2nd day in Salento – it was the briny smell of salt air that first welcomed me. There we were heading towards the historical center of Gallipoli, half-attentive to what the GPS navigator was saying, when out of the corner of my eye I see a small gathering of men standing next to what looked like to be a food stall. What in the? No way, it couldn’t be. Sea urchins? Just like that out in the open? And they’re eating them at 10:30 in the morning??? I couldn’t tell MotH to stop the car. In that moment it was a mess of vehicles moving at a steady pace, and he was taking care not to run over any slow pedestrians.
Known as riccio di mare (REE-choh dee MAH-reh), uni in Japan, and ha’uke’uke in Hawaii, along with the more venomous wana that is best to avoid, sea urchin is an acquired taste. I grew up eating the helmet or shingle urchin types as a child, so for me this was 100% comfort food. The ones served in Italy are of the paracentrotus lividus species – Black Sea Urchin – and its eggs, or gonads, are what makes for exquisite consumption. The best way to eat them in this country is fresh on a plate of spaghetti. It is gustatory nirvana. Delicately sweet, rich, silky with a hint of iodine, forbidden… We each ordered a plate to enjoy all to our own, as there was not going to be any food sharing at the table that night.
Gallipoli is a beautiful old town to wander in and you’ll want to head to the little island at the end that is attached to the mainland by way of a short bridge. Unfortunately I never got a better look at the urchin stands, only that shot above as we sped by to the next destination.