Ok, let’s say it: it could be another top 10 list of what to eat in Palermo.
Eating is among the best things to do in Palermo, and tourists are usually well conscious that they’re landing in the capital of fried, delicious and always available food and street food, and well informed about Palermo top 10 specialties they have to taste to prove they’ve really been here. That’s why you’ll find in this list some curious facts, details and tips locals love to reveal during their Palermo Street food walking tours with visitors from abroad, and that you can tell your friends when you’ll be showing them the pictures of your trip: we’re sure you’ll be eating in most of them!
Queen of our street food, can be found in most of the bars and restaurants of the city, but few of them cook it as the Sacred Grandmother Rules dictate. The arancina, whose name is due to its appearance that reminds an orange [arancia, in Italian] is one of the many Arab legacies of our cuisine. It is a rice ball infused with saffron flavor, traditionally stuffed with our ragù sauce (tomato, minced meat, peas, onion) and seasoned cheese, or with mozzarella cheese, ham and butter, then covered in breadcrumb and fried. The oil temperature and the quality of the ingredients is capital to have a perfect arancina. Nowadays, arancine can be found in very different versions – vegan and vegetarian friendly too – but there’s one thing that’ll never change. Only in Palermo, the arancina is female; in the rest of Sicily, it is called «arancino». A queen is a queen!
When you see them for the first time, they can look like fried cheese. Their squared, thin shape attracts you as a magnet when you see a stack of them ready to fry. When you realize they’re made of chickpea flour – another Arab gift to our land – you ask yourself how we can eat them in a sort of bun with crocchè (fried mashed potatoes usually flavored with mint). But once you try such a carbs-bomb, you promise yourself you’ll go the gym when back home and let yourself living this sin of gluttony adding a squeeze of lemon with no remorse.
Not a pizza. Not a focaccia. A unique dish in Sicily you can only find here in Palermo, a thick, soft bread covered in tomato and onion sauce, where you’ll find a mix of land and seafood in the anchovies and pieces of caciocavallo – typical seasoned cheese of the region – flavored with oregano and covered in crunchy, toasted and EVO-oiled breadcrumb. Its name comes from the latin spongia (sponge) and you’ll get why by a single bite; its soft consistency is given by the lard added to the dough. On New Year’s Eve, the Sfincione plays the same role as a turkey for Thanksgiving; in every house you must have some slices, but as a «light» appetizer, ça va sans dire.
Yep, google translate is not wrong. It IS bread and spleen. Among the top 10 hardcore street foods that dominate our markets, if you’re a brave meat lover that’s your stop. Although its description can be not so attractive (beef spleen and lungs cooked in lard), this dish is still the most famous alternative to fast food hamburgers for the very locals. Its origins are linked to the big Jewish community that once lived in Palermo, usually employed in butchering, to whom leftovers were the main source of nutrition. It can be schietta («single» in Sicilian language, a bun with the meat and a squeeze of lemon) or maritata (married, with a slice of ricotta cheese and grated caciovallo on top).
Let’s get to the most famous Italian asset – and, for some, divinity – worldwide: la pasta. Another unicity you’ll find in the city are Anelletti [little rings, literally], nothing else than a ring-shaped pasta we only use to make this specialty, that every grandmother says to hate because of the long process to make it, even if she gets offended when it’s not requested from the family on a typical Sunday lunch. The original recipe wants it cooked with a good ragù (that takes approximately 4 hours of slow, careful cooking), caciocavallo cheese, hard-boiled eggs, parmesan and breadcrumb on top. Then, baked in the oven to melt the cheese and grill the top [al forno means, indeed, baked]. It is actually a sort of leftover food, where you can put cured meat, fried eggplants, ricotta salata [salted seasoned ricotta cheese] or anything that will make easier for your family to sleep for their full bellies while you eat the whole dessert in a heavenly, deserved silence.
Another first course that represents a pillar of our cuisine, it perfectly mixes land a seafood in a lovely, tasteful balance of sweet and salted. This pasta with sardines, anchovies, onion, wild fennel, saffron, raisins and pine nuts must be served leaving on the table a big bowl of toasted breadcrumb, to use as if it was parmesan. Run out of sardines? The Sicilian people, rich in creativity and master of rhetoric, is here to help you: tell your friends you prepared for them pasta con le sarde, con le sarde a mare [pasta with sardines swimming in the sea]: same recipe with no fish, happy sardines and happy guests!
Sardines won’t be swimming for long if you want to taste another creature of the power of invention of Palermo citizens. This dish can be an appetizer as well as a second course, and consists in baked sardines rolls stuffed with breadcrumb, garlic, parsley, raisins, pine nuts, and, of course, EVO oil.
«Beccafico» was the name of a bird that rich Sicilian families loved to hunt and eat baked in ancient times. The greedy Sicilian people, that could not afford hunting or buying that expensive meat, tried to reproduce that delicacy with sardines and the poor ingredients available. In your face, big-money guys!
Here comes the dessert, for sure in the Hall of Fame of the Sicilian Specialties: His Majesty, il Cannolo. A tube-shaped crunchy fried roll filled with sweet ricotta cheese, chocolate chips and decorated with candied orange zest and chopped pistachios. Arab women and Sicilian nuns appear to have worked together combining sensuality and devoutness to create such a sweet miracle [discover its history and secrets here]
The cake of the cakes here is la cassata, a sort of sponge cake filled with sweet ricotta cheese and chocolate chips, decorated with almond paste, sugar icing and candied fruits. The very representation of our multicultural history, you can find the cold version as well as the baked one, a super-thick layer of sweet ricotta and chocolate chips imprisoned in pastry. Apple pie? Maybe if you’re on a diet.
After appetizers, pasta, fish and dessert, your belly has always room for a cup or a cone of gelato. A triumph of fruits, but not only: you can try nougat, pistachio, zuppa inglese [«English shoup» literally, an egg-cream gelato with candied fruits] but also cannolo and cassata [seriously, we have the ice-cream version, too]. I realize it’s curious, but we also eat gelato in a bun, the brioche, and it’s delicious. If you’re just too full, why not a granita? A sort of sorbet, water-based icy syrup usually fruit-flavored. Sleepy after too much food? Try granita al caffè [coffee granita], with cream on top!
We have created amazing food tours and cooking experiences that will show you how and what local people enjoy eating. Typical dishes, served in different restaurants, will present you the local food culture!