Throughout the summer months, posters adorn Italian walls with the word ‘sagra’ clearly taking prominent position in the advertising, so what does this word mean?
The literal translation is festival, but the definition of sagra is a local fair and celebration connected with food and local produce; for example, the town of Altino in Abruzzo hosts an annual sagra del peperone dolce (festival of the sweet pepper). During the two-day event, the streets are filled with people dressed in medieval costume and local residents prepare different dishes that must include the chilli peppers within the recipe. Some prepare traditional dishes, whilst others choose to experiment, so one stall may have a pot of pasta ribbons coated in a piquant sauce and the next one may have a chilli flavoured cheesecake. After all the tasting of chilli-infused dishes, the evening culminates in a musical extravaganza.
In fact almost every town in Italy at some point during the year will host a food festival. This year for example is the 77th Fish Festival at Chioggia, in Venice. The sagra lasts for ten days and attracts over 100,000 people each year; music and theatre act as a backdrop as visitors sample fish dishes, fresh from the Adriatic, such as stuffed clams and mussels, griddled sole, pickled cockles and mixed fried fish.
Attending a sagra is the perfect way to immerse yourself in Italian life. Add to this the opportunity to sample local cuisine as you sit at long communal tables to eat with the local population and you get a real feel for how Italians come together to celebrate.
Finding out about a sagra is very straightforward as most of the posters follow a similar format: the main heading will tell you where the festival is held and the date; these are mostly in bold typeface and large enough to read from a passing vehicle. Once you’ve found one that interests you, the poster will give you the start time, destination and other events that will be staged.
You don’t have to be a local to attend and most towns welcome outsiders and tourists to their celebrations. The lines of parked cars stretching out of the town will indicate that you have arrived at the right place, and those who arrive early are usually the last to leave due to the sheer volume of traffic attending. In fact, some sagre (the plural of sagra) are so popular that the towns have a coach service to ferry people in and out of town to keep the streets clear for dancing.
Sagre take place throughout the year, with many taking place in the summer, so during your holiday to Italy this year, keep a keen eye on the local posters and find a local sagra, and for one evening become an honorary Italian and enjoy all the town's hospitality to offer.