In the seaside city of Gaeta, the festival known as “Le Vie di Gaeta”, is held over a long weekend at the beginning of October. This a popular event with people coming from near and afar to take part. It is a celebration of local ancient traditions, culture, history and gastronomy and there are informative guided tours of the town where one can learn more about Gaeta’s colourful history, art, culture and nature.
On the Saturday evening a wonderful Food Festival is held in the charming setting of Via Indipendenza which runs parallel with the sea front Lungomare Giovanni Caboto. Via Indipendenza is a quaint, narrow pedestrian alley, approximately half a mile in length, and is paved in dark volcanic stone, with many little adjoining alleyways known as vicoli. Here you can find many small shops selling fresh local food and an array of items, such as souvenirs, handicrafts, leather goods, clothes, jewellery etc.
The food festival is a gastronomic extravaganza of traditional local Gaetana food, recipes and where locals offer samples of their freshly prepared delicacies.
We arrived in the early evening, and watched as the locals were still in the process of setting up numerous colourful stalls along the narrow street. The participants are generally all volunteers, a great example of the locals coming together to keep alive their community and traditions, which they hold so dear.
There are small tables at strategic entry points to the Via with people selling vouchers which represent an ancient coinage of the old duchy of Gaeta known as the “Follaro”, which is valued at about 50 euro cents. With these vouchers you can then purchase samples of the various delicacies on offer.
Gaeta residents come together to offer the very best of their native ingredients and cuisine, for example Gaeta olives and freshly caught local seafood, cicinelli (tiny baby fish) octopus salads, cod or vegetable fritters, anchovy meatballs.
Then there is the renowned Tiella, which is a cross between a pizza and a calzone. Typical fillings include diced calamari with parsley, garlic, oil, hot chilli pepper and a little tomato sauce. Other fillings include escarole (a variety of endive) and baccalà (dried cod), egg and zucchini, spinach, and ham and cheese.
There was plenty of local vino on offer as well, as dolci such as Bignè made from a type of choux pastry filled with delicious crème patisserie, cakes made with honey and Struffoli, small balls of fried batter, rolled in honey.
Some of the stallholders had even taken the trouble to dress up in traditional costumes of the Gaeta area.
It seemed that everywhere along the route our tastebuds were tantalised by the deliciously temping aromas. By now Via Indipendenza was buzzing with throngs of people filling every nook and cranny of the narrow street, and forwards progress was slowed to a virtual standstill by people stopping and chatting with neighbours and friends every couple of yards.
Indeed it was an excellent evening of good food, conviviality and merriment.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott