I’ve just returned from a five-day trip to Sicily, where Mr Q and I spent most of our time eating, drinking and exploring markets. We stayed in a beautiful apartment just outside the centre of the City of Palermo, and did our best to seek out authentic culinary experiences and local eateries off the tourist trail.
Here’s a quick round-up of my favourite Palermo eats:
Street food: Nino u’ Ballarino. This street-side venue is a one-stop-shop for cheap and cheerful traditional fare. The grubby plastic tables and chairs spill out onto the road (alarmingly close to tooting scooters and other passing traffic), and diners eat from paper plates with plastic forks. Beers here are only served in one size – huge – and if you can’t find a seat, well, there’s plenty of room to crouch on the edge of the gutter. We visited here twice – first for a couple of cold beers and a plate of pasta with salmon, and the second time to pick up two huge pizzas (one with prosciutto, and one with crispy fried aubergine) to take back to our apartment.
Market meandering: Palermo’s Ballaro Market is spectacular. This seemingly miles-long market sells literally everything you could ever need, from the basics (fruit and vegetables), to the extravagant (hand-embroidered lace) and vintage (clothing and furniture). There’s tons of small shops selling snacks (aranchini, panini con milze, cannoli) and all the ingredients you’ll need to cook up your own Sicilian feast.
Pizza, please: dinner at Pizzeria Trattoria Sciuscià. This unassuming restaurant front opens up at the back into a sprawling dining area in the open air. The menu contains over six pages of pizzas, from calzone to thin and crispy pizzas with a unique cream topping. Rowdy family groups commandeered most of the large tables, and the waitstaff didn’t speak a word of English (this was to become a common theme wherever we went in Sicily – Italian and French, but no English), which led to a few confusing exchanges and lots of frenzied gesticulating. My pizza with mushroom cream was divine. Mr Q couldn’t finish his calzone, but our friendly waiter brought us a takeaway box and scooped it up for us to take home and snack on later.
For something a little different: Trattoria Ferdinando III. Due to a slight miscommunication, we ended up ordering Spaghetti con Ricci Di Mare. What’s that? Well, we didn’t realise until much later that evening, but it is spaghetti with sea urchin sauce. Not something I would have ordered, but it was an interesting experience all the same. Savoury and creamy, the sea urchin (or ricci di mare) made for a very rich and salty sauce, and we weren’t able to finish the massive plate we were presented with (on top of the antipasti and bruschetta we’d already polished off for starters).
Fresh seafood: Trattoria Supra I Mura, Di Capo Mercato. This little trattoria is on a side street off the markets of Di Capo, and display the freshest seafood on ice outside their front door. If you’re lucky, you’ll nab a table right by the fish market area where you’ll see the owner stoking the coals on the outdoor grill. Here, I asked the waiter to bring me their specialty house pasta (la pasta di casa), as I was told to always order ‘off menu’ where possible for the most authentic dishes, and was presented with an amazing plate of fresh squid-ink pasta with clams (vongole), zucchini, lemon and parsley, topped with garlic breadcrumbs. Washed down with a bottle of cold prosecco, it was simple, fresh, and absolutely delicious.
My favourite food, however, was had when we visited some of the Sicilian coastal towns outside Palermo. I’ll save these for another day….