When it comes to food in Italy, we tell our travelers to focus on local and seasonal. Foods that are local are of course from the surrounding area but – just as important – they are often steeped in tradition and history. Local food in Venice, a city of islands built completely on water, not surprisingly includes lots of seafood. Travelers who want to experience local food in Venice should definitely look out for these little crabs from the Lagoon. However, they may not be easy to find!
These little crabs live in Venice’s lagoon and are considered to be a delicacy for their flavors and their scarcity. Although they live in the lagoon year round, they become moeca (local dialect for soft) when they molt. This happens twice a year, for only a few weeks during the spring and the autumn.
After shedding their shells, the crabs are soft for only a few hours before their new, harder, shells start to grow. If the crabs aren’t eaten during this 5-6 hour window, continued contact with the water will cause the new shells to grow. After that, they cannot be eaten.
The techniques for breeding and fishing this local Venetian food were passed down from generation to generation. Local fishermen with these skills are called moecanti. Historically, only crab farmers of Chioggia were privy to these methods. But in the last 50 years, the crab fishing area has expanded to also include the islands – and fishermen – of Giudecca and Murano.
A specific type of net called a trezza is used to capture the crabs shortly before they molt. The fishermen sort them based on molting time, keeping the crabs that are about to molt, and throwing the rest back. The chosen crabs go into wooden boxes and the fishermen immerse them back into the lagoon waters. They keep a close eye on the crabs, pulling them out of the lagoon the minute they become moeche.
Once the crabs shed their shells, they need to get into the kitchen as quickly as possible! Traditionally, moeche are fried and served with polenta (a white or yellow cornmeal mash).
Travelers interested in local food in Venice should look for moeche in the Rialto Fish Market or in local restaurants.
There is a local expression in Venetian dialect about moeche: “anca se’l deventa gransio no importa”. This translates as: “even if one becomes a crab, it doesn’t matter”, and means that it is never too late.
Travelers who would like to meet one of the few surviving moecanti families and visit the Venetian Lagoon in one of their historical boats can get in touch with local company Asolando.
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