Food in Sicily
Bright green olives, deep purple eggplants, crunchy pistachios, big, juicy tomatoes, citrus fruits, grapes, and almonds grow bountifully in Sicily. The Mediterranean is plentiful with anchovies, swordfish, red prawns, octopus, and sea urchins, the lasting foundations of Sicilian cuisine.
High-quality sea salt is extracted locally using traditional methods, green-gold olive oil is freshly pressed, and capers are plucked fresh from the bush in the volcanic island of Pantelleria. With such an array of first-rate ingredients at their disposal, Sicilians have long impressed and inspired the global palate with their culinary delights.
From the famous fish couscous of Trapani and flavorful pasta alla Norma, to squid-ink spaghetti and violet-rimmed slices of steamed octopus served with freshly squeezed lemon juice, Sicily is a pure delight for bon viveurs. Influences from Arab, Norman, Greek, Turkish, and North African settlers can be clearly spotted. A journey through the history of this big, triangle-shaped, mountainous island just off the southern coast of Italy is an encounter with empires and vibrant cultures, each of which has left their mark on the local cuisine.
A street food paradise
Bursting with seasonal flavour and top-quality island produce, street food in Sicily has been part of the culture long before it became trendy. The flamboyant, vibrant, and eclectic capital city of Palermo, on the northern coast of the island, regularly ranks as one of the best places in the world to eat street food.
The city’s colourful stalls and bustling food markets offer an authentic taste of Sicily, featuring flavours that range from fluffy sfincione, vegetarian-friendly chickpea fritters called panelle and calf spleen sandwich pani câ mèusa, to grilled-while-you-wait stighiola, and deep-fried rice balls called arancini, stuffed with meat sauce, peas, and cheese.
Delicious street snacks are sold in the streets around Palermo’s souk-like markets like Ballarò, La Vucciria, and Capo, running the length of Via Sant’Agostino. Palermo’s markets are generally held every morning but Sunday. On the east coast, Syracuse’s Ortygia historic outdoor food market, an explosion of flavors, colors, and fragrances, definitely deserves a visit as well.
Sicilians also love their artisanal granita, a dense mixture of sugar and ice blended with fresh fruit and toasted almonds. The grainy, bittersweet chocolate produced in the charming town of Modica using a process dating back to the Aztecs is also not to be missed. So, make sure to sample them all. You can even have a tender, vanilla-scented brioche and granita with whipped cream on top in the morning for breakfast in the hot summer months.
In vino veritas
A trip to Sicily is frequently on the bucket list of wine lovers. Blessed with year-round balmy temperatures and bright sunlight tempered by cooling coastal breezes, Sicily has a long history of viticulture and vinification. Notably, the ancient Greeks brought modern viticultural techniques and new grape varieties to Sicily, like Grecanico and Inzolia. However, Sicilians have grown grapes and produced wines here since as early as 4,000 BCE, long before the Greeks showed up.
This sunny island below the tip of Italy’s boot is a hilly triangle of land marked by mountains, including Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. Island ventilation and high temperatures and elevations give Sicilian wine a distinctive Mediterranean personality with an elegance, freshness, and richness that set it apart from other European wines.
Savvy wine lovers should definitely make their way to Sicily’s many world-class wineries producing robust reds and sumptuous whites with their own unique character. The most interesting Sicilian reds are made primarily of Nero d’Avola, Frappato, Perricone, and Nerello Mascalese, considered as one of the best Sicilian red grapes.
White wine lovers should try light, crisp Grillo, fresh, savory Catarratto, aromatic, delicate Malvasia Bianca, and dry, slightly acidic Carricante, the queen of Etna’s whites. Zibibbo, also called Moscato d’Alessandria, has been cultivated in sun-kissed Sicily since Phoenician times. And don’t forget Marsala, the island’s famous fortified dessert wine.
The famous fish couscous served with an incredibly flavorful fish broth and topped with a medley of seafood has a dedicated festival that takes place in September in the northwestern seaside town of San Vito lo Capo. The Cous Cous Fest is an international competition that draws talented chefs from all over the world.
The annual Onion Festival is held every year in August in Giarratana, a pastel-colored Baroque town of 3,000 people in the southeastern corner of the island, while the Pistachio Festival takes place on the first 10 days of October in Bronte, on the slopes of Mount Etna. In the hills behind Palermo, the charming town of Piana degli Albanesi celebrates Sicilian cannoli, one of Italy’s most famous desserts, with a festival every year in May.
In the south-west of Sicily, the exquisite, wine-making town of Menfi’s viticultural and culinary traditions are celebrated at the Inycon Festival every year in June. Around the same time of year, the Caper Festival is held in Salina, the greenest island of the Aeolian archipelago, just off Sicily’s northeast coast, where the poetic 1994 Italian movie Il Postino with Massimo Troisi and Philippe Noiret was filmed.
What makes the best food in Sicily so special
There’s no shortage of taste temptations in this sunny island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Here is a list of some of the top traditional, typical, and authentic food in Sicily not to be missed, including the specialties that have made the island a sought-after destination for gastronomes and food lovers from all over the world.
Pasta con le sarde
With Arab flavorings like saffron, pine nuts, and raisins, plus wild fennel, sardines, and extra virgin olive oil from the island itself, pasta con le sarde is a dish that sums up Sicily. The pasta shape most often used for this quintessentially Sicilian dish is bucatini, a kind of thick spaghetti with a hole through the core.
Agghiotta di pesce spada
Excellent swordfish is caught in the waters near Messina, in northeastern Sicily, where the specialty is agghiotta di pesce spada, wonderfully flavorful, succulent, and tender swordfish steaks cooked with fresh tomatoes, capers, olives, raisins, and pine nuts.
Busiate alla trapanese
Busiate alla trapanese are hand-twirled, spaghetti-like pasta from the honey-hued city of Trapani, on Sicily’s west coast, served with tasty yet delicate Sicilian pesto sauce made with plump, ruby-red tomatoes, almonds, fresh basil, garlic, and pecorino cheese.
Pasta alla Norma
Named after Catania-born composer Vincenzo Bellini’s tragic opera, pasta alla Norma is made with tomato and eggplant sauce topped with ricotta salata, a salted ricotta cheese. Add a pinch of chili flakes for a truly delicious and unique veg pasta dish with a meaty texture.
Pasta ‘ncaciata is a hearty baked pasta dish packed with tender eggplant, crushed tomatoes, and melty caciocavallo cheese. Simply mouthwatering.
Black squid-ink spaghetti
Squid ink has a unique flavor, a silky texture, and an alluring jet-black color that couples perfectly with spaghetti. One of Police Inspector Salvo Montalbano’s all-time favorite delicacies, black squid-ink spaghetti is an impressive, surprising, and exquisite pasta dish with squid, garlic, parsley, and white wine that we encourage you to try.
A Mediterranean version of ratatouille, caponata is a sweet and sour vegetarian- and vegan-friendly mix of chopped fried eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes, and capers cooked with almonds, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil, usually served at room temperature.
Frittura di paranza
Frittura di paranza, a battered, deep-fried mix of assorted seafood, including shrimp, squid, mullet, fresh anchovies, sardines, and baby mackerel, is hugely popular in Sicily, but found all over Italy. Paranza is a method of fishing, with two boats moving in parallel, and pulling red and orange nets between them.
Eggplant parmesan, a culinary specialty in Sicily, consists of layers of oven-baked eggplant slices, Pachino tomato sauce, fresh basil, and caciocavallo cheese.
Pâtisserie treats include buccellato, a fragrant, donut-shaped short-crust pastry filled with dried figs, pistachios, almonds, apricot jam, and dark chocolate. The smaller size of this big fig cookie is called cucciddato.
Ordering a Sicilian cassata, the sweetest of sweet desserts, is like eating your way through history. Arabs, Spaniards, and Normans all contributed to the development of this delicious cake layered with creamy, sweetened ricotta, covered with pea-green icing, and decorated with candied fruits.
Cassatine, the miniature, snack version of the bigger, classic Sicilian cassata, are little iced-white cakes wrapped in marzipan, filled with sheep’s milk ricotta, and topped with a candied cherry.
Celebrate this gorgeous Italian island’s extraordinary enogastronomic value – you surely won’t be disappointed.