If you ask someone, what comes to his mind when we say fish burger, he will probably refer to the fish&chips and its extension the fried cod burger, well-known in London, or eventually the American lobster roll.
Though, in Italy, it’s been five years now that a new trend has been consolidated: stuffing buns with raw fish.
And this typology of fish burger has become a real panino gourmet...
By Emeline Dany
As each time it comes to determine the origin of a dish, various sources have been mentioned. But if we can’t be sure of the exact inventor of the panino di mare/pesce, what is certain is that Pescaria from Apulia, became a marketing case reference.
Italy has a strong culture of street food. If you go to the South, you will find various fish dishes proposed in the streets: cone of fritto misto in Liguria or Cilento, steamed octopus or grilled tuna (ventresca) in Sicilian markets like Ballarò.
Born initially in Polignano, Pescaria’s panino di mare was conceived as a street food format: Apulia fish recipes embedded in a panini.
If you go to their store in Polignano, you can order your “panino” and take it away to eat it at the beach. The panini was quickly adopted by the younger locals as an easy food break, mixing local traditional recipes with an international format: the burger.
A couple of years ago, they decided to open a second restaurant in Milan. Milan has a big community of Pugliesi. It was the beginning of the socials use and rise but smartly, they started the marketing communication upfront four months before the opening date. D-Day, there was a line of three hours... Was it worthwhile would you ask?
Well, they claim to have fresh fish arriving directly from the South. The pairings are Italian and the recipes tasty. For example you can get a bun stuffed with mozzarella, bacon, crispy chips and the meat will be replaced by shrimps.
The store in Milan being tiny and not scaled for a large demand, the delivery started exploding, without mentioning the COVID lockdown boom. But what you need to keep into consideration is that such paninis with glovo’s delivery fee could cost you up to twenty euros.
So why people keep consuming it?
1. Because the imagery of Pescaria’s paninis makes you dream, biting a panini from Pescara gives you the idea to be in Apulia, seating in front of turquoise waters.
2. Because the product in itself has been supported by such a strong marketing campaign than eating a panini makes you feel part of a community. When they opened the first restaurant in Milan, everyone went crazy to find the better spot to take a picture of the panini while holding it and post it on Instagram.
3. Because in Milan, people tend to follow a “fit” diet and they consider raw fish “healthy”, much better than a meat burger.
4. Because fish of quality is known to be expensive, and eating a raw fish panini is still less expensive than going to a seafood restaurant.
5. Last, because the ingredients inside, as long as the toppings are rich in flavors. It’s a food porn panini. Imagine a burger with burrata (creamy mozzarella), basil pesto, steam shrimps, anchovies and maybe even some additional sauce… This is the panini that provides mouth pleasure, not only fulfilling the need to eat.
With fish burgers, Italy has been able to move a cultural dish from the table to the street. A bit like the pizza portafoglio a Napoli (a pizza fold in 4 to be eat in the streets, “portafolio” meaning wallet).
And with the habits of eating healthy in Capitals, the fish burger has still a long success in front of it, as long as the raw materials are from quality. Actually, the young trend is about to become a classical. Many restaurants started to offer in their menu fish burgers as an alternative to meat.
But some variations are not excluded: Milan over the last few months added to the “panino di pesce” product range the fish burritos, a mix between a pokè (raw fish cubes, rice) and a roll…
Is the fish burger still an opportunity to catch?
Let’s review the Italian case.
Italia being surrounded by seas, has a strong culture of raw fish, they call it “cruditè”. Even in city where there is no sea like Milan, the “crudo” became a reference.
What does it mean? You can find premium quality raw fish in Italian traditional restaurants without looking for a sushi place.
So let’s say you have a seafood restaurant, you already have a fish supplier and always looking for food waste optimization. Eg. your raw red shrimps after one day, may become a dish of pasta with salted shrimps. But you also know the people coming to your place comes for the “crudo” above all and you don’t have a kitchen organized for cooked dishes. Cooking those extra dishes to avoid waste is adding complexity to the kitchen organization.
> What about extending your offer and reaching a lower ticket range market? Creating a fish burger line either with a take away, fast casual or a dark kitchen, will let you optimize your stock turns, without adding indirect expenses.
Your sashimi of salmon can become a low temperature salmon steak burger with dill sauce, your tartare of shrimps, a panino with steamed shrimps and mayo… Low temperature and steam, means products prepared upfront avoiding the rush during lunch hours…
Panino di mare can become an opportunity to optimize your expenses.
And if on the contrary, you start from scratch, well the imagery of Italia’s seaside will do the magic, as long as you have a good quality fish.
Though, it should not stop there, the beauty of the gourmet fish burger is that you can adapt it to your local ingredients and think about which ingredients from your region you can integrate to create something a bit different. A meeting between Italy and your culture.
What do you think?