Letter “S” & “B” :: Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà

Letters from Italy :: "S" & "B" :: Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà | photo: ©Lonza65
Letters from Italy :: “S” & “B”
Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà | photo: ©Lonza65

“Bacalà (one “c”) alla vicentina” is one of the signature dishes of Italian cooking heritage. The funny thing about it is that the main ingredient – “bacalà” – is not what people usually mean i.e. salted codfish, but Stockfish – i.e. dried cod.

This misunderstanding started in XV century with Venetian merchant Messer Piero Querini, whose fleet was shipwrecked on the Lofoten Island coast. There he and his crew tasted “stokkfiss” for the first time.

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However the Italian word “stoccafisso” describes the dried fish for all the Italians and “baccalà” for salted cod. People from Veneto, instead, say bacalà (one “c” only, don’t forget) to indicate the dried stockfish.
Quite a mess, I admit. The reason for this misunderstanding is not clear, but now it is too late to worry about it.

Just keep in mind that if you’re visiting Venice or the Veneto, bacalà is stockfish and you’ll never be caught off guard.

Letters from Italy :: "S" & "B" :: Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà | photo: ©ockstyle
Letters from Italy :: “S” & “B” :: Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà | photo: ©ockstyle

“Bacalà, baccalà, stoccafisso” are tasty, healthy and ingredients for yummy dishes and for funny but not exactly flattering idioms.
“Fare la figura del baccalà” is not quite a compliment, since it means to act like a fool, while “restare come un baccalà” is when you stay still because you are unable to react. “Stoccafisso” is used to describe a gangly, thin and somewhat clumsy person – “sembra uno stoccafisso” (he looks like a twig).

More info about “bacalà alla vicentina” and its Brotherhood “La Confraternita del Bacalà” (in italian)

Letter “A” :: “Alfresco” or “Al fresco”? Stai fresco!

In these days temperatures range from 28 to 36 degrees Celsius (82 to 96 Fahrenheit) and everybody is looking for some “fresco”, i.e. some cool air/location. No doubt that having lunch or dinner “alfresco” [al-fres-koh] brings some relief from this sultry weather, however, the right way to say it in Italian is “pranzare/cenare all’aperto” or “fuori”.

AlFresco gm DSC_2483_spuma ©GiuseppeMarone
Bibita “fresca” – Cool drink… | photo: ©GiuseppeMarone

“Al fresco” (two words) may convey another meaning, it is an ironic way to say that you’re behind bars. If you take into consideration that jail caterers are not so esteemed, dining “al fresco” sounds a little awkward to Italian ears.

“Fresco” is a tricky word for a learner of Italian. Giotto, Michelangelo and all our masters of painting this time are not involved. “Fresco” in Italian is “affresco” and as an adjective it is used in many and somewhat contradictory ways.

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Imagine you’re sunbathing at your favourite “stabilimento balneare” (beachfront resort), it’s 11 a.m. and suddenly on the PA system you hear this: “Pizze calde fresche, pizze calde fresche!”

Are pizzas hot or cool? They’ve just come out of the oven – freshly baked but they’re as hot as volcano lava, that’s the reason for the oxymoron “hot fresh pizzas”. And even though the thermometer says 30 degrees, a few things are more enjoyable than a lip-scorching pizza under the sun umbrella. One of them is a rich aperitivo – alfresco on the lungomare when the temperature gets cooler (più fresca).

Things get worse – for learners of Italian – when “fresco” is used in the idiom “stai fresco”. As for idioms in every language, it should not be taken literally, and its translation may be “forget about it” or “fat chance”.

Is the word “fresco” convoluted enough?