What is Calamari?

Fried Calamari.

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The word calamari comes from the Italian word for "squid." This is where the name of the popular appetizer on many Italian and seafood restaurants comes from.

There are even a few spin-off versions of this dish, such as the Asian "salt and pepper fried squid" found on many bar menus and food trucks.

While many Mediterranean countries serve some variety of squid, it's also popular across Southeast Asia. Here's how to serve and eat calamari.

Calamari Squid

This particular type of squid is a mollusk related to the cuttlefish and octopus which has 10 tentacles. Like its cousin the octopus, it also has a protective mechanism which releases a dark ink into the water when it senses danger. 

The squid can range anywhere from one inch long up to 80 feet, but the most common size for eating squid is less than 12 inches. Although the tentacles are edible, the body is the prime section of meat which can be stuffed whole, cut into flat pieces, or sliced crosswise into rings.

How Does Calamari Taste?

Calamari meat is firm and white with a mild, slightly sweet, almost nutty flavor. Small fried squid are often firm and chewy, which can take some getting used to. But all that chewing isn't for naught: like most seafood, squid has many nutrients.

However, it does have high levels of saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. While the breaded and fried version of calamari is the most popular version served in restaurants, there are also versions of the squid not breaded that you can find in pasta, paella, soups and salads that are a bit lighter to the palate and easier on the waistline.

How Calamari is Served

This batter-coated fried squid is usually paired with salt and lemon on the side. Deep-fried or baked calamari is typically served crisp and golden brown with a warm tomato sauce. You can also find it garnished with parsley or sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

Dips like peppercorn mayonnaise, tzatziki, or tartar sauce are most often served with a calamari appetizer. The dish is also popular in countries like South Africa and Australia and can be found in fish-and-chip shops.

Eating Calamari

Squid lends itself to just about every cooking method imaginable and is often eaten raw in sushi dishes. A versatile food, squid is available fresh, canned, frozen, dried, and pickled. 

How Cultures Prepare Squid

Popular in many countries, squid can be found in restaurants all over the world in places like Spain, Italy, Portugal, Croatia, Egypt, Malta, Korea, and more. 

Spain and Italy make squid in paella, risotto, soups, and pasta, while Portugal makes lulas, grilled whole kebabs of squid rings with bell peppers and onions. In Korea, fresh squid is often served with mustard and sauce before being salted and wrapped in lettuce or pillard leaves.

Squid also is found in Asian countries like China, Thailand, Japan, and Taiwan. Usually, the squid is grilled whole and sold in food stalls and stands. You can find more heavily spiced squid in stir-fries, rice and noodle dishes in Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisine.