The tastiest, rarest and priciest of prawns that can cost up to €50 per kilo are fished in the Libyan sea from the big fleet at Mazara del Vallo (they are often called gambero rosso di Mazara). Unlike other prawns, they live at a depth of 400-700m only at certain spots in the sea south and west of Sicily, where their diet includes special mineral salts that gives them a unique sweet smoky flavour. Culinary pilgrims head down to Mazara just for the chance of eating them fresh and raw.
Politics have made the gambero rosso increasingly rare. Troubles began in the mid 1990s, when the Libyan coastguard starting aggressively capturing prawn fishing boats and imprisoned their crews for violating their territorial waters. The situation went from bad to worse in 2005, when Muammar Gaddafi unilaterally declared Libya’s territorial waters stretched to 74 miles rather than the internationally recognized 12 miles offshore.
The migrant crisis, and EU's training and support of the Libyan coastguard have made the situation exponentially worse. The Libyans are known to seize boats just for the €50,000 ransom that Rome pays to release them. Many fisherman have just given up. Where there were some 300 prawn trawlers operating out of Mazara in the 1990s, there are only some 70 today. Good news for the red prawns, but not for anyone else.
Gambero Rosso is also the name of an Italian publisher of well known restaurant and wine guides. The publisher says the name, however, didn't come from Sicily's delicacy, but from the name of the inn where Cat and Fox dined in Pinocchio.
Image by Civa61, Creative Commons License