ROME — Italy marked "national cat day" on Wednesday amid a storm of controversy over a television host's insistence that feline meat is a "delicacy" to be savoured.

Beppe Bigazzi, 77, was suspended Monday by Italian state television after he recommended "cat, kept three days in spring water" on his popular lunchtime cooking programme.

He said he had eaten cat meat "many times."

Italy's undersecretary for health Francesca Martini slammed "the glorification of the taste of feline meat and the encouragement of its consumption."

The Internet was abuzz with mixed views on Bigazzi's suggestions.

Southern daily Il Mattino suggested on its website that eating a cat was no different from eating a pig or a horse.

But one blogger suggested a recipe for cooking Bigazzi himself, in "an old bathtub," garnished with celery and tartar sauce.

Cat lovers' associations in Rome organised feline-themed corner markets and opened shelters and "cat colonies" to visitors who wanted to pet or consider adopting one of Rome's innumerable stray cats.

The national cat day was established after a referendum among readers of a cat enthusiasts magazine in 1990.