Moeche: what are they and how to eat them

Written by Riccardo Perazza

Venetian Moeche: what are they?

Moeche have arrived! Soft, delicious and rare, in fact it is possible to find them only at the beginning of fall and spring. So if you want to visit the province of Venice in this period, you will be the lucky one to try this amazing traditional food.
Do you know what moeche are? They are crabs, that live all year round in the Venetian lagoon but they become “moeca” only for few weeks. In the first days of fall and spring, the crabs moult, leaving their old shell and building a new one, solid and bigger, to allow them to grow. In those days, before the shell starts to grow, the small lagoon crabs are soft and without the shell, perfect to be eaten without difficulty.

The name moeca and its curiosities

The Venetian gave them this name, because of their softness, reminding the dialectal word that means it. There is an interesting curiosity of this word, it is used, according to the local tradition, as an adjective of the Venice symbol par excellence: the winged lion that rise from the water, which is called “El leon en moeca”. The fact that the same word is used also for the rare traditional food delicacy, is representative of the preciousness of the moeche for the Venetians, considered as gold nuggets and real jewels of the sea.

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How to fish moeche

The moeche’s fishing and the breeding process is an issue of the so-called moecanti, that needs a perfect timing to fish them; in fact, only the most expert fishermen, knowing perfectly the lagoon, are able to collect the moeche with the net. The main fishing zones are next to the Giudecca Island, Burano and Chioggia, here the moecanti lower on the sea bed the so called “trezza”, a net with “nasse” on the end (cylindrical traps made of iron nets to catch the craps). Once the craps are collected, only the most expert moecanti are able to do a careful choice. Based on the status of the shellfish, they will be selected or thrown again in the water; in fact the crabs with the moult can’t be eaten, only the small crabs are ready to become moeche, the so called “spianati” and “boni” that is the crabs that are becoming “spianati”. Then a new phase starts, when the crabs, not yet moeche, are held in a pierced wood box completely steeped under the lagoon water.

How to cook moeche

Once ready, moeche are catapulted in the kitchen! They are so rare and available only few days of the year that are considered real delicacies. It is possible to buy them in the fish markets and fish shops or in the traditional trattoria with a typical Venetian cuisine. As tradition wants, moeche are fried with a white and soft cornmeal mush; the typical Venetian recipe foresees that the batter is made of eggs and flour. The moeche are plunged alive in the batter and then fried in the hot oil. They have to be eaten warm and crispy.

About the author

Riccardo Perazza