During the golden period of the Genoa alliance with Spain, for more than 4 centuries, the port of Genoa (today Piazza Caricamento) was full of sailors about to embark or just landed from any type of boat and cargo vessel loaded with the best goods from all over the world.
The port and its maritime traffic represented in fact the beating heart of Genoa, a "superb" city, center of the Mediterranean, built vertically on the hill.
From those merchandise and maritime trades, food and wine discoveries along with important recipes have come to the present day. A high wall of buildings with arcades faced the docks of the port and just behind them a maze of alleys wound through the city. It is right under the arcades and in those alleys that the first refreshment points started for those who came and went from the port, and took the name of Sciamadde, Fainotti, and Tortae.
Sciamadde (from “Fiammate” – Blazes) as the flame of the ovens was always burning, Fainotti (from “Farinate” – Flours) because of the presence of sacks of various flours, which were then transformed into different pies and breads, Törtae (from “Torte” – Pies) as some cooks specialized in pies based on rice or vegetables (over the centuries both those available before the discovery of America and those arrived later from overseas), as well as in meat or vegetable loaf and stuffed vegetable .
Those refreshments places fed all the roustabout, especially the Camalli, the longshoremen who crossed the old town and its surroundings with little money in their pockets. But later along the centuries the same places got crowded also with bohemians, writers, journalists. . . A cross-section of various humanity that often met there in front of a glass of local wine, the “nostralino”, or to enjoy a quick meal.
At a certain point in the 19th century the “Cadrai”, fishing boats (gozzi) able to navigate inside the port and around the big vessels, started to bring cooked food or fresh vegetables directly to the crews of the vessels, and got in competition with the Fainotti. The sailors, in fact, who had been fed onboard for months with dry bread, olives, anchovies, broad beans and dried chestnuts, and little else, could not wait to eat real vegetables, cooked or raw.
The offered food from the cadrai in fact included vegetable soup, gnocchi, and burrida (simple fish soup). A big steaming pot was placed right in the middle of the fishing boat, while the bowls, ("le xatte", from which the Genoese dialect expression with reference to an abundant portion of “minestrone” – Vegetable soup comes) , were arranged all around the boat edges. Interesting to know that given the "instability" of the location of this service, it is understandable why even today the Genoese “minestrone” is conceived as not too liquid but rather thick and substantial.
Similarly along the entire Ligurian coast, dominated and influenced by the richness of Genoa, the coastal towns, that in the meantime developed in population and extension, made their ports more and more active. Given the conformation of the coast with bays and inlets, the ports were conceived urbanistically similar to that of Genoa, with houses leaning against each other forming a single wall along the harbor, and with arcades and alleyways at their back.
East of Genoa, the two large towns of Chiavari and Lavagna are exceptions, as, benefiting from the mouth of the Entella river, they formed more within the shore and their ports could be built more distant from the town.
In any case, Sciamadde and Fainotti started under the arcades or along the alleyways of the coastal towns of Liguria too, for the same need of feeding the locals and the workers, as in Genoa.
That same concept of refreshment places has arrived to the present day in the form of fish & chip shops, focaccia shops, taverns , “ostaje” the so-called "poorly arranged" restaurants with old wood-fired ovens, real fast foods recalling the past and still today frequented not only by locals, but also by tourists, university students and employees. In addition to the inside atmosphere and furniture left as original as possible, what characterizes these places are the classic old recipes that adhere to tradition without ever changing , the ingredients and the dishes are the same simple and savory from the past , without too much variation or added seasoning. "The recipes are those of our fathers and of their ones too, who taught them in the first place, who have always reminded us never to forget the traditions of our beloved Genoese cuisine" say the managers of any "fainotto".
The chickpea “farinata” from Genoa (Fainâ de çeixi), thin, golden and fragrant, is the principal delicacy available in the Fainotti of Genoa and the whole province, baked and presented in its tinned and always shiny pan. In addition, the vegetable pies based on chard, or onion, or potato, or rice, along with vegetable loafs , stuffed and baked vegetables, stuffed anchovies, fish soups, breaded or battered fried flavored with herbs, stockfish, whitebait, chickpea flour, veggy soups, gnocchi with pesto and finally focacce are the specialties of the Genoese fast food.
The "prescinseua" (soft Genoese curdled cheese) is the main ingredient that distinguishes the savory pies, the slow and careful cooking in the oven (possibly still the wood-fire one) makes them unique in taste and appearance. An important note is due to the craft of baking pies in Genoa area. It dates back to the medieval times and has been based on the tradition of excellent product quality and a great passion for Ligurian food. Not everyone knows, for example, that since the Middle Ages savory pies were the pride of the master bakers and cooks of the rich and powerful families of Genoa. They were called Gattafure and with this term it was defined the geographical area of culinary belonging. With this name in fact the vegetable pies appeared on many historical culinary texts referring only to the Genoa cuisine.
In order to experience a real taste of a meal enjoyed in a Fainotto, the following are the most recommended places:
In Tigullio area:
O frisceu, Trattoria Olga and Luchin in Chiavari
Osteria La mattana in Sestri Levante
Da U Pescôu and Un angolo di Recco in Lavagna
Friggitoria Anciua in San Salvatore di Cogorno
Trattoria Sa Pesta