One of the mainstays of the Lugano region, both in territorial and culinary terms, is undoubtedly Lake Lugano, an ideal habitat for various fish species which have left an indelible mark on this region’s culture. Freshwater fish are often considered somewhat inferior notwithstanding the fact that their nutritional values are frequently greater than more prestigious sea fish. The reasons for this conviction date back several centuries.
In fact, in bygone days, food was considered the primary instrument of social demarcation. Eating local food was synonymous with poverty as food from afar was unaffordable. Despite a historical treasure trove of recipes and evidence, this belief steadily gained traction, due in part to the population’s greater wealth and the ready availability of sea food, culminating in modern times when the situation has been completely reversed. The lake is now seen as something which needs to be preserved in the same way as traditional food and drink which are synergically bound together with our region’s heritage.
But let’s take a small step back. As stated, the story of lake fish and the myriad ways they are used is inextricably linked to the bygone traditions of the populations which used to live in this land. Ever since the time of the Romans, fish caught in our local waters were considered a sign of wealth and a particular characteristic of this region so much so that fishing became one of the main sources of livelihood for the local population which consisted chiefly of fishermen. As time went by, the conviction grew that a plate of lake fish, from carpione to fried fish, was almost an ancestral tradition to be handed down to children and grandchildren. However, in practice we never asked ourselves how to safeguard this important pillar of our identity. Only in the last few years have various movements and associations taken steps to enhance the prestige of a product which in reality can be considered one of the cornerstones of Ticino cuisine. This situation is similar throughout regions of Insubria [the cross-border lake district] which share the same culinary roots, thanks to a territorial configuration which is very similar. For example, Manzoni lauded “that arm of Lake Como” and described a landscape and a social cultural environment which were very similar to Lugano’s in one of his most renowned works. Fish are no longer as abundant in our lake as they once were but whitefish, pike, trout, chub, sturgeon, missultin, alosa agone, eel, burbot and tench are just some of the excellent fish caught in Lake Lugano. In the local restaurants, they’re turned into traditional dishes or otherwise given a modern twist, adopting techniques originating from other cuisines in order to allow anybody visiting the Lugano area to enjoy the food which gave this land its identity.
Lake fish is a food which boasts a wealth of important organo- elliptic properties. For example, it makes a great alternative to other foods containing protein of animal origin from which it differs due to its different lipid (or “fat”) content, as it has a wealth of omega-3, a fatty acid which reduces the impact of cardiovascular disease if taken regularly (as shown by various studies).
To conclude, lake fish is a veritable treasure which deserves to be better known. The region’s chefs should offer it to their guests, increasing consumption and raising awareness of the above topics with a view to safeguarding our local culinary heritage