokes and red peppers wafting through the air was calling to me. 

Standing over a beat-up handmade grill, a vendor painstakingly placed artichoke after artichoke in regular rows over the fire. He continued the task by giving each prickly artichoke a generous slathering of olive oil and a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley. 

On another grill were red peppers, the skins now burnt to an unrecognizable black ashy color. When grilled to perfection, the peppers were cleaned, the seeds removed, the still-warm flesh cut into strips and seasoned with a dash of vinegar, salt, and olive oil. 

The vendor gave each prickly artichoke a generous slathering of olive oil and finely chopped parsley
The vendor gave each prickly artichoke a generous slathering of olive oil and finely chopped parsley. Photo by Sharon Kurtz

Both the roasted red peppers and the artichokes were snapped up by hungry locals stopping by for a take-away meal on their way home from the market.  

With the addition of a piece of warm ciabatta bread, I gathered my treasures and ate my picnic lunch on a bench outside of the market. The only thing that would have made it more perfect would have been the addition of some local cheese and red wine – but I was happy, nonetheless. 

The market stalls were closing up shop one by one, and life was slowly ebbing from the streets of central Catania. 

The fishmongers and fruit and vegetable vendors gathered the remainder of their bounty in crates and baskets, and the area was emptied & cleaned for the next day. 

The sacred hour of the day had arrived for most when shutters were closed, and people retired to rest their weary selves with an afternoon siesta.

I could get used to this way of life.  When in Sicily…

If You Go

Fish Market in Sicily

Visit Sicily Tourism Office

Author Bio: Sharon is a freelance travel writer based in Dallas, Texas.  Her passion is traveling the world and uncovering the local flavors of each unique place she visits. A wanderer at heart, she loves finding special places that are off the beaten path both at home and abroad. Follow her travels on Sharonkkurtz.com,  https://facebook.com/sharonkkurtz and https://instagram.com/shar_kurtz

 

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