Skip to Content
Features

Postcards from Parma: Sheltering with Fish Soup in Livorno

On a tempestuous roadtrip, our contributor from Parma seeks shelter from a storm over a bowl of Tuscan fish soup in the port city of Livorno.

Graceanne Lacombe seeking refuge in the Tuscan port city of Livorno.

Graceanne Lacombe seeking refuge in the Tuscan port city of Livorno.

Last Sunday, we parted from a coastal Tuscan town called Populonia to head back to Parma, on a tempestuous trip that would foresee us stopping along the coast in search of shelter and choice bites.

About an hour in, we noticed that the clouds were threatening heavy showers, so dark and bloated that they hung over us like the blistered ceiling paint of a water-damaged roof. We decided that the next exit, Livorno, a port city on the coast of northern Tuscany, would be our harbor for lunch. I had been traveling with friends that partially grew up in the Livorno area, and they made it clear that the only dish suitable for such a day is a soup referred to as cacciucco, a steaming tomato bath for fish oddities and salt-less bread.

Cacciucco is a Tuscan fish stew famous in the port city of Livorno.
Cacciucco is a Tuscan fish stew famous in the port city of Livorno.

Exiting for Livorno, we found ourselves in a kind of Lego-esque world, where colorful shipping crates and boxes lined the entrance into the city, illuminating a path towards a meal fit for fishermen and those that live off of the port. We passed numerous trattorie that boasted the “Best Cacciucco in the World,” but we were compelled by one considerably charming spot adored by locals.

It was a mom-and-pop joint, Trattoria Da Galileo, with walls featuring a collage of framed news articles (the article in my direct line of vision read “Il mago del cacciucco,” or “The Whiz of Cacciucco”). The diners here had fashioned their napkins under their chins like neckerchiefs, patterned by splotches of tomato sauce.

Ordering was easy. Three of the same.

When my cacciucco arrived, I was surprised to find in it a whole shark (small and regional), redfish, octopus, squid, clams, shrimp, and bait-sized delicacies decorating the soup, as if it was an edible science fair exhibit replicating a food chain. While my friends began to de-bone their fish, extract the edibles of their shrimp and clams, and excavate their drowned pieces of bread at the bottom of their soup, I was admittedly gawking at the shark I just flipped over in mine (whose down-turned mouth conjured images of a sad clown — one of the stranger things I’ve ever encountered on my plate).

The walls of Trattoria Da Galileo in Livorno attest to the majesty of their cacciucco.
The walls of Trattoria Da Galileo in Livorno attest to the majesty of their cacciucco.

Shaking away my inhibitions, I attempted to liberate flesh from bones, scales, and clownish demeanors, all the while sporting an increasingly dirtier napkin. Soon our table held the sounds of a good meal: slurping, and the occasional mmm, sans conversation.

This particular cacciucco made me feel both uncomfortable and purely content; for every scale I spit out and for every fish bone I pulled from my lips, I was rewarded with a spoonful of perfectly poached fish, resting on a cushion of tomato-soaked bread. Every spoonful helped to forget the woes of the journey — the weather, the drive, a shark in my soup — and permitted us just to be, in our tomato-splotched fashion.

I may have initially thought that the threat of the storm was the motive for us to pause our trip, but now I think it was the thought of cacciucco that caused the driver to exit for Livorno, a thought that will surely bring me back to the Livornese port soon.

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Register to continue

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Appetito

Spent Coffee Negroni: The Perfect Sustainable Cocktail

Don’t let your coffee grounds go to waste. Infuse them in an Italian bitter aperitif to make a Negroni that’s also a nod to sustainability.

May 24, 2024

Gran Caffè Gambrinus in Naples is Indeed Grand

Our contributor endures the crowded bar at Gran Caffè Gambrinus for a specialty coffee and a slice of the chaos that defines Naples.

May 23, 2024

Pizza City Fest Nashville Announced

Chicago pizza expert Steve Dolinsky’s festival will expand to its third city in the fall of 2024, bringing regional pies to Music City.

May 21, 2024

The Bicicletta Cocktail, a Milanese Classic

In an excerpt from her book, Stuzzichini, Stef Ferrari revisits a beloved spritz from Milan made with Campari, white wine, and soda.

May 21, 2024
See all posts