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Fondazione Terzo Pilastro


The orecchiette business
is in danger in Bari

Who would have thought that some sweet and caring Apulian grandmas were capable of deliberately breaking the law just to... produce hand-made pasta? While in Bari, The New York Times journalist Jason Horowitz uncovered this story in the American press after reading an article published last November on the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica.

Basically, in mid-October, police inspectors fined a local restaurant for serving untraceable orecchiette, which is a violation of Italian and European Union regulations that require food to be clearly sourced when served to clients. As a consequence of this, three kilos of pasta were trashed. This news immediately worried the sharp-elbowed women of Bari who are permitted to sell small plastic baggies of pasta for personal use, but who are not licensed to deliver large shipments to restaurants. Indeed, these old ladies do not earn much to begin with and fear having to issue receipts and pay taxes. The mayor Antonio Decaro has promised to work something out, but, in the meantime, he could only advise the grannies to lay low. «No information. That is bad for us», quoted Ms. Nunzia Caputo, a 61-year-old who uses to make pasta out of ground-floor kitchens that opened directly onto the streets, while singing old songs.

Another nonna, an 82-year-old named as Vittoria then said: «Everyone is scared that the financial police is going to crack down on us». Then she went on threatening the reporter for asking too many questions while the neighbour across the street blasted AC/DC's Thunderstruck which he called "self defence" against her constant sharp tongue.

On the opposite end of the street, Angela Lastella, 64, stood surrounded by clear plastic bags of orecchiette, taralli crackers and sun-dried tomatoes. She shooed away a carb-hungry pigeon while clamming up on the topic of pasta trafficking. Then, when asked about a proposal for the women to join together legally, she shouted with exasperation: «Who is going to make a cooperative?»

Before taking on orecchiette makers, police bodyguards also fined street-food vendors by prohibiting them from selling raw mussels rinsed in a seaport water.

However, European food laws do not seem of primary concern to many around town and locals argue that regulations are the real threat. Francesco Amoruso, a 76-year-old whose mother was a venerable pasta maker who died at the age of 99, said: «Those women work from 10 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week to support their unemployed husbands and sons». Michele Fanelli, an advocate for local traditions who offers classes in orecchiette production, added: «Globalization is threatening the traditions». His mother, Ms. Fiore, 88, agreed: «He is right. Taxes and things like that. It is all off the books». She also said her own mother taught her how to make pasta since she was six to feed her father and her seven brothers. Indeed, in Bari being able to make orecchiette was once a prerequisite for marriage. And she meant that in a good way, obviously. «We have to transmit these values to the next generation. Everything now is based on technology, all the kids with their technology. They should help us pass this tradition down, not exterminate it. You should teach it at school. You have kids now who can speak two or three languages, but can't do this», she then concluded. But Ms. Caputo's son was dismissive on his mother's opinion.

Among the restaurateurs who got caught while serving contraband orecchiette, there was Diego De Meo, owner of Moderat. At first, he just claimed that they had "some little magic in them". Then, pressed further, he paused awkwardly and said: «It was me».

Michela Curcio

[30.3.2020 - 12:47]

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