Feast on This

Thanksgiving is the holiday usually associated with the year’s most elaborate, prep-intensive meal. But for those with roots in southern Italy, an American turkey dinner is nothing compared to the culinary juggling act that occurs in the kitchen on Christmas Eve.

It’s called the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and it’s coming up fast. Here’s the scoop on the origins of this epic, oceanic feast, why the tradition is becoming more popular in America along with the best place in northern Michigan to grab a seat at the table next month.

The Irish have their Christmas cake, the Poles have their fried carp and beetroot soup. But as Christmas Eve eating traditions go, one of the world’s most delicious and over-the-top has to be Italy’s Feast of The Seven Fishes.

Its origins date back to…well, nobody really knows. The only thing for certain is the meal’s religious roots.

In The Beginning

It was once a common, religious practice with roots in the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence-refraining from the consumption of meat (and milk products) on Wednesdays, Fridays, during Lent and on the eve of specific holy days like Christmas Eve. As no meat or butter could be used on such days, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil.

While southern Italy isn’t the only place where fish was the menu item of choice on the day before the birth of Christ, the Italians are credited with adopting the numerical symbolism of serving seven distinct fish dishes, which, depending on the source, correspond with the days of the week, the seven days of creation or even the Seven Hills of Rome

This little-known tradition of many Italian-American families has recently become more popular thanks to food network stars; namely northern Michigan’s own, Mario Batali. In recent years, Batali along with an increasing number of America’s finest and best-known Italian restaurant owners have gotten into the holiday habit of hosting Feast of The Seven Fishes dinners in the days leading up to the Christmas holiday.

Seven Fishes in Northern Michigan

While traditional “seven fish” dishes once centered on salted cod, calamari and fried smelt, modern Italian-American chefs have taken the liberty of adding geo-specific seafood to the menu; for instance, East Coast carp and West Coast mussels and oysters. In the Midwest, Italian restaurant chefs like The Homestead’s John Piombo takes a best-of-both-worlds approach to create his over-the-top Christmas Eve feast.

This year, on December 21st and 22nd, Nonna’s is the place where Chef Piombo will offer his interpretation of this celebrated meal (albeit one week early).

Putting history and tradition together on one table with his favorite seven fishes, Piombo’s incredible culinary lineup for the evening starts with drunken mussels, crab cakes served with smoked tomato vinaigrette and ceci bean salad. Sea scallops, Calamari in Guazetto, Pasta de Sarde, shrimp with pepper relish and more. Cost is just $50 per person.

For more information, and to make your reservation, call 231.334.5150.

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