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Sicilian arancini: history and secrets of the famous Sicilian rice balls

Among the most imitated food in the world, Sicilian arancini are one of the masterpieces that the regional cuisine offers to locals and visitors.

Their crispy shell contains a soft heart made of rice, history, secrets and myths that make this plate a must-have during your trip to Sicily and, why not, a must-do-it-yourself!

If you want to know all the best Palermo food, check out our post regarding top 10 Palermo food.

Sicilian arancini: a world behind their name

Arancino means, literally, «small orange».

Their name is obviously due to their appearance: the fried breadcrumb in the outer layer gives them a golden-orange color, and their rounded shape – as well as their size – make them look like the juicy fruit everybody knows.

Few people are aware that the well-known Sicilian rice balls were invented by the Arabs, during their domination in the region (827-1092 a. C.).

It is thought that they were originally sweet and decorated with orange leaves to make them look like the real fruit. Apparently, the crispy breadcrumb was added later, in order to make them a comfortable take-away food.

Arancino vs Arancina: the eternal fight

Locals here are very passionate not only about football, but also – and especially – about food. One of the never-ending quarrels is indeed around the name of the Sicilian rice balls.

Only in Palermo, capital of the region, the «arancina» is female, while all over Sicily it is called «arancino», a male name.

The reason of the difference can be found in the Sicilian language: in fact, fruits are always male gendered in our dialect.

Probably, the influence of the many different cultures and the high level of contact with outer people led the citizens of Palermo to adapt the name to the national Italian language. Anyway, it is a hot topic in the city: we do not joke with food!

Tradition and innovation of Sicilian arancini

Being they a very common, known and loved food all around Sicily, you can find many different versions of Sicilian arancini in almost every corner of the region.

The traditional ones are usually made of boiled rice flavored with saffron and stuffed either with caciocavallo, a typical seasoned cheese, and our “ragù” – that is, minced meat with tomato, onion, celery, carrots, red wine and peas – or with butter, mozzarella cheese and ham.

They are respectively called «alla carne» (carne = meat) and «al burro» (burro = butter).

Anyway, locals are also famous for their culinary creativity, so that today you can also enjoy a multiplicity of vegetarian versions, like the Parmigiana (fried eggplants, tomato and parmesan), as well as gourmet and fish versions (pistachio and scamorza; sardines and wild fennel; squid ink).

Like challenges? Try one of every type during your trip to the island!

December 13th: the Sicilian Arancini celebration

As I already said, we do not joke with food; instead, we celebrate it. Or better, we celebrate Saints and religious festivities always rounded by delicious food.

December 13th is, in fact, the day of Saint Lucy. It is said that, in 1646, when the plague and the famine were afflicting the city of Palermo, a ship full of wheat docked at the port of the city.

The citizens, starving, decided to boil the wheat instead of make flour from it in order to save time and eat as soon as possible; that’s how the «cuccìa» was born, a typical dessert eaten in Palermo during the festivity, that consists of boiled wheat with sweet ricotta and chocolate.

To celebrate the miracle, we don’t eat bread or pasta that day; so how can we resist to our carbs need? Eating arancine, of course!

On December 13th the streets of the city smells of deep-fried Sicilian rice balls from 5 am, and you can also find the sweet version (white rice with chocolate cream) and a lot of varieties (spinach and mozzarella; chicken; salmon and so on).

A nice day to be here, am I right?


To make some perfect Sicilian arancini you need, first, the perfect type of rice.

You can use «originario» alone or mixed with some «roma» rice.

It is crucial because of the starch released, that will allow you to have a compact rice layer.

Cook it with some saffron and let it cool down.

In the meantime, make your ragù or any kind of stuffing you want to add to you arancina.

With one hand staying in a rounded shape, make the first half of your rice ball, stuff it, and close it.

Then you can immediately add the breadcrumb or, if you want my personal secret, put it first in a very liquid mix of water and flour (so that the breadcrumb will stay glued to the arancina).

Put it in a very high temperature oil, after 10 seconds you can reduce a bit the heat so that the cheese will melt.

If you want it extra-crispy, let it stay 2 minutes in the oven immediately after. Your Sicilian Arancini are ready to eat: use your hands to eat them like a local!

You want to taste the best arancino in Sicily? Check out all our Palermo food tours >>