If you are in Apulia and you are walking along the promenade of Bari, take a look at the cliffs. It will be very easy to see, among the boats, fishermen engaged in a very intense activity. They are repeatedly slamming something on the rock, with very strong force and very emphasized movements. What is it?
Bari is famous for its fishing activity. Octopus is perhaps the king of fish products of this Adriatic stretch. It can be found in abundance in these waters and is quite easy to fish. Traditionally, almost all local people do it. And that of "arricciare" (to curl) the octopus is an equally ancient tradition, quite a poetic act. It is not a simple custom, but a real art, which need to be learned and practiced. Also because it is not simple at all and all the gestures to be performed are many, complex and require time. A proper curling can take up to two hours of processing and is composed of various phases, each with precise methods and purposes.
The first phase of the process is the most emblematic: the slamming. It is precisely the traditional image of the fisherman who slams the octopus on the rocks. He continues not only until to kill it, but above all until the tentacles are relaxed and softened. Otherwise, for a natural defensive attitude of the prey, they would remain contracted, hardened and therefore little appetizing. Once cleaned of the entrails, he starts to hit him with a wooden scoop flat. This is usefull to remove any residues and the reddish color of the octopus. In this way it will be created a foam, which will be eliminated with the third phase, that is by rubbing the octopus on the rock and rinsing it with sea water. In the last step, the octopus is dipped in a basin of water (always sea!) and cradled by constantly shaking the container. So the tentacles will roll on themselves forming "curls" and eventually resulting soft and crunchy at the same time. That’s why we’re talking about curled octopus.
Enjoy your meal!
But what is the best way to eat this delicious octopus? What questions, raw of course! The whole process of curling is done precisely in order to enjoy this food to the maximum of its potential: crispy, soft and tasty. And this is exactly how a person of Bari honours the tradition (after all as most of the fish caught locally). Moreover, for a few years in Bari the most fashionable aperitif is beer and raw octopus 'n gann a mar, an expression meaning “sitting blissfully on the rocks”. This does not mean that there are no typical recipes, perhaps more suitable for "less courageous" palates. In addition to the classic seafood salad, now widespread throughout Italy, the octopus can be boiled, or stewed in a pan with tomato and basil.
Another very typical local baking is grilled. Eating an octopus sandwich on the seafront is an unmissable experience. You can find it during the summer season at about 5€ at the barbecues right in front of the fishermen. The freshly curled octopus is simply placed on the grill and roasted, then served in excellent Apulian bread. Basically we are talking about biological street food at 0km. Enjoy your meal!