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Amazing Arancini & Wonderful Wine – Palermo Street Food Review

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Going out for a Sicilian isn’t something that we can all say we’ve done. Sure there might be the odd Sicilian dish on the menu of your local Italian but how would you know? In a bid to educate ourselves about this distinctive and delicious cuisine, my friend and I took a tour with Palermo Street Food during a Mediterranean cruise stop. Read on for our full Palermo Street Food review.

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Pretty Palermo

With about an hour before our tour, we dashed off to see some of Palermo. Our first stop was Quattro Canti (the four corners). This octagonal crossroads has four towering facades covered in beautiful sculptures. Just around the corner is the Fountain of Shame. I mean, if I had a figure like these statues, I wouldn’t be ashamed…but they are all distinctly naked. The risqué carvings rather upset the churches nearby, and the Catholic populous, hence the name.

Finally, we had just enough time to take in the gorgeous interiors and stunning views of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio. This is one of Palermo’s gorgeous churches (there is an abundance). The stories along the walls and soaring dome are both stunning and there was more to see in the convent than we were expecting. They had very tasty-looking cannoli but knowing we were about to embark on a food tour, we decided to skip them.

It was an hour very well spent

Meeting Francesca

When we got back to the Opera House, we messaged Francesca and she came to find us. She was a delight! I have taken a fair few food tours but rarely have I had a guide that is such an expert. She combined a wonderful demeanour with a wealth of knowledge about Palermo, food and wine but there were some flashes of honesty that we loved her for!

Francesca Lombardo is such an advocate for Sicilian cuisine that she has actually written a book all about it. She has spent the last two years training to be a sommelier and boy, did her passion shine through.

Mercato del Capo

Mercato del Capo (so named for the streets it sits on) is one of the most important markets in Palermo. It has an array of fresh food from around the island and the waters surrounding it. People shopping, meeting and eating throng the street and call out to each other as they zip past. It was so lovely to see a market in such good health.

Juicy Fruit

We started our journey at a juice stall selling both fresh orange and fresh pomegranate juice at €1 a pop. We an orange juice and it was both intense and delicious. I think we forget how different orange juice at the supermarket is from the zingy hit of the freshly squeezed variety.

Carolyn had never had pomegranate juice (and I’d never had it at such a good price) so we got one of these too. The burst of red fruit followed by the dry tannin was divine and begged to be made into a cocktail!

Strolling the Stalls

We began to walk through the market’s main thoroughfare, gazing longingly at packets of olives steeped in oil and cured meats. We were not allowed to take any food or drink whatsoever back onto our ship so no foodie souvenirs for us! It was a real shame and I look forward to having a delicious hotel room picnic next time I visit.

One shop had small tubs of capers outside. Alongside the small little caper berries I am used to was a tub of caper flowers. The shopkeeper kindly let me try one and it was a salty, glorious thing. I’d happily chomp through a bucket of them with a glass or two of wine.

Glorious Groceries

The fresh produce was abundant and looked so yummy. There were some really fun things; graffiti aubergine and bright green cauliflower, as well as huge artichokes, stalks and all. It was a chef’s dream. Apparently, there is purple cauliflower too which gets its colour from the minerals in the soil around Mt Etna….so cool. We stopped to pick up some fruit for dessert and chose some Sicilian satsumas as well as a strange item related to a persimmon. More on that later.

Street Eats

Palermo is listed as one of the top destinations in Europe for street food and in Mercato del Capo, the queen of street food is Ariana Dainotti. She won a TV competition (a little like four in a bed or come dine with me) so her bonafide is top notch!

Francesca helped us pick out some things to try. It was a little tricky as Carolyn is gluten free and this reduced the options a bit for her. However, this meant we could pick a few more things to try than normal, so I was happy.

The Menu

  • Arancini
  • Chickpea Fritters
  • Potato Croquettes
  • Caponata
  • Seafood Salad
  • Thistle
  • Sicilian Pizza
  • Fresh Fruit

There was so much to try and I was stuffed by the end!

Arancini

Arancini in Sicily is nothing like the stodgy balls with a tomato dipping sauce that you’ve tried elsewhere. Inside these giant breaded orbs was the most luscious saffron-infused risotto rice. Then, one centre was with stuffed creamy cheese and salty ham and the other with a classic meat ragu. They were heavenly! Arancini were originally created to give the citizens of Sicily a way to take their delicious risotto lunches to work with them. They are practical and truly scrumptious…better than a jam sandwich for sure.

Panelle

Panelle are fritters made of chickpea flour and flavoured with parsley and a little lemon. The recipe dates back to the Arab occupation of the island. The gram flour is pleasingly gluten-free so I didn’t have any as I was demolishing plenty that my travel buddy couldn’t have, I asked her for a review.

“The chickpea fritters were a delightful distraction from the rest of the gluten-y glory i was trying not to lust after”.

Carolyn
Cazzilli

I have eaten many a potato croquette in my time. In fact, we tried some rather spectacular varieties in Lisbon. However, the interior of these Sicilian croquettes were by far the smoothest I had ever had. The potato was plain with a little salt as seasoning but the breadcrumb crust was very light and the texture was perfection. It is possible to get croquettes with cheese, garlic and other flavours but even these simple bites were lovely and luscious.

