Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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Succulent Danger

Much like certain Chinese officials who have a penchant for tiger bits and shark fins, I’ve always liked to eat things that could kill or harm me – provided they’re not endangered, of course.

Like sea urchins.

A single step on one of these black sea-bombs made my first ascent to St. Peter’s Cupola memorable in more ways than one: every one of the 320 steps up the bell tower was plagued by pain from a dozen tiny urchin’s spines still embedded in my foot.

Sicily: Sea Urchin Sashimi

On a recent morning in Sciacca, Sicily, I wandered through the market in search of my port-side hotel.

But on the way there, I was stopped by this:

Sicily: Sea Urchin Sashimi

A virtual bouquet of sea urchins, in every shade of purple imaginable.

In front of them stood dapper man in his early 50s wearing a pinstripe suit who held a piece of bread in one hand, and half an urchin in the other. A dozen urchins had been neatly bisected and were spread out before him on what looked like a stainless steel operating table.

He was on his way to work, and this was a revitalizing breakfast as he geared up for a long day.

Sicily: Sea Urchin Sashimi

Just one look at the spines inspired an instinctive terror in me, so of course I had to try them.

A fisherman handed me the first one. It glistened like something atrocious and vile, ready to jump out of its spiny casing, but like all good sashimi, it smelled of the sea.

Sicily: Sea Urchin Sashimi

“Just scoop it out,” said the fisherman. “But beware of the spines!”

Sicily: Sea Urchin Sashimi

“Be sure to eat it all, use the bread to mop up the last of it!”

These tiny plastic containers were filled with urchins for making fresh pasta sauce.

Sicily: Sea Urchin Sashimi

Each one looked slightly different: some glistened red, others white, but they were all delicious.

Sicily: Sea Urchin Sashimi

After a half-dozen I had to hand over the rest to the Man, who as my human Hoover (vacuum cleaner) is duty bound to finish up whatever I leave on my plate.

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