While every region in Italy has its own special take on the traditional national gastronomy, Sicilian cuisine, more than any other, has a certain exoticism, which is unique to this deeply historical island. Influenced by a host of different cultures over the centuries, Sicilian cuisine is a fabulous fusion of Arabic, French and North African cookery jumbled up in a huge Mediterranean melting pot and coming out the other side with a flavour and personality like no other. |
I've spent many pleasurable hours (days, weeks, years…) exploring the never-ending delights of Sicilian cuisine; I've come up with a few specialities that, while not an exhaustive list by any means, I tell my clients, "You mustn't leave without tasting…"
This is Italy, so forgive me, pizza is naturally the first thing on the list. But Sicily's pizza is quite different to what you'd find on the mainland. The traditional version, Sfincione, is what's known as 'white' pizza, which means the topping is predominantly cheese, onion and anchovies, and the base is really, really thick – like a focaccia. Very delicious and very filling.
Pasta alla Norma
The name might sound familiar, but you haven't lived until you've tried the original and best version of this sauce, which came from here. Simple, rich and chin-dribblingly delicious, the dish comprises an aubergine, salted ricotta and tomato sauce served generously over short pasta. Named after the famous Puccini opera, in my books this perennial pasta favourite deserves as many accolades as its namesake's creator.
If you could bottle the island and put it in a jar, it would look and taste a lot like caponata. Made from a base of tomatoes and aubergines, there are many different versions of the dish utilising other ingredients like raisins, capers, pine nuts and various vegetables. The addition of lashing of local olive oil and red wine vinegar gives the caponata its distinct sweet and sour taste. Memories in every mouthful…
Pane con la Milza
I've had some of my most magnificent experiences of Sicilian cuisine from the many street vendors of Palermo, and this sandwich is one of them. Made with a filling of pork spleen (stay with me), the meat is boiled and then slow-cooked in lard to create the most exotic, melt-in-your mouth taste sensation you've ever encountered. Served on a soft roll, this is next-level street food flavour – although, in reality, it's been around for centuries here.
Another familiar dish with its origins here, arancini are the delicious rice balls served up all over the island, with each area adding its own regional twist. In Syracuse the rice is cooked with mozzarella and tomato before being rolled into balls, while in Catania you'll find arancini stuffed with mozzarella, peas and ragu, and in the central towns and villages you'll be served up chicken liver-stuffed arancini.
As I said, these are certainly not the only things you "shouldn't leave Sicily without trying", but I wouldn't want to deprive you of any fun, so I'll leave you to discover the rest for yourself. Buon appetito!
John Dixon is an experienced world traveller and the Managing Director of Prestige Holidays. For over 30 years, he has been providing luxury holidays to Sicily to experience the culture, landscape and local Sicilian cuisine, as well holidays to Croatia, Bermuda and many other destinations around the globe. John tries to visit each of the destinations regularly in order to ensure the quality of his properties, and stay up-to-date about the latest local news and events. He has a taste for the finer things in life and has an interest in arts, history and culture.
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