Early in my research on Abruzzo, I stumbled upon a reference to trabocchi. A trabocco is an Abruzzese fishing platform, built into the ocean floor with a narrow pier to connect it to land. Trabocchi look like giant spiders, which I suppose sounds awful, but in reality, it gives the coastline this very dramatic appearance, when multiple trabocchi are parading up on the coastline.
Trabocchi were built to offer fisherman an alternative to fishing boats, which are susceptible to weather, waves, and tides. The platform was built with a giant net underneath it and a sturdy winch above. Fisherman could heave the winch around the central post to draw up the net. I believe at one point, the fisherman would cook on the platform and sell their catch to drooling customers right there, on the trabocco. I also believe that nowadays they bring in their catch, or at least some of it. I did have some seafood on the trabocco, particularly ones that were simply prepared, that were so intensely flavorful, even with nothing added, that I did wonder if it had been hauled in beneath me that morning.
The area around Vasto has many trabocchi, and yet they are so popular, I advise you to book early. Some people say months in advance, I say that’s probably not necessary, but at least as soon as you know what day you want to go. Email is not the best way to make a reservation. Trust me, I tried. You’ll need to call. Here’s how. You dial out (Google how to call Italy from your country). This is how it goes:
You: Posso fare una prenotazione per (insert date here, which you’ve researched on Google Translate, use the number and then the month) per (insert number of people here) per (insert pranzo for lunch or cena for dinner--the meals are so long, they will likely just do one seating for each lunch and each dinner, so you won’t have to specify a time. But if they ask something that sounds like “a che ora?” then give them a time).
Trabocco: At this point they will either repeat back to you what you’ve said to confirm or they will move to the next step which is asking for your nome or cognome (name or last name). Give them your last name. If it’s not Italian-sounding, then know how to spell it using Italian letter names.
When the day arrives, do not eat. No, I’m not kidding. Okay, if you’re eating dinner on the trabocco, then maybe eat some fruit earlier, but seriously, you need to go in very, very hungry. Also, budget more time to get to the trabocco than your GPS advises. It’s not hard to get trapped behind a truck on your way to the freeway and parking may involve some driving up and down the coastline.
The price or the procedure may be different on some trabocchi, but most are €50,00 per person and that includes everything. When I say everything, I mean everything. Unending wine, food without ceasing, trays of desserts, limoncello or grappa, coffee. Everything. It seemed like the selection varied by table... I saw food go out to tables that didn't look like what we had and vice versa. My guess is that They make what they have, so if they have four portions of something, that'll go to the table with four people.
Our wine was waiting in an ice bucket when we arrived—a bubbly Pecorino. Pecorino is a white wine grown primarily in Marche and Abruzzo. I’ve never had it bubbly and now I can’t get it out of my mind. Delicious! Crisp, a little sweet, a perfect accompaniment to seafood.
We weren’t seated long before our courses began. It began with a paper cone of fried anchovies, one of my favorite seafood treats, so I knew this was going to be good. Then a plate of faro salad with seafood, a simple steamed whole shrimp of surpassing deliciousness, and oh, goodness. something wonderful I can't remember.
But perhaps you’ll forgive my memory lapse when I tell you that after that came at least 10 other courses all with that heady wine, so I did get muddled. I can tell you the highlights though. There was a little red grilled fish that may have been mullet that was sweet and tender. There were two platters of pasta — one that looked like squares of pasta wrapped around dowels served with a red sauce and seafood, and one a more traditional linguini with olive oil and lemon and seafood. Another favorite was the sea bass that seemed to have been poached in olive oil, served with potatoes that were creamy and yet crisp. At the end they brought out more fried seafood, this time more a light batter fry, rather than the crumbs on the anchovies. Then came dessert of traditional Abruzzese pastries and platters of perfectly ripe fruit. Then coffee. Then an offer of a digestive — limoncello, grappa, etc.
I couldn’t eat dinner that night, and woke up the next morning unsure if I would ever eat again, but it was worth it for four hours of sitting on a fishing pier, with an unceasing variety of treats appearing on my plate and the gentle sea breeze to murmur that all was well.