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Wine & Dine
March 04, 2019

Ocean to Table

Photographs by Sheetal Mallar. Translation provided by Mabel Redaelli

A fishmonger in Turin has a unique approach to customer service while being mindful of his produce and the environment. Giuseppe Beppe Gallina, better known as Beppe, speaks to Sheetal Mallar of his passions and hopes while sitting in his pescheria (fish stall) at the iconic Porta Palazzo

Giuseppe Beppe Gallina’s legacy of selling fish at the famous market of Porta Palazzo in Turin goes back a 100 years to his great-grandmother, followed by both his grandmother and mother (from whom he took over the business in 1996), before him.

His family’s original fish stall was located in the iconic Porta Palazzo, an area of the city which today hosts the biggest open-air market in Europe. Over the years as the market evolved, so did people’s eating habits and the way they chose to buy food. Beppe’s idea of change was to bring quality and authenticity into the mainstream market. Porta Palazzo, which is ironically located in Republic Square (Piazza della Repubblica), is a melting pot where people from all ethnic and social backgrounds come together to buy food. Thirty years ago, Beppe resolved that he was going to sell quality fish, while being respectful of the environment and the fishermen themselves. That is how he decided to become a part of the Slow Food movement, and bring about a positive change in the system. Being able to associate with a bigger movement is what Beppe considers to be his “dose of good luck”.

But a few years ago, he was unsure as to whether he would be able to continue working in the market, since health and safety regulations and political changes within the city made it difficult for most shopkeepers to sustain their businesses. He felt that he had to guarantee his employees, who had been working with him for 30 years, a safe and steady job. “I owed them,” he said. So he remained open in Porta Palazzo whilst looking for a new space, and happened to find a small and cosy spot right in front of the farmers’ market. But this time he wanted to create a niche for himself as well as continue the family’s tradition of fishmongering, since he was born among those people and wanted to stay amongst them.

So he started to create his own market corner in 2015 — a fish shop without windows, a market within a market, where the doors are always open. But this is not simply a fish shop; there’s a small but very organised kitchen within, where fresh dishes are prepared every day using the very same fish that is sold there. “It’s not a restaurant,” he explains, “You can come in and have a chat with the cooks, check out what’s going on…it’s a place where you can hang out.”

There is a queue every day at lunchtime in Porta Palazzo, and from a distance you know that it’s for Pescheria Gallina. Once a week, every Thursday, they are open for dinner, and the reservations are fully booked for months. Beppe says he needed people to be “in that way”, because that’s what it is like to grow up in a market. “I need the customer to come in and look into my eyes…. I want to feed the people of Turin and I want to do it in an unusual way, but I also don’t want it to turn into a restaurant. I am a fishmonger. I choose the fish and my cooks prepare it. I want both a young person and an 80-year-old to be sitting on these tall bar stools, eating together. I want them to pay before they’ve eaten, which is unheard of in a city like Turin.” And when you come here, you can’t choose your meal; a new menu is pre-decided every day and is displayed on the blackboard.

It is interesting to observe how his innovative vision is made up of childhood memories — from his grandmother serving him memorable comfort food to his big-bosomed mother stirring a huge casserole. “When my grandma used to serve me lunch, she would do it in these chipped white dishes with tiny blue flowers on them. The dishes themselves were quite ugly, but you wouldn’t even look at them; you only felt the love that grandma had put into preparing that food. What I want to give to my customer is precisely that — wholesome, authentic food made with a lot of heart.”

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