Sicilian food is famous all around the world and no doubt you will have tasted it long before you came to the island's shores in things such as cannoli, the ice-drink granita and arancini (delicious fried rice balls) that have made their way onto menus all around the globe.
The food of Sicily is the cuisine of the sun and the sea, the Mediterranean, Arabia and North Africa. The light blue sky and the deep blue waters dominate any visitor's memories of the island and determine the excellent cuisine. Fish and seafood are found in many dishes, from appetizers to pastas to main courses, in an endless variety. You can even choose your preferred cut of tuna, like in a sushi bar. Ingredients reflect the climate, so citrus is used in many dishes. There are sun-riped tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, pistachios, pine nuts, chillies, flavoured olive oils, fresh fruits and vegetables, a wide range of herbs and spices and, thanks to the old Romans, a great abundance of wheat for pastas and bread. Chefs and housewives combine all this with unexpected lightness, not like their cousins in Australia's and America's old-style Italian restaurants.
The Sicilian cuisine is a mix of all, brought by the different peoples and conquerors who traipsed over the island over the millenia. Especially in the west Arabs and North Africans have greatly influenced the cuisine, as you can see many variations on the Couscous. But much also comes from the times of the ancient Romans, for example the delicious honey and vinegar sauces, served with meat, fish and vegetables. The chefs of the French rulers have refined and creatively flavoured candies for the nobility. Speaking of (often Arab-inspired) sweets: cakes, pies and tarts, almond pastries, marzipan fruits, cookies and ice cream - they are really tempting. Careful that you do not get a sugar shock.
Every region of Sicily offers other dishes, because fishermen, mountaineers, shepherds, townspeople, peasants and aristocrats naturally use different ingredients. It is always and everywhere delicious, whether rabbit, fish, pork, lamb or chicken play the main role, whether you eat in a restaurant or a bar, whether you chose fine dining or street food. Don’t forget to taste also liquid specialties like almond wine, Zibibbo, Malvasia, Amaro and Limoncello.
Vegetarians won't have to search for hours for a suitable restaurant as all menus include many dishes without fish or meat.
If you have had a Sicilian dish or snack before, your taste buds will already be working overtime just thinking about them. If you haven’t, be prepared to give not only your taste buds but also your waistline plenty of exercise in Sicily.
Sicily-newcomers and all those who regularly attend their "Italian" at home and think they know all about Italian cuisine will be astonished. We are pretty sure that you haven't heard of "sarde a beccaficu", "stigghiole", "pani 'ca meusa" and "Pasta alla Norma" (no, no Sicilian lady called Norma is served along with your noodles).
Sicily has an astounding array of food that, largely thanks to the endless number of invaders who all traipsed through the island and left something culinary behind. The Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Spanish and even the English all left a dish or two, some ingredients or style of cooking behind.
That means you won't find just the typical Italian dishes of pizza and pasta, although these are here in their abundance.
Sicilian food has been enriched by things like capers, chilies, tuna, swordfish, eggplant, olives, pistachios, raisins and pine nuts giving it a bit of extra zing and flavour.
Sicily is also blessed with a milder climate than other parts of Italy, which means fruit and vegetables are more abundant all year round. Oranges for example are harvested three times a year. The best way to appreciate the full range of this produce is in the local markets. Every town and city has these, but amongst the most atmospheric and interesting are those in Catania and Palermo. Not only that markets are cheaper - the Sicilian street food is delicious.
But in any case eating out in restaurants in Sicily won't blow your budget.
So what are some of the specialities? Well let's take a look at a daily eating schedule in Sicily.
In the morning Sicilians usually enjoy a cappuccino and a pastry filled with jam, custard or chocolate, or in summer a granita with brioche. If they get hungry between breakfast and lunch (and they all do...), around 10.00 o'clock they keep a look out for some of the street snacks such as arancini, mini pizzas or panini (sandwiches).
For lunch you could go al fresco with all the wonderful breads on offer that go down well with local cheeses, olive oils and salads such as couscous - a direct hand-me-down from former Arab inhabitants. In the afternoon you may prefer a sweet snack - Sicily's pastries are simply to die for. There are cannoli. tubular fried pastries stuffed liberally with ricotta, custard or chocolate, or Cassata Siciliana, a very colourful sugary cake filled with ricotta, both guarantee to keep you going until dinner time. Marzipan is also commonly used in Sicilian cakes and is a result of Arabic influences.
Sicilians commonly enjoy an aperitivo in the late afternoon and it’s definitely a good tradition to take part in - it is sort of the Italian answer to our Happy Hour. You might like to try a drink of distinctively Sicilian origin, such as Marsala, the famous dessert wine, or a glass of almond wine (the best is produced in Castelmola). Alternatively consider the non-alcoholic Sicilian alternative in the sweet crushed ice drink granita, a popular summer drink that you'll find in cafes and ice cream parlors.
For dinner you really can't look past Sicily's excellent seafood. Given this is an island you would expect a menu of anchovies, sardines, tuna, swordfish, crab, cuttlefish or mussels, and the restaurants do not disappoint. Sicilian meