Palermo is establishing itself as one of the great food cities of the world. A place where you can experience the heart of the Sicilian culture as you set off on a culinary adventure and a place where you’ll never go hungry. There are two great elements to Sicilian cuisine, whatever’s local and whatever’s in season and in order to eat like a Sicilian you have to venture out to one of the colorful street markets where the locals come to buy what’s arrived from the farms that morning.
There are three historic markets in Palermo all bustling with activity and brimming with visitors. Sicilians have been coming here to buy their produce for generations and even today, people continue the tradition that has been passed down by their grandparents.
Il Capo is the largest market with a bazaar like ambiance which really lives up to the meaning of its name of ‘noisy hubbub’. It is an intricate labyrinth of tiny, winding streets, that draws you in like a magnet to experience the sights, sounds and aromas of this sensational city.
Continue to La Vucciria and Ballaro marketplaces where you can feast your eyes on the colorful produce; tomatoes, eggplant, artichokes, peppers, bulbs of garlic, oranges, lemons, fresh herbs, spices and the fresh catch of the day, all so terribly inviting! Above the crowd you’ll hear the cries of the vendors, there’s a vibrancy & excitement in the air that makes these places come alive.
Around almost every corner surrounding these marketplaces you’ll find street food venues. Here lies Sicily’s answer to fast food. The street food tradition has been handed down from one generation of chefs to the next, some of them dating back over 200 years. They’ve found a system that works, they simply cook the ingredients bought at the market, it’s hot, fresh and flavorful! No matter what time of day, there’s always a long line of people waiting. The locals wouldn’t live without their street food and now it’s attracting the international tourists, it’s maybe one of the most memorable experiences of a Sicilian vacation.
Find yourself a guide who can take you around the hotspots on a street food tour and here are some of the dishes you need to sample before you leave the island.
Arancini is the most important of all Sicilian street food. Luscious balls of saffron scented rice, fried to crispy golden brown. The fillings vary depending on your taste and on your vendor but can range from a simple ragu (meat sauce) to a more exotic shrimp with pesto or spinach with smoked cheese. Try 2 or 3 different mini ones or if you’re extra hungry you can go for the ‘bomba’, it’s the large one pound version!
Sfincione, is the traditional Sicilian pizza from Palermo. It has a soft dough like base and is topped with fresh tomato sauce, onion, anchovies, Caciovallo cheese and breadcrumbs, all added in perfect proportion. It’s not usually sold in pizzerias, you can pick up a slice from a bakery or a mobile street vendor and notice its unusual rectangular shape. It’s definitely one of Palermo’s most delicious street foods!
Panelle are Sicilian fritters made from chickpea flour, a humble little delicacy that tastes simply amazing. The perfect panelle is sliced thin, has a nice crunchy exterior and a soft interior, usually served wrapped in paper and with a squeeze of lemon.
You can’t leave Palermo without at least noticing the Pani ca Meusa, a popular sandwich that can also be enjoyed on the spot, traditionally eaten by workers not wanting to waste time in the middle of the day. It’s not always best to ask about the dish, this particular one might not be viewed as a delicacy if you knew that the translation for what you were about to try was ‘a spleen sandwich’. If you can pretend that ignorance is bliss, go ahead, this experience will certainly set you apart as a serious foodie and it’s not really as bad as it sounds. I’ve spoken to Stefano who assures me that it’s an essential part of the Palermo experience, the meat itself has a texture similar to that of mushrooms, and served hot with a little salt and lemon on crusty bread, it’s simply mind over matter. What else can I say except … ‘Buon Appetito, it’s time to eat some Sicilian food!
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Experience the Palermo street food with us in this video.