Fish names are always a challenge across languages, even in English. Names change regionally, and can refer to a species, a family, a dish, or new marketing-defined brand names. Asian Carp, that invasive species threatening to wreck massive ecological damage to the Great Lakes, has recently been rebranded as “Copi.” Funded by an effort of the EPA, the hope is to get more folks to eat them up. I’d rather enjoy a “seared Copi with lemon butter” than a carp cake, I suspect.

Let’s take a look at what you’re most likely to come across on a menu in Italy. This list is an ongoing project and attempts to be comprehensive; I’ve bolded the most common variety you’ll see, and added some culinary notes.


Singular / Plural English Notes
Alice, alici Fresh anchovies From Genoa you’ll find alici fritte, a delicious dish of fresh alici, opened, flattened, and fried
Acciuga, acciughe Preserved, salted anchovies, under oil What you might find served on a pizza, or as an ingredient for a sauce with garlic and peperoncino. A funny Italian expression: “You’re like an acciuga”  — skinny.
Aringa, aringhe Herring You might see this as aringa affumicata, smoked herring, served under olive oil, vinegar, and onions.
Anguilla, anguille Eel A standard Christmas dish in the north, served pickled and chilled.
Baccalà Salted cod Merluzzo, salted and dried for preservation and storage. You might also see this as stoccafisso (Stock fish). In Venice, served whipped as crostini.
Bottarga Dried, salted fish roe Fish eggs, dried, salted, and then grated onto especially pasta dishes. Typically bottarga di muggine (mullet); can be bottarga di tonno (tuna).
Branzino, branzini Sea bass Most often served whole, grilled. A spectacular dish.
Cernia, cernie Grouper
Dentice, dentici Sea bream
Merluzzo, merluzzi Fresh cod Typically imported from the Atlantic.
Muggine, muggini Red mullet This is the fish whose dried, salted eggs make bottarga
Nasello, naselli Hake
Orata, orate Gilthead sea bream In Spanish, and some US menus, you’ll see this as “dorada,” one of the better ocean white fishes.
Passera di mare Flounder Be careful: “passera” by itself means pussy. 🙀
Persico, persici Freshwater perch Typically found in the lakes of Lombardy.
Pesce spada Swordfish
Rana Pescatrice Monkfish
Razza Stingray
Rombo Turbot, brill
Salmone, salmoni Salmon
Sarda, sarde Sardine Pasta con le sarde is a famous Sicilian pasta dish that features sardines and fennel
Scorfano, scorfani Scorpionfish Also, an ugly person
Sogliola, sogliole Sole, dover sole
Sgombro, sgombri Mackerel
Spigola, spigole Sea bass
Tonno, tonni Tuna
Trota, trote Freshwater trout Also, trota salmonata, rainbow trout


Singular / Plural English Notes
Aragosta, aragoste 🦞 Spiny lobster Unlike the Maine variety, these lack the prominent front claw.
Astice, astici Maine lobster Imported
Capasanta, capasante 🦪 Scallops Falls under molluschi (mollusks).
Calamaro, calamari 🦑 Squids Few Americans need an introduction to calamari fritti, that classic dish of fried squids served with lemon (and, in the states, a red sauce, which you’ll never see in Italy.)
Cicale, or canocchia Mantis shrimp A large and flat shrimp. I think this is the colorful one with crazy eyes and a supersonic snapping claw that stuns fish.
Cozza, cozze Mussels Often included in frutti di mare
Frutti di mare “Fruits of the sea” Generally refers to shellfish, but can include regular fish, too.
Gambero, gamberi; gamberoni, gamberetto 🦐 Shrimp; prawn when it’s large; little shrimps
Mazzancolle 🦞 Langoustine A Venetian variety of king prawn, often made as mazzancolle in saor
Mitilo, mitili Mussels A regional variety of mussels, long and skinny
Moscardino, moscardini 🐙 🐙 Tiny octopi Usually a plate of many, served saucy or in a stew, sometimes in a sandwich
Ostrica, ostriche 🦪 Oyster Not very common, surprisingly. In reference to a person, someone who is ‘closed off,’ shy.
Polpo/polpi 🐙 🐙 Octopus You may also see polipo, referring to the live animal.
Riccio di mare, ricci di mare Sea urchin Common in Sicily. Literally, ‘hedgehogs of the sea,’ aaaaw.
Seppia, seppie Cuttlefish A common dish is Risotto Nero di Seppia — risotto flavored with black cuttlefish ink
Scampi Shrimp
Scoglio, scogli 🐚 “Sea rocks” A general term for a mix of hard shelled critters, a dish of a variety of different clams or mussels. Also references large rocks off the sea shore.
Totano, totani 🦑 A regional kind of squid
Vongola, vongole 🐚 Clams Spaghetti con le vongole is well known — never served with grated cheese.

Other sea animals, not for eating!

  • Balena: whale. Oddly, arcobalena: rainbow.
  • Squalo: shark! 🦈
  • Orca: killer whale 
  • Pesce martello: hammer shark 
  • Delfino: 🐬