Caponata

Roasted aubergine, sweet tomato, savoury olives, salty capers and celery all come together to make the most addictive salad, caponata. This can be served hot as a side dish or cold as a salad. It is such a wonderful blend of punchy tastes and as it is gluten-free, here’s my friend once again to wax lyrical about her favourite dish.

“The caponata, an oily medley of Sicilian flavours dominated by slick, smoky aubergine was good enough to bathe in.”

Carolyn

Frutti de Mari

Ah, seafood salad is my happy place, ssquid, mussels, prawns and whatever else was cooked fresh earlier are all given a zing with vinegar and salthered with lovely olive oil. Honestly, I have eaten full buffet plates of seafood salad in the past and I chomped every morsel of this version. The seafood was tender and the veggies lovely and crunchy. Molto Delizioso!

Cardoon

Sicily is one of the only places in the world that eats thistles. Here it is battered and deep-fried. Apparently, they are usually very bitter but the cardoon we tried wasn’t bad at all. I thought there was too much batter but it is so thick to counteract the normally bitter stalk. I really liked it and it’s fibrous texture. It reminded me of savoury rhubarb.

Sfincione

Sicilian Pizza is a very different beast from the flame-licked, thin-crust pizzas of Naples. It is almost so different that it could be considered a totally different foodstuff. Sfincione is a thick, pillowy dough topped with a powerful tomato sauce. Sometimes it has cheese but it’s not a guarantee. The recipe was created by a local convent where the nuns wanted to make something a little different to normal bread. It was then eaten for special events like Christmas or engagements. The most famous variety is possibly the original, where the bread was topped with fresh cheese called tuma or ricotta but you are more likely to come across the tomato version.

A Healthy Dessert

We munched on our Sicilian satsumas. The tart but sweet juice was intense and a world away from the little easy peelers in UK supermarkets. Apparently, we used to have shops stuffed full of Sicilian citrus but when they discovered that other varieties could be pip-free the buyers switched loyalties.

Next, we were treated to our persimmon adjacent treat. Persimmon in Italian is kaki mela but it seems this wasn’t a normal kaki mela. This persimmon had been cross-pollinated with an apple so it is easier to eat on the go. Francesca spelt it and handed over the slippery flesh. It tasted a little like a sweet melon and left us happy sticky. I am not sure this fruity experiment has left the Sicilian shores yet but I would snap it up if I saw it again!

Wine Time

What else would you do with a sommelier other than taste some wine? Enoteca del Capo is Francesca’s favourite spot to stop and enjoy some wine along with a little more street food. Well, we were so full so we opted to skip any more snacks lest we bust open our trousers!

Sicily has an interesting wine history. There has been wine production here for 6000 years or so but its reputation for making wine internationally is still quite young. Sicily was lucky enough to survive the Great Wine Blight that wiped out the majority of France’s vines and threatened to destroy the industry. For many years it was famous for sweet marsala wine and for producing vast amounts of grapes that bulked up more famous European wine regions or graced Asian tables. When the 1980s hit and the world started turning banks into wine bars, interest in Sicilian wines was reignited and a few dedicated producers brought some real bangers to the table.

The Whites

We tried two white wines.

The white from Terrazzo dul Vulcano was a lovely, light wine (in both colour and flavour). Perfect for sipping on a summer’s evening with friends. It was aged in a steel tank and wasn’t that complex but we could have demolished the bottle very happily. The first thing we noticed was the minerality that the volcanic soil infused into the wine so maybe we need a view of Etna to complete that evening.

The Grillo from Mandrarossa was a much more complex wine and much more yellow in colour. The citrus and peach notes along with the minerals gave it a long finish. If you are buying a Grillo, check out where the winery is. The closer to the sea, the more saline notes you’ll get and the more aged it becomes, the zingier the fruity elements will become.

The Reds

I am waiting to grow up and appreciate an adult red wine but in the name of fairness, we tried two reds as well.

We started with Sicily’s most famous wine, Nero d’Avola. It is the most planted grape and makes a deep, brambly wine with a bit of acidity. I don’t adore a tannin or an oaky red so it was too much for me. However, it was right up Carolyn’s street! The wine we tried was by Bruno Fina, one of those 1980s entrepreneurs that really brought Sicily’s wines onto the world wine stage.

We then moved on to a lighter red that I enjoyed a little more, Perricone. It was another Fina wine but this wine was only aged in steel. I liked the spices and cherry flavours of the wine and the lighter tannins so it was nice to end on one I enjoyed.

Either way, it was wonderful to learn about Sicily’s wine with someone who is really in the know.

Farewell Francesca

It’s rare that you leave a food tour feeling like you’ve gotten to know the guide very well. However, seeing the passion and openness of Francesca, we felt a bit sad saying goodbye to her. She pointed us in the right direction to see some shops and the Teatro Politeama. We had a wander and then dashed back to the ship, ready to sail back to Barcelona.

Final Thoughts for this Palermo Street Food Review

Palermo Street Food is not your average food tour. It doesn’t feel at all like a factory line for hungry tourists and more like someone you know taking you out for a fun dinner in a place you’ve never been before. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough and i am off to find a Sicilian spot in London to try and share the flavours with everyone else!

Rosie xx


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