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Ancient tradition "Alici di Menaica"


Come gli antichi Greci - Like the old Greek

In the Cilento village of Marina di Pisciotta, a small group of fishermen keeps alive the centuries old fishing tradition "alici di menaica".


Ancient tradition "Alici di Menaica"


Come gli antichi Greci - Like the old Greek

In the Cilento village of Marina di Pisciotta, a small group of fishermen keeps alive the centuries old fishing tradition "alici di menaica".

Skill and old knowledge

On calm nights between April and July, the fishermen take their 8 m wooden boats out to sea and cast their nets (menaide), which are 200 m long and knotted in a special way. Their knowledge concerning currents, winds, weather and the light of the moon as well as of Venus helps them catch anchovies ("alici") three to five miles off the coast. The nets are cast into the water up to a depth of 10 meters. The pescatori, the fishermen, anticipate the movements of the shoals of anchovies and skilfully block their passage with the nets.

Following the moon and the stars

In order to know where and how deep the nets have to be cast into the water, it is essential to know about the currents, the winds and the weather. It is the sky which provides the crucial clues. The fishermen have always known that the "alici" are drawn to surface by light and can be easily caught when there are certain stars in the sky: Pollara (Orion), Puddicinara (Pleiades), Calabresella (a small star which appears to the southeast, right over Calabria) and U Stellone (Venus).

The moon and the sun determine the direction taken by the fish. The "alici" move toward the sun when it rises and when it sets. In the same manner, they follow the moon. On moonless nights, the fishermen take along a "lampara" (gas lamp) on their small boat.

After the shoal of anchovies has passed (after 30 to 40 minutes), the nets are pulled back into the boat by hand. The fish already bleed in the water, after becoming trapped in the nets. On board, the anchovies are detached from the meshes one by one – at the same time their heads and innards are discarded. The fish are stored for transport in wooden boxes – without ice or other cooling agents.

This ca. 3,000-year-old, traditional way of fishing is done with special nets knotted by the fishermen, who, in the course of the months, adjust the meshes to the growing size of the anchovies. Menaica-fishing was once prevalent throughout the Mediterranean area. Nowadays, it is kept alive only in the Cilento, above all at Marina di Pisciotta, but also at Palinuro and Marina di Camerota.

The women's work

It is solely the women who are in charge of taking care of and preparing the catch. They immediately wash the "alici" in brine. Salt improves dehydration. In former times, the alici were put into "terzarole", very spacious wooden barrels produced at Sessa Cilento until the 1960s. 

The "alici" are put into the containers, layer by layer. Arranging them correctly and filling the spaces and layers in between with coarse salt are essential for good storage. For a 2 kg glass you need about 4 kg of fresh anchovies. The fish is then left to 'ripen' for three months in a place of high humidity and steady temperature.

Buying and tasting "Alici di Menaica" 

"Alici di Menaica" and other fish specialties can be bought, in general all year round, at small local stores and laboratori. 

Laboratorio AURA of Luca Cella

Opening hours: in general 08.00 – 13.00 h and 16.00 – 18.00 h; SS562, km 0, close to Palinuro near intersection Marina di Camerota-Centola-Palinuro; Tel: +39 0974 273451 and +39 329 596 6496; fish- and other Cilento-specialties.

Laboratorio artigianale "Menaica" of Maria Coppola

Opening hours: in general 09:00 – 13:00 h and 16:00 – 19:00 h; Via Roma, 1, Pisciotta, Tel.: +39 349 655 6635

"Alici di Menaica" – recipes

They say that there are as many different recipes for the "alici" as there are families in Pisciotta. Be it raw or cooked, fresh or salted, as salad, filled with goat's cheese, with pasta or as stew…

"Alici di Menaica" differ from ordinary anchovies by their rose colored flesh, their intense and extraordinary taste as well as their incomparable flavor.

Easy to make and recommended as a quick holiday dish – "salad" with fresh anchovies: The fish are deboned and shortly dipped into lemon juice and refined with olive oil, garlic and parsley dressing. Of course, this goes with spaghetti, too – prepared with garlic, olive oil and peperoncini (hot peppers).