Sicily is a paradise for foodies and one of the best places to eat in Italy. The island’s eventful past has shaped its culture, architecture and, most of all, its traditional cuisine. Ancient Greeks brought olives and established wine making, Romans cleared patches of land for grain cultivation and introduced fava beans and lentils. During the Arabic rule in the 10th-11th centuries, local dishes were enhanced with cinnamon, pistachio, saffron, almonds, and many others spices. The kings of Spain brought the ingredients that are considered typically Sicilian today: tomatoes, sweet peppers, corn, chilli and chocolate. Hence sitting down for a meal in Sicily is like taking a history lesson and learning about conquests, invasions and great powers with help of your taste buds.
There are many famous Sicilian dishes that made their way to the international gastronomic scene, such as caponata, pasta alla norma, however, the majority of traditional fare remains inimitable and can only be appreciated while travelling in Sicily. Maccu di favi is one of the oldest known Mediterranean soups that peasants ate for centuries. It is made with dried fava beans, chili pepper, aromatic wild fennel and served with toasted bread and olive oil. Pasta con le sarde, a pasta dish with fresh sardines and pine nuts, is another gem of traditional cuisine that tastes the best under the Sicilian sun.
Sicily is famous for its tasty street food. Apart from better-known arancine, deep-fried balls of saffron rice with various filling, there are more exotic pani ca meusa, sandwich with veal lung and spleen, panelle, thin chick pea fritters and sfincione soft spiced bread with tomatoes and onions.
The iconic Sicilian cannoli can be found in any good pasticceria around the island. The best cannoli are fresh with crispy shell with light, not excessively sweet creamy ricotta filling. You can never have just one! Another dessert that cannot be missed is frutta di Martorana, or pasta reale. They are are almond marzipan pastries shaped and colored to resemble real fruit. To make sure that you are buying the real deal head to a pasticceria where they are sold by weight.
Small family trattorie and osterie in Sicily still serve honest abundant home-made meals, that consist of up to 14 dishes, so be warned, you will need a lot of space in your stomach!
Photos by: Stijn Nieuwendijk, Bonnie Natko, Daniele Muscetta.