Sailors, castaways and … cuisine

An incredible voyage in time and space, comfortably seated at the table and enjoying an exquisite Venetian dish.

One of the traditional dishes of Venetian cuisine is based on a fish not found in the Adriatic Sea: dried salt cod.

The story goes that Pietro Querini introduced the use of dried cod to the Veneto region from Northern Europe in 1432 for entirely fortuitous and tragic reasons.

Querina’s carrack was sailing from the island of Crete, bound for Flanders, with a load of Malvasia wine produced on the island estate of the Querini family as well as other valuable goods.

A voyage doesn’t seem incredible to us, we’re so used to travelling quickly between continents and shipping and receiving goods to and from all corners of the world. Yet if we think about how people travelled then and the time it took, we can’t possibly hide our sense of admiration for those men who faced long journeys and inconveniences that we could never imagine.

The Querina never reached its destination. After passing Cape Finisterre and being pushed northward by headwinds, the carrack was left to the mercy of storms which would dismast it and force it adrift. It was subsequently abandoned by the 27 surviving members of its crew.

Only eleven of the crew, including Pietro Querini, were fortunate enough to reach an uninhabited islet in the Lofoten archipelago, where they were rescued by fishermen from the island of Rost. It was here our character discovered dried cod and how to preserve it.

We are able to learn about the adventurous story of the shipwreck and rescue and about the customs and practices of those peoples from a report by Antonio de Cardini, based on the accounts of survivors and preserved in Venice’s Marciana Library.

In the end, thanks to the help of those fishermen, Querini returned to Bergen from where he was able to return to Venice. He brought with him this delicious fish, appreciated for its lean flesh and for its preservation method enabling it to be stored for a long time.

Querini, who ventured to discover those faraway lands, is also cited, along with other famous Venetian explorers, above a door in the hall of the Doge’s “dello Scudo’’ apartments at the Doge’s Palace.

This adventure resulted in the valuable dried salt cod being sold from the faraway North to the Venetian kitchens where it was to become, and remains to this day, a highly valued speciality prepared in the two most famous ways: “a là Vicentina” or “creamed”, which visitors to Venice and Veneto should never miss out on tasting.

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