If Italy is famous for one thing, it’s the cuisine. Pasta, pizza, mozzarella – all of this and more can pretty much be found in all four corners of the globe! However nothing beats actually trying the authentic cuisine during a holiday to Italy!
Today I’ll be putting one region in particular under the spotlight – Sicily. This vibrant, beautiful island has so much to offer, and excellent cuisine is certainly up there. What’s more, the local specialities sometimes reveal parts of a town’s history too! Join me on a little culinary journey around Sicily – apologies if I make you peckish though. ;)
There are several regions in Sicily that have been awarded the status of Protected Designation of Origin when it comes to wine, but the most famous one by far is Marsala. This beautiful seaside town has a long and rich history which has seen it come under control from all sorts of invaders and cultures, but the final invasion so to speak was from an Englishman called John Woodhouse, who arrived here in 1773. After discovering the local wine he fell in love with it, promptly seeing a business opportunity in exporting it back to England. However if the wine was to survive the long journey across it would have to be fortified, thus giving birth to the Marsala wine we all know and love today.
It’s produced with similar techniques to sherry, with its stronger alcohol volume and various levels of sweetness lending itself well as an aperitif or an ingredient in cooking. If you’re in Marsala and want to experience more about the local wines, then why not head to Cantine Florio or Cantine Pellegrino? Wineries such as these often hold tasting sessions and even tours. Definitely one for real wine fans!
Modica – Aztec chocolate lives on!
I know what you’re thinking – what on Earth do the Aztecs have in common with Sicily? Well it’s for quite an interesting reason! The absolutely beautiful town of Modica once belonged to the Spanish during the 16th century. Of course the conquistadors eventually set off on their voyages and discovered xocoàtl, the forerunner to chocolate, and brought these recipes back with them to all corners of their empire. Over time xocoàtl evolved and changed into modern-day chocolate, but there is still one unsuspecting town in Sicily that still stays true to the ‘original’ recipes, creating what is easily some of the best chocolate in the world!
The best Modica chocolates are made by shops that have been run by the same families for generations – Antica Dolceria Bonajuto is a great example of one. They’ve been following the same techniques for years, which involves adding sugar to cocoa paste without melting it, resulting in grainy, crunchy textures which are then infused with delicious flavours such as chilli, sea salt or vanilla. Chocoholics – you have not lived until you’ve come to Modica at least once!
Scoglitti – the best seafood on Sicily
Before I go off on one about Scoglitti’s incredible restaurant, I will say one thing: you can expect to find incredible seafood pretty much no matter where you are on the coastline. Sicilian food is normally produced with locally sourced ingredients, so you can be sure that the lobster that’s on your plate will have been freshly caught by local fishermen. The best places to go are of course small coastal villages that still have active fishing communities – what’s more is that you can generally avoid the majority of tourists who tend to stick to beaches or larger towns so you can enjoy your meal and the view of the sea in peace.
This may be my personal opinion, but if you ever go to Sicily craving some proper seafood then you simply have to go to Il Sakalleo in the small village of Scoglitti, located on the southern coast. If you go for the antipasti you’ll have various dishes involving everything from oysters, crayfish and langoustines to tuna, swordfish and more. Larger shellfish and crab are also on the menu – and everything will always be caught on the day. Finish off the dining experience with a stroll along the beach and you’ll be sorted!
Ragusa – the crème de la crème
If you want to splash the cash during your holiday to Sicily, then head to Ragusa! This small town has evolved into a foodie heaven of sorts, with various restaurants there having been awarded Michelin stars. There are a total of 3 restaurants in Michelin’s 2016 guide, two of which even winning two stars, so you wouldn’t be wrong in saying that this definitely is one of Italy’s culinary hotspots! La Fenice (1*) is on the outskirts of town towards the west, noted for its comprehensive wine list, incredible pasta and Sicilian dishes. Locanda Don Serafino was recently upgraded from 1* to 2* – this atmospheric restaurant is located in a historic building and you can indulge in excellent 6 course meals and taster menus, complete with Sicilian wines picked specifically to compliment your meal.
However the most famous restaurant on Sicily by far is the incredible Duomo (2*). People come far and wide to try the food here. Located in a romantic setting in the Old Town, guests can enjoy a rich and diverse Sicilian menu, complete with paired wines and indulgent desserts. Some even go as far as to say it’s the best restaurant in Italy – and I can see why!
Palermo – street food on every corner
To wind up this little culinary journey I think it’s time we headed back to the island capital of Palermo. This city may be somewhat chaotic, but that’s exactly what gives it its charm – couple it up with some fantastic markets and street vendors and you’ll have the ultimate Italian street food experience! There are some street food dishes that are typical of Palermo that you should definitely try while you’re there. Penelle and crocchè are fritters made from chickpea flour and potato respectively – stick them in a bread roll for the ultimate carb feast, or simply enjoy them as they are. Rascatura are made from the leftovers of what goes into those fritters, and they’re just as delicious. There’s also arancina (fried rice balls), boiled octopus and the infamous pani ca’meusa – spleen burgers. Not one for me I must admit, but if you’re brave enough to give them ago they’re meant to be one of the most delicious things you’ll ever try.
Book a place on the Palermo Street Food Tour and you’ll be shown around all the markets and best food stalls around. Lasting 3 hours, it’s the best way to get up close with Palermo’s street food scene and what’s more it’s even in English!