My first European booking agent was an Italian from Pisa. On my first day in Italy, we wandered around the streets of Pisa killing time until our first show. At one point, my booking agent pulled me into a pizzeria, pointed at an unfamiliar food item, and said, “Eat this.” What my booking agent pointed at was cecina, and thus began my love affair with this obscure gustatory delight.
I have had cecina three times in my life, each time in Pisa or neighboring Livorno. In Pisa and Livorno, cecina (SHESHINA) is available at some—-but by no means all—-pizzerias. Cecina is an oily cake sold cheaply by the slice. It looks like pizza with no sauce and no cheese. Though I’m told it is not made with egg, it has the consistency of an omelette and a mild, salty, nutty flavor.
There are many things I don’t understand about cecina:
1. I don’t understand why cecina has two names. Livornese living fifteen minutes from Pisa claim not to know what cecina is, but eat an identical food called cinque cinque. Meanwhile, Pisans claim not to know what cinque cinque is.
2. I don’t understand what cecina is made of. A Livorese friend told me cinque cinque was made of chickpea flour, and was called cinque cinque because it has five ingredients (cinque is Italian for five). However, he couldn’t speak enough English to explain what these ingredients were, and I can’t speak enough Italian to seek clarification.
3. I don’t understand why cecina can only be found in Pisa and Livorno. I have asked citizens of both towns why they have a monoply on the cuisine, but no one knows, or tries to explain in Italian, which I can’t understand.
4. I don’t understand cecina’s place in Italian food and culture. Perhaps it is as significant as the consecrated Host. Perhaps it is the Italian equivalent of funnel cake.
5. I don’t understand why cecina is so hard to find—-even in Pisa and Livorno. After a perfunctory visit to the Leaning Tower today, I asked every nearby pizzeria for cinque cinque. First, each pizzeria insisted that I wanted cecina, not cinque cinque. Then, each directed me across the Arno River to another Pisan neighborhood near the center of town. Though I was short of time, I ran across the Arno to this neighborhood and visited four pizzerias. The first two were closed. The third pizzeria directed me to a fourth pizzeria. The fourth pizzeria was closed. Giving up my quest for cecina, I ran back over the Arno towards the Leaning Tower to try to find my bandmates. There, on the same side of the Arno where my cecina search had begun, I found cecina at a fifth pizzeria. I paid 1.70 euros for a slice, and, though I meant to ask what it was and photograph it, ate it first.
Further internet research would reveal the nature of cecina. The food is mentioned here on an English website, and I’m sure Google Italia has something to say about it. However, I will not research cecina further.
At my show in Livorno last night, I saw the Pisan booking agent who had first introduced me to cecina. We discussed how much touring Europe has changed in last five years because of MySpace, digital downloading, the death of record labels, et cetera, et cetera. We marvelled how much more accessible Europe was for bands armed with laptops and GPS navigation as we told tales of woe about the lost glory days of 2002.
I am not one for tales of woe—-I am a fan of GPS navigation and digital downloading—-and am old enough to know that the glory days were none too glorious. Still, for now, am happy to let cecina remain mysterious, obscure, and unphotographed, and continue to imagine that one still has to travel somewhere to get something.