When people visit Sicily they often fly into Palermo and use that as a starting point for their travels throughout this fabulous island. But if you don’t spend some time in the island's capital city then you’re missing out on some of its best. Palermo is full of the best street food and so much more.
Michele Di Pietro and I chatted about all the best Palermo street food we've joyfully tasted in the Flavor of Italy Podcast - Episode 22 and Michele shared her favorites from her most recent trip to Palermo with Food Lovers Odyssey.
Take sfincione for example: this pizza that’s more of a focaccia is not to be missed. It’s loaded with onions, anchovies, caciocavallo cheese and a luscious tomato sauce with fresh oregano. You’ll find this delicious street food throughout the city and especially at some of Palermo‘s fabulous markets like the Ballarò market, Vucciria or Capo market and any of the smaller markets you run across.
Or try some sfincione at the Antica Focacceria San Francesco.
At all the markets and right here at this focacceria you can try another of Palermo’s best street foods, panelle.
Panelle are made from a deep-fried batter of chickpea flour, water and a touch of salt. It may not sound anywhere near as delicious as it actually is but it’s not to be missed! Michele had panelle with a delicious addition of some fennel seeds. And Palermo locals often eat these chickpea fritters in a panino (sandwich). Yes, you heard me right, carbs upon carbs! And a delicious combination it is.
Eggplant is the most luscious of all the vegetables grown in Sicily and the most common dish made with it is Eggplant Parmesan. Sicilians deep fry the eggplant in oil but without dipping the eggplant in flour, bread crumbs or anything: just sliced and fried and it’s fabulous. The eggplant is topped with a scrumptious tomato sauce and topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
That’s all there is to this simple but delectable dish. Sometimes it’s served in a panino as another wonderful street food. You might want to try my delicious Eggplant Parmesan recipe.
Penne alla Norma is perhaps the tastiest of all Sicilian eggplant pasta dishes and here's a great recipe.
Another Sicilian dish that makes great use of the local eggplants is caponata. It’s a sweet and sour - agrodolce - side dish. The sweet and sour comes from the strong Arab influence on Sicilian cuisine. There are lots of recipes for caponata and they always use eggplant along with other vegetables like celery, onions and often olives. It’s usually jarred so Sicilians can enjoy their caponata year round.
Some of Palermo’s street foods are served in paper cones, like deep-fried sardines with wild fennel. And don’t miss the arancine in Palermo. In Palermo these delectable deep-fried rice balls are arancine, not arancini, and the filling is always delicious, and varies depending on the chef's whim. This one is stuffed with local sea urchins and served right atop a sea urchin shell.
Head down to the waterfront and you might run across a local seafood vendor like this man who is selling fresh-from-the-sea sea urchins that have an exquisite and incomparable flavor. They're wonderful served with pasta.
If you head up to visit the Monreale Cathedral high up on the hill overlooking Palermo don’t leave the area without tasting some of the delicious local pastries.
The Madonie mountain region in the Palermo province is where two small towns are located, Cerda and Isnello, and these towns are the birth places of two of Michele‘s grandparents. If you are in the area in April don’t miss the annual artichoke festival in Cerda.
Michele has seen an opera and a ballet at Palermo‘s world famous opera house, the Teatro Massimo. When you’re not sampling all the fabulous local food this is well worth adding to your bucket list! It’s the largest opera house in Italy and one of the largest in all of Europe. One fun fact: this opera house was featured in a movie we have all seen, Godfather 3.
Throughout Palermo and all of Sicily the delectable local dishes are served quite frequently on gorgeous ceramic dishes. You might want to check out the Sicilian ceramics and purchase some. There are three towns famous for ceramics: Caltagirone, Sciacca and Santo Stefano Di Camostra. There are a number of places throughout Italy that are famous for beautiful ceramics like Deruta and Vietri, but Sicilian ceramics have a unique look all their own and with exquisite colors.
Tons of great restaurants speckled throughout Palermo and all of Sicily. You might want to try the Trattoria Biondo.
One of the best dishes is this Paccheri Pasta with a Creamy Seafood Sauce and Pistachios.
If you’re interested in a fascinating day trip from Palermo consider visiting the salt flats of Trapani. If you listened to Episode 9, All About Salt, then you know how important Trapani is for salt production in Italy. Here you can book a guided tour that includes Salt Pans of Trapani.
Be sure to listen to Podcast Episode 14 Eating Your Way through Sicily for another chat with Michele di Pietro about more Sicilian food travels.