Bottarga history

Originally from North Africa by way of Italy, my dad’s family has been making bottarga for hundreds of years. Growing up in the early part of the 20th century in a third world country, they only had access to fresh mullet roe once a year, during the spawning season. Bottarga was mass produced at that time, by curing the roe to perfection, then waxing it to seal in the freshness. Bottarga was traditionally eaten with festive meals, such as Shabbat and holidays, and enjoyed for months after being produced, without the need for refrigeration.

I was first introduced to bottarga at the young age of about 5 or 6 years old. My dad had gone to the local fish store and bought a mullet. Upon opening it, the fish monger found a small roe, much to my dad’s delight. He brought it home, and prepared it.

Being a young, fussy eater, I was intrigued by the idea of why anyone would want to eat fish eggs. Day by day, I watched it drying, debating on whether or not I’d be brave enough to taste bottarga for the first time. Finally, my dad decided the bottarga was dried to perfection. He cut a small piece for me, squeezed a drop of lime on it and drizzled with olive oil. My first reaction wasn’t a good one, I was not expecting the unique taste. Probably similar to the reaction I had when tasting scotch for the first time. Definitely an acquired taste.

However, as my dad started purchasing frozen roe and producing bottarga for us, I did a acquire a taste for it, to the point that my brother and I would fight over it as kids. I eventually started making bottarga myself, and when I had kids of my own, I introduced them to Bottarga at a young age.

Bottarga has become a staple at our festive meals, following a family tradition that dates back at least 400 years. Needless to say, that when a recipe remains unchanged for that long, something must definitely be right with it.

Today, bottarga is know around the globe, and goes by various names. While bottarga is a word of Italian origin, countries around the Mediterranean sea have there own variations:

In France, it is know as "poutargue". This also translates to boutargue in French speaking Arab countries, such as Tunisia, where our family resided for centuries. As slight variation among Egyptians, where it's referred to as batarekh.

Among Judeo Arabic speaking Jews, "Damhout" was it's nickname, signifying "Red man", due to it's reddish color once processed.

Avgotaraho is what it's named in Greece and Turkey.

Moving further East into Asia, the Japanese refer to it as Karasumi. This also seems to be the names used by other countries in the region.

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