When it comes to eating well, it's hard to go past Sicily. Food writer Jennifer Jordan shares her top spots.
For a foodie adventure, Sicily came highly recommended by a Sicilian friend.
Freshly caught sardines and swordfish are eaten throughout Sicily. Sardines are stuffed, rolled or served with pasta — pasta con le sarde is a favourite dish. Swordfish are grilled, rolled and stuffed, often served with sweet onions or Messina-style with tomatoes, black olives and parsley. Octopus salad with potato is served. Caponata — the delicious rich mix of eggplant, tomatoes, parsley, olives and capsicum — seems always on the menu.
History has it that a Sicilian was the first to sell gelato in the 16th century.
Cannoli, a more-ish deep-fried pastry tube stuffed with creamy sweet ricotta, belongs to Sicily. Cassata, another must try, was born in Palermo.
Our food adventure starts in Palermo. Staying in the historic area on Via Roma is just the spot. Palermo buzzes at night — alive with locals, out and about. Musicians mill around the streets. Exploring the small lanes off the main streets, we discover an eclectic mix of small bars and trattorias. The Arab influence is big here: chickpea fritters are popular street food; couscous is served with seafood.
- Bisso Bistrot, serving good, honest Sicilian food, is loud and fun. Chatting to the locals on shared tables, we order sardine balls and eggplant balls with cheese and mint. The long, ribboned ravioli stuffed with zucchini and capsicum, served in seafood bisque, are delicious. Our first meal, and an all-round culinary success. Address: Via Maqueda 172A, Palermo.
- Feeling like a swim, the next day we drive to Mondello beach, 20 minutes from Palermo. Looking for the perfect seafood lunch, we settle on Trattoria da Calogero, overlooking the beach. And out it comes — octopus pieces in olive oil, parsley and lemon with bocconcini, followed by local cod served with sweet, sour onions. Address: Via Torre di Mondello 22/26, Palermo.
- In a beautifully lit, small, historic piazza, we discover Osteria dei Vespri. Up-market and innovative, it serves mussels stuffed with parmesan and wild fennel, goat’s cheese with basil and red capsicum jelly, and duck ravioli with red pepper sauce. Address: Piazza Crocce dei Vespri 6, Palermo.
- Think Sicily, think mozzarella — and Obica mozzarella bar in Palermo is a stand-out. On the rooftop of a department store, this cool bar overlooks historic Palermo. Order platters of smoked, crispy, creamy mozzarella and ricotta. Antipasto comes complimentary. Wash it all down with a glass of grillo, the local white wine. Address: Rinascente, Via Roma, Palermo.
- Palermo markets are worth a visit. Try Ballaro for a great octopus salad while you wander among huge piles of fresh seafood. For a bigger variety of foods, try Mercato Vucciria.
This is a top food town, with three Michelin-starred restaurants. Every foodie holiday must include at least one Michelin restaurant.
- Off we go to Duomo, a two-star Michelin restaurant and the first in Sicily to have achieved that. Belonging to the slow food movement, it serves well-sourced produce and the best black pork I’ve tasted.
- Apparently, they feed the pigs on prickly pear, which grows wild throughout Sicily. Highlights include Sicilian green olives stuffed with pistachio marzipan, truffle ice-cream sandwiched between two paper-thin wafers topped with black truffle, and moonfish in consomme. Address: Via Capitano Bocchieri 31, Ragusa.
Driving into Noto’s narrow, beautiful, baroque streets, the excitement rises. We check in to our little B&B and chat to the hosts about where to eat.
- Drinks time: we trot off to explore, and come across Anche Gli Angeli, a wine bar, restaurant and concept store housed in the crypt of a former church. The place is amazing, with high vaulted ceilings, elaborate lighting and old limestone, with some industrial copper thrown in. It’s very cool, with a menu to match. Antipasto is the way to go — caponata, tuna and local fish tartare, tuna carpaccio, scampi, coppa, salami, ricotta with honey, crispy mozzarella, and sardine balls. This is casual and relaxed dining on long, wooden tables. Address: Via Arnaldo da Brescia 2, Noto.
- For more good eating in Noto, head to Via Rocco Pirri.
Ortygia is an island connected by a bridge to Syracuse, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. For the foodie, there’s plenty of choice.
- We start with lunch at an eclectic eatery, A Putia delle Cose Buone. There are rolled zucchini ribbons stuffed with ricotta, eggplant strips rolled around mozzarella topped with tomato, and sardine fillets stuffed with breadcrumbs. Via Roma 8, Ortygia.
- MOON (Move Ortygia Out of Normality) is a vegetarian restaurant like no other. There are no vegetarians among us but we are all literally over the Moon with this food. There is an Arabic dish of fine spaghetti with chickpeas, raisins, turmeric cream and smoked almonds. Raw tomato and zucchini pasta are combined with raw cherry tomatoes and a mix of intensely flavoured tomato sauces. For dessert, there is Turkish salami — a dark chocolate roll mixed with biscotti and almond. MOON is themed white, elegant with candelabra but retains a casual feel. Address: Via Roma 112, Ortygia.
Taormina is a hilltop town with sweeping views of the Ionian Sea, not far from Mt Etna, an active volcano. It’s Sicily’s most popular seaside town and we eat well here.
- Head to any of the small bars off the main street of Corso Umberto for a glass of Nerello mascalese, a light-bodied red from Mt Etna.
- Recommended by our hosts is Trattoria Tiramisu. Fresh porcini mushrooms from Mt Etna, lightly sauteed in olive oil and seasoned, are an absolute treat — I’ve only ever seen them dried. Local rock fish is cooked in its juices, with clams and potato. They are fine examples of local cuisine. Address: Viale Apollo Arcageta 9, Taormina.
(Picture at top: Coastline at Sferracavallo, near Palermo, by Sandro Bedessi/Fototeca ENIT.)
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