Bluefin Tuna was once caught in the Mediterranean off Sicily using a long and complex series of nets, tonnare, which stretched for miles. The word came to signify tuna canneries, and there were once hundreds of canneries along the Sicilian coasts, and heaven knows how many tuna fishermen, tonnarotti.
The huge fish would be forced to swim along lengths of net until they reached the final one, there they would be bloodily dispatched in an operation called the mattanza, the killing, a term which has found its way into the Italian vernacular as a synonym for “massacre”. A killing it was indeed. I don’t want to think about it as I’ll lose my taste for tuna.
But the tuna are diminishing in size and numbers, with legal restrictions in place. There are just two netting operations left, and you can see them once a year in Bonagia and Favignana.
I don’t want to watch la mattanza, but I want to visit the Egadi Islands off the west coast so I caught a ferry from Trapani to Favignana, a longer trip that if I’d hopped in the hydrofoil, but one in which I could stand on the deck and look over the sea. I couldn’t see any tuna naturally, but I was thrilled to spot the lighthouse at Favignana with its big radio mast.
Three islands make up the Isole Egadi and the biggest is Favignana. The only town, also called Favignana, is a happy, sleepy little place. At least, it was sleepy in winter but I’m sure it fills and fires up over the summer holidays. I saw hardly a car on my trek to find a good place to eat some tuna.
Piazza Europa looked the most promising place to start. Outside of the Town Hall, I stopped to admire a large and imposing statue dominating the piazza. Another likeness of Garibaldi, I thought, statues of him are everywhere along the west coast. A closer look showed this to be Ignazio Florio.
A Sicilian Bourgeois Dynasty
After the disastrous earthquake in Calabria in 1783, the brothers Paolo and Ignazio Florio moved from Bagnara Calabra to Palermo where they set up the best-stocked spice shop in the city. They did very well.
In 1874, the third generation Ignazio bought the island of Favignana and began a tuna cannery, employing a large number of workers and bringing prosperity to the islands. The Tonnara Florio is the last remaining tuna fishery of the fifty that existed a century ago,
The Florio family are remembered for their success in getting the Marsala production out of English hands (and into their own). No wonder statues of family members are scattered about.
The family’s grand palazzo is situated behind the town hall.
Carpaccio, of course, is any meat or fish served raw. So you need thin slices of tuna for this. I get my tuna from the market and ask for it to be sliced very finely.
Serve tuna carpaccio with a lightly toasted ciabatta.