NJ tradition: What’s up with the ‘seven fishes’ Christmas Eve dinner?
You may have heard of the 'Feast Of The Seven Fishes' which is a traditional Italian dinner served on Christmas Eve.
Well, it's more of a tradition here in the New Jersey/New York/Philly area than it is in Italy for the most part.
It was a tradition started hundreds of years ago in coastal towns around Rome and Naples on the Mediterranean Sea.
Outside of that area, it's really not a thing, unless you live in our area.
Italian Americans looking to hold on to their heritage and old-world traditions have kept it alive and keep it growing every holiday season here in and around New Jersey.
Since many of the descendants of Italian immigrants here in our area came from the Naples area, it made it across the Atlantic early in the last century.
As with most things we think of as 'Italian', this and many other traditions and traditional foods were very regional but became all-encompassing as "Italian" here.
About 20 years ago after first reuniting with my father's relatives from Italy, they came here for Christmas.
They were staying with me, and I could wait for them to try my feast of the seven fishes dinner.
When I told them what I was preparing they looked at me like I had two heads. They never heard of it!
They were from the mountains of Calabria far from the sea and weren't familiar with the tradition as many Italians also are not.
They humored me and enjoyed the dinner, but I learned an important lesson that year.
If you'd like to try a Feast of The Seven Fishes Dinner on Christmas Eve but don't know where to begin, there are a few restaurants in New Jersey that offer the meal at a fixed price.
You can enjoy all the traditional dishes of those original Italian immigrants without all the fuss and sans stinking up your house for the holiday.
One of the best is in Collingswood at Nunzio.
Here is a list from a few years ago of places that serve it in the Central Jersey area.
Check with the individual places to see if they still do it.
Many of the dishes on the original feast menu are pretty hardcore old-world seafood, like smelts.
I updated my menu to include lots more American palate-friendly seafood dishes.
If you have the time and the patience here is one version you might want to try on your own.
My suggestion is to go to one of the great New Jersey Italian restaurants who offer it and enjoy!
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Dennis Malloy only.
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