The world’s most conquered island…Sicily!
The Port of Palermo as seen from Mount Pellegrino
Whenever anyone asks me what the food was like in Sicily, my immediate response is the Florida orange juice commercial; from the grove to the glass. I’m sure you’ve seen it, but have you ever felt it?
The fellow reaches through an orange tree and brings out the orange juice in a glass. For me, that is exactly what Sicily is all about… the freshest food I have ever experienced.
In this typical Enoteca, it’s as if the cook reaches through the kitchen window and picks the fruit and vegetables right from his garden, and the fishing boat is docked beside the kitchen door. Every inch of the place is used for storage; homy and comfortable.
The food on my plate was bursting with color, and the salad was like wild flowers from the field…Yes, that good! Hiding underneath the greens was fresh swordfish, (pesce spada).
Prosciutto, mozzarella with tomato
Seafood pasta with an incredible light tomato sauce
There are three famous open-air Arabian markets in Palermo: Capo, Vucciria and Ballaro. Il Capo and Ballaro, perhaps, are the best markets; feasts of colors and spectacular produce; from spices, to olives, fresh fish, and exotic vegetables,.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to get there early; when the fishermen are bringing their haul up on dry land, while buyers are eagerly waiting.
Never have I seen the meats so meticulously wrapped.
Going to the street markets are the ultimate pleasure for me. It feeds my senses and it’s a place to soak up the local atmosphere. I am a true olive freak, and Sicilian olives are simply the best.
You won’t starve here because there are plenty of street vendors and small “living room” eateries. I even ventured to have a snack of fried vegetables. Cooked in pots in front of you on table-top burners.
Fried veggies and fish that I had to taste!
Pull up a plastic chair and have some street food
The vibrant atmosphere can be interesting as we witnessed the exposure of a thief. It was a curious scene; no violence towards the crook, but a steady succession of yells, and rigorous arm movements that ushered the man down the street where he made his way out of the area.
Close by the market is the Teatro Massimo; well worth the 8€ entrance fee. But don’t go there with all your purchases from the market. Go to the Teatro first.
Teatre Massimo is one of the largest opera houses in Europe, and the largest in Italy, made famous to Americans in the movie, Godfather III. The six columns “holding up” the massive pediment depicts the neo-classical era and are massive. Underneath the pediment is unbelievable carved “interior ceiling” called ‘coffer’, which are sunken panels in the shape of a square. Although built with Greek and Roman architecture, the yellow sandstone is Sicilian. This is a true example of Sicilian excess. Built by Giovanni Battista Filippo Basile; he was the greatest Palermitan architect of the 19th century.
The most memorable room for me is the Pompeian Hall, or Echo Hall; a special room that was reserved for the nobles. It has perfect acoustics because of the circular shape which makes your voice reverberate with an echo if you stand in the center. The further you walk away from the middle area; your conversation will be private. As you would expect the room is loaded with symbolism on the ceiling and walls.
BACK TO FOOD:
I love street food here in Palermo, but I admit I turned away from the pani ca meusa, a local delicacy, (spleen/lung/liver sandwich). Not for the squeamish. But the panelle is tasty, (chickpea flour fritters). Nothing goes to waste in Sicily, (except to my waist).
Focaccio or pizza. It looked spongy-like, maybe focaccia. I didn’t see cheese sprinkled on top; it was scrumptious to look at. Large enough to feed six. It must be made somewhere else, and this vendor keeps it nice and hot.
No visit to Italy is complete until we have fritto misto
We were returning from our Sunday worship, and after our soul had been restored. We were searching (walking) for sustenance since we had no breakfast. Too early for dinner, we happened upon an extravagant cafe where we had prosecco and arancini (deep fried rice balls). The perfect match.
Touring Cafe on Via Roma has everything you need and want!
Luscious smoked cheese inside with spinach, and another one was beef ragu. They are the perfect snack. Next time I will have the ‘alla Norma’ (eggplant, tomato, ricotta) Yes, I will be back; I never plan to see it all on a single trip.
Since I am half Sicilian, I make my own cannoli. I know, I should have tried one, but I didn’t. They looked delicious with a thick slice of orange peel, a nice touch that I don’t do. I also don’t have sheep’s milk either, which is what the ricotta cheese must be made from. While I was at a cooking class my husband was out having a cannoli and never took a picture. Next time.
What I think is fantastic is the gelato con brioche… gelato and rich egg/butter bun. Genius to make it this way; no drips down the normal cone. This is even a breakfast item. I settled for the pistachio gelato. Saving room for dinner was not going to be easy here, and you can easily indulge.
Sicily was different in so many ways, diversity for one. As a Sicilian-American I can remember many things in my childhood, especially the prejudice toward Sicilians from other Italians. I hope this is all in the past and not the present. Sicily is magnificent and undervalued. Maybe it’s the best kept secret. Look at the mixed bag of invaders if you will; Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman and Spanish all conquered the area.
We so enjoyed our food, cappuccino to start our day, aperitivo’s in the evening, and their wonderful wine. I had no expectations. Everywhere we visited, and ate, the people were lovely and hospitable; truly a relaxing atmosphere.
The dogs of Palermo
My attention was always drawn to the appearance of what I call, “the dogs of Palermo”. One might expect dogs to be curled up on a door step, or in corners. But in Palermo they are in the middle of a Piazza, the road, or next to you on the sidewalk, mostly spread out and asleep, oblivious to passersby. For me, it is somewhat sad because they seem to belong to no one, and are accepted as part of the landscape.
I’m in love with all of Sicily, even the homeless dogs.