Sicily: The Food

Posted on May 19, 2010


We’ve been to Sicily three times now, so it seems unnecessary to say we love it. The landscape is overwhelmingly beautiful, the people are friendly and welcoming, and there’s history everywhere you look. I’ll be writing more about this wonderful island, but for now I just wanted to talk a bit about the food.

I was nervous before our first trip to Sicily, because I’m a vegetarian, and if you believe the travel books (as I once did) Sicilians put fish in everything. Worse, they eat things like octopus, squid, eels, anchovies, and snails. (That last sentence is true, but those foods are as avoidable in Sicily as they are anywhere else.) I ate pasta, pizza, cheese, salads, bread, fruit, and of course, more than my share of cannoli, gelato, and cassata. I never found myself having to order or eat something I didn’t want because the selection was limited. And every time I thought the food couldn’t possibly get any better, it did.

A couple of tips. When you order pizza, you get your own individual pie, and it comes unsliced. You can either cut it up yourself, or just fold it and eat the whole thing as if it were a giant sandwich. (I saw plenty of people doing both.)

Marinara sauce is made with shellfish, at least in some restaurants. I made the mistake of ordering linguine marinara in Palermo once, and was momentarily shocked when my dinner came covered with steamed mussels. I couldn’t eat it; in fact, I could barely look at it. The waitress was completely understanding and gracious (I’m not sure about the cook), and she quickly served me another plate of linguine without the seafood.

Many cities and towns have daily street markets, where residents and visitors go to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, cheese, seafood, sauces, nuts, and a wide variety of household items, clothing, and gifts. If you’re looking for the colors, sounds, and aromas of Sicily, go to a street market. The food is fresh, local, and delicious.

Desserts. We have more than five hundred pictures from our three trips to Sicily, but I was surprised to discover that we didn’t have a single photo of pastry, gelato, cassata, cannoli, or any of the other amazing desserts we devoured every day. Then I realized, we always ate it before anyone had time to take out the camera. Trust me: if you’re a dessert person, Sicily is the place. Whether you’re in the big cities or the smaller towns, you’ll find pasticcerie (pastry shops) and gelaterie (ice cream shops) on almost every block. My favorite gelato flavors are pistachio, strawberry, coconut, banana, and stracciatella. (I also have five back-up flavors, just in case.)

Sicilians tend to have dinner late, so if you’re going to eat out, you should plan your day accordingly. Many restaurants don’t start serving until eight o’clock. But as with most other travel book rules, there are always exceptions. If you’re hungry in Sicily, you can always find something to eat. And it will be delizioso!

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