Alongside all the fish eating, beer drinking and general festivities happening in Genoa’s historical port this weekend, Slow Food’s Slow Fish event is also an occasion for consumers to increase their knowledge on an issue that is often a source of confusion or panic: how to buy fresh fish.  


Students from the University of Gastronomic Sciences have taken on the challenge to help visitors get informed through their “Personal Fisher” activity, a guided tour of Genoa’s fresh fish market. Here we relay some of their pearls of wisdom, which can help you navigate your way around the next time you’re at the market.


  • Go for a colorful display. “At any fishmonger stall, the first thing you need to look for is the colors of the array of seafood,” said Matteo Fogli, marine biologist at the University of Genoa who is collaborating with the Personal Fisher program. “A good quality fish stall will be a carnival of color. The lower quality ones will all be the same dull tones, even if there are lots of different species.”
  • See red. Red in the features of fish, crustaceans and seafood is the first color to disappear once it is no longer fresh. Look for bright nuances of red in the spread of seafood.
  • Have a sniff. Fresh fish should have a slight scent of the sea and seaweed, and should never smell unpleasant.
  • Bright eyes. Dull, sunken or red eyes are signs of a less-than-fresh fish.
  • Red gills. The gills, behind the head, should be pale red or pink.
  • Firm fish = fresh fish. Fresh fish will have firm, toned flesh, like the tactile sensation of tensed muscles. If you hold up a fish horizontally by its tail, it should stay more or less straight, and not droop.
  • Ultra fresh, zero-kilometer seafood, when touched, will behave as though it was still alive. If you flick a fresh octopus lightly with the back of your fingers it will have a post mortem reflex, like elastic recoil, and sometimes change color.
  • Don’t panic if you see a fish already cut open. Some fish such as monkfish are particularly susceptible to parasites, so fishers will remove the interiors immediately on board. Gutted fish should have a pale-colored abdominal cavity. If there are traces of blood remaining, they should be bright red.
  • Scan around the stall, if you see Styrofoam container—used for maintaining a constant temperature of its contents—this is a red flag that seafood has travelled a distance to get there.
  • Get a look at the teeth. Fish with broken teeth are more likely to be from the wild, while their farmed cousins, due their unnatural diets, will most likely have undamaged teeth, “like they’ve just come from the dentist,” says Matteo.
  • Touch the fish if you can; the skin should have a slightly viscous surface. If it leaves a transparent liquid on your hand, it’s a sign of freshness. An older fish will be dry—the longer it’s out of water the more it will dehydrate.


The good advice doesn’t stop here. Get better informed on the Slow Fish website, or if you’re in Genoa, join the UNISG Personal Fisher tour happening three-times daily. 

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