The town of Sète’s motto? We’ll tielle you a tale of an octopus pie
Once a modest lunch for poor fishermen, this golden crusted spicy octopus pie has evolved into one of Sète’s true gastronomic institutions. So much so that it is celebrated by an annual festival and depicted in works of art. It has even become something of a town motto! Like most things in this quirky town, it has a tale to tell!
A Fisherman’s Tale
At the end of the XIX century early Italian immigrants arrived armed with the recipe for tielle or ‘tiella’ in Italian for piecrust. But the tielle was little known until after World War I when word spread to Italy of large quantities of unexploited fish in Sète. Fishing had long been eschewed for the booming wine trade, which died as modern transportation replaced boats on the Canal du Midi.
When war weary, food-deprived Italians got news of this bounty, no further persuasion was needed! They took to their boats and found that – yes – there really were lots more fish in the sea, octopus included! These poverty stricken fishermen discovered that the tielle provided the perfect lunch, a complete inexpensive meal that would last several days.Of course in France it is impossible to keep an interesting new food item secret for long – and when news broke of this humble fisherman’s lunch it was gradually raised to a higher art form. In 1937 the tielle was commercialized and available all over town.
Now for over four generations, ancestors of at least one Italian fishing family have been making tielles to feed the demand, always faithful to the basic original recipe.
People often ask what makes a really good tielle, and is it possible to make it at home. As for home baking, it only requires bread dough and roughly the number of ingredients as an octopus’ arm, that’s to say octopus, tomato sauce, garlic, herbs, pastry and seasonings. But the traditional tielleries use closely guarded secret ingredients and will not let you photograph a tielle in the making! Yes, it is possible to successfully home bake one but if you’re lucky enough to live in this area why not leave it to the experts!