Friday, June 29, 2012

Frittura di pesciolini (latterini) or deep-fried Mediterranean sea smelt

Before leaving for the beach a couple of weeks ago, we were all tired and in need of a vacation. I know I was being a little more impatient than usual with the kids, who in turn were acting a little wilder than normal. Their constant bickering, running, screaming, jumping and obliviousness to our requests generated a fair share of hollering on our side in the days before our departure.

Now, on a normal day, our meals go something like this:

"What's for dinner?"
" I don't like xyz"
"You gave him more than me"
"Why doesn't he have to finish his xyz?"
"La, la, la, la, la"
Crash! Splash!
"I'm tired, can you feed me?"
"I have a tummy ache"
"What's for dessert?"
"I have to go to the bathroom"
"La, la, la, la, la"

"Stop saying bleah, we don't say bleah about food"
"This is not a restaurant, you eat what is on the table"
"Stop watching your brother and concentrate on your vegetables"
"Stop copying your sister"
"No eating with our hands"
"Please don't throw pieces of food on the floor"
"Don't you dare spit out that piece of carrot onto my plate again"
"Sit still!"
"Your brother is two, he doesn't understand yet"
"No getting up from the table"
"Stop putting your greasy hands in your hair, we just washed it".
"If you sat still like we ask you to constantly, you wouldn't have spilled that glass of water onto my plate again!"
"Chew with your mouth closed"
"Finish chewing, then you can tell me the story"
"No singing at the table"
"No playing at the table"
"We say excuse me when we do that."

And this is bed time:

In bed, before lights out:
"Can I read a book?"
"Mommy, book?"
"No, not this book. I want that book"
"No, not that book"
"Can you read me another book"
"Pretty please?"
"I'm thirsty"
"Me too"
"Can I have another stuffed animal?"
"I'm hungry"
"Tractor in bed"

In bed, lights out:
"Moooooommmy! Daddddyyyy!"
"I'm thirsty!!!"
"It's daaaark!"
"I have to go to the bathroom"
"I want to wear a skirt tomorrow"
"Mommy, owie"
"He started"
"I don't want to go to school tomorrow"
"Can I have a  band-aid?"
"Mommy, I forgot to tell you about my homework for next week"

Multiply this by ten and you will know what the week before leaving was like. So, yes, there was some screaming. Yes there was a spanking or two. Yes there was some door slamming and some stomping down the hall.

And then...
... but wait, before telling you the story I need to explain a few things.
I speak to my kids in English most of the time. They answer me in Italian, always. Well, most of the time. So, to be accurate, the situations I described above go more like this:

"Ho sete!"
"Cosa c'è per cena?"
"Sit still"
"Perchè lui si e io no?"
"Don't copy your sister"
"Che schifo!"
"Voglio un libro"
"Stop xyz!"

We sit at the table and our conversations are a mix of Italian and English, with the English usually only coming from me.
Until last night at dinner, that is. When my son looked at my daughter, called out her name and said:

"Shut up!"

I was taken aback. Not only by the words, but by the English. Where did that come from?

"Little guy, that is not a nice thing to say. Where did you hear that?"

A few minutes later:

"Mommy, SHUT UP!"

Now, I know kids say much worse things. But hearing it from my two year old in English with a perfect American accent somehow made a stronger impact. He could have been saying: "Mom, shut the f**k up, ok?" for all I knew, because that is what it sounded like to me.

And then my mind started reeling. I remembered the other night, when I yelled "shut up!" to my daughter after 15 minutes of non-stop nagging and whining. Oh no! I am a terrible mother, I use inappropriate language and a nasty tone with my kids! I should be a patient, caring, loving mother who never, ever uses foul language in front of her children, who teaches them respect and kindness. And now I have spawned a two-year old that raises his voice and tells me to shut my face. Serves me right. When did I become this person?

So I breathed in deeply and said:

"Sweetie, you really shouldn't speak like that to your Mommy or anybody else.  When Mommy is tired she sometimes loses her patience too easily and says things she shouldn't and I am sorry. You kids sometimes do drive me crazy, but that is no excuse to talk to you like that and I will try not to use that language again."

And while I was caught up in my big speech I realized the kids were speaking to each other in a mix of Italian and English and were not even paying attention to my words:

"... and then Shrek turned to Donkey and said: "Donkey, two words: Shut! Up!"

and both fell back in their chairs in hysterics.

Moral of the story: life is never boring with children. And I still need to learn to curb my temper.

Here is a quick, cheap and sustainable meal my kids ate greedily. If you are going to give them something deep fried, make them something rich in vitamin B-12 and omega 3's instead of French fries. Believe me, even if eating the whole fish may freak you out, they probably won't even notice. Don't worry about the bones either, they are so tiny you do not feel them.

400gr Mediterranean sea smelt/acquarelle (or any small frying fish)
about 1 cup of flour
about 1l deep-frying oil (peanut, sunflower etc.)

Start heating the oil in a pot. In the meantime, gently wash the fish under cold running water, making sure the heads don't break of. Dry with paper towel. Put the flour in a bowl and coat the fish in small batches or pour the flour into a paper or plastic bag and then add in the fish and shake until they are coated. Shake off the excess flour. When the oil is hot enough (you can test this by dipping one of the fish in it; if the oil around it starts sizzling you can proceed), fry the fish in batches. If you overcrowd the pot, the oil temperature will drop and your fish will not turn out crispy. Cook until golden brown. Place on some paper towel and cover with some more and then press down gently to absorb excess grease. Sprinkle with some salt (and lemon if you like) and serve immediately. You have to eat these hot!


