In recent years, Sicily has become very much the go-to place for foodies. And little wonder. Where else in the Mediterranean are you going to find such an eclectic mix of culinary influences as those from ancient Greece, North Africa, the Middle East, Norman France and Spain?
As if this wasn’t heaven enough for even the most demanding foodie, the island produces some of the finest ingredients – even by exacting Italian standards – from the land and from the teeming seas around its shores.
So rich and regionally varied are the pickings for any self-respecting foodie that you’ll be looking at multi-centre Sicily holidays to stand any chance of doing justice to the huge range of dishes on offer in different parts of the island.
Fish and seafood
Just as you’d expect from an island with more than 1,000 km of coastline, fish and seafood are excellent quality and feature in many regional dishes. These use a wide range of ingredients, from tuna, swordfish, sardines, anchovies, prawns and clams.
Simplicity is the key to cooking any type of fish or seafood, and Sicilians have turned that simplicity into an art – using the freshest of bounty from the teeming seas around the island.
Fish and seafood may be the order of the day but are by no means the only distinctive flavours to be had.
Spring lamb – agnello – is sweet and succulent, and pork comes from the pigs reared in the mountains of Madonie along the northern coast.
A travel writer in the Guardian newspaper also described the tasty breakfast street food made from beef cuts, which are boiled and then deep fried until crunchy. This frittola, as it is known, is one of the specialities from the streets of Palermo and is served up in simple cones of paper.
Other street food delights from this gritty port city include arancine (risotto rice balls stuffed with ragù), pani câ meusa (bread rolls stuffed with veal spleen and ricotta), and chunks of Sicily’s own take on the tomato pizza, sfincione.
In common with other parts of the world where meat has traditionally been an expensive luxury saved for special occasions only, extra special care goes into the quality of an especially wide variety of fresh vegetables and pasta.
Aubergines, in particular, feature in many menus, but more exotic influences from the Middle East see the use of herbs, capers, raisins, garlic and seeds, beans and pulses (such as lentils, fava and chickpeas), pistachio nuts (grown on the slopes of Mount Etna), and citrus fruits – it is a little-known fact that the majority of blood oranges you see sold throughout Europe, including the UK, are grown in Sicily.
The rich bounty of the soil is on display throughout the thriving traditional markets throughout the island of Sicily. Perhaps one of those that stands out above the rest – if only for its vibrant colours and smells – is the market in the ancient town of Syracuse in the southeast of the island. This is also the place you might sample traditional and modern takes on locally produced cheese.