  1. As you know I've just got back from Barcelona and they serve little deep fried whitebait everywhere - I'm completely obsessed! I've never made my own but reading this I think I'm going to have to. Yum yum yum!

    1. I know, I never thought about making these at home either, that is why I decided to post about it although it really isn't a recipe. We often only eat certain things when we go out, not realizing how simply they actually are to make in our own kitchens.

  2. I love those little fried fish! Sadly fried anything is off limits for me in warm/humid/sunny places because of sun allergy :( Knowing I can do it this easily at home makes me want to go look for whitebait!

  3. Funny, this is how sardines are served in Lebanon too! Love to eat these little crispy things!

  4. I've never had fish like this, but would like to try them if I could get some fresh ones like you have here. They look so crunchy and delicious!

    1. Hi Amy, it is really good, if you find them you must try.

  5. That just sounds like meal times and bed times in this house. I think there's comfort in that. What a great looking dish but I can tell you now, my kids wouldn't eat it. They don't like fish. Great that your children loved it. I love how they're bilingual. xx

    1. True, there certainly comfort in that. But wait, it is still like that with teen agers? I mean I know you have a younger one too, but was hoping it changed after 6!

  6. Oh what a funny post! I laughed out loud. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for your words, your encouragement, and your prayers. I hope you are having a restful and peaceful Sunday. Love and hugs!

    1. Glad I made you laugh a little, after that past few tough days for your family back home. xxx

  7. I would give my right arm to eat these smelt!!! This is exactly the type of meal I crave 100% of the time. It's such risky business raising children. I never hide the truth from pregnant women- why does everyone always gloss it over and act like it's easy??! A pregnant woman (first time around) from my yoga class saw me refusing to carry my 2 yr old home the two blocks to our apartment the other day. I was standing my ground, but getting nowhere and highly frustrated. She walked by and I couldn't help but call out "Good Luck!!" to her. It was one of those moments. I think I finally got him to walk the whole two blocks home, but I felt like a mess. Oh well, it happens.

    1. It never is easy being a parent, and I agree, if people were more honest about it we would start the journey more prepared. Like breastfeeding. It was good you stood your ground, it is important to do that, but then it is hard to choose your battles. I have gone through huge meltdowns with my kids only to realize later that perhaps I could have been more flexible about something.

  8. Hahahaha that sounds like our house... and same mixed languages too, only the other way around (I am the one talking to them in Italian while they reply in English)! Kids are surprising, they absorb everything like sponges even when it seems like they are not paying attention. I have the same problem... especially with the 2 year old as she repeats everything she hears (even after 2 or 3 days)! She barely speaks Italian, or that's what I thought until the other day she was fighting with her sister and she screamed at her: noooo, non si fa!!!" hehehehehehe

    I love small fried fish... especially sardines or anchovies... I haven't had any in at least 5 years as they don't sell them here! I only find frozen whitebait and I never really buy it as it looks so "sad"! ;-) Welcome back!

    1. Ha ha, I can totally picture it reversed! And I love that your little one said that. So cute. It would not have been as cute if she had screamed "tappati la bocca mamma"!!

  9. Fried smelt is a common dish in Greece. I love it!!! Especially during the summer, eating it by the sea. I miss my home...

    Your kids, and you, are hilarious. :)

    1. I miss your home too... Greece is beautiful!

  10. ee smelt! i am really un sophisticated when it comes to seafood, coming from an extremely landlocked, desert place. i ordered smelt once in the spirit of adventure, not knowing what it was, and was a little nervous when they brought me out a plate of fried whole fish. food with heads! HOWEVER, they were extremely tasty. i may not be brave enough yet to try it myself, but this dish looks really wonderful, even to my suspicious, land lubberly brain.

    1. Listen, not only did you move out fo your comfort zone ordering the smelt, you also tried it once it came WITH HEADS... I would say that is pretty darn adventurous!

  11. I "laughed" reading all the conversations you wrote. They are so typical with kids :D I need to be more patient with my family too but still trying my best until today...

    I have never try cooking with smelt before and this deep fried little fishes look really interesting to eat.

    Love all your cooking and the way you write about food and kids. Happy to follow you via blogger and twitter :D Hope to hear from you soon...

  12. Hi Zoe, I know what you mean... it is a daily work in progress... Glad you enjoy reading my blog, thanks for following.

  13. Oh funny - and this so reminds me of when my kids were little except when I spoke English, Clem spoke in French and Simon Italian so it was an even crazier mix. One day, actually, Simon (he was maybe 4) let loose a horribly dirty Italian curse word. I was stunned and asked him where he learned that word? He looked me in the eye and said "From you!" Ha! Nope. If it was French or English, maybe. We curse occasionally in one of the two but never in Italian. So at least it wasn't from me :-) And my husband LOVES these little fish fried like that but I can't eat anything with eyes. Sorry.

  14. I love those little fried fish but where to find them Stateside? Haven't been able to… :=(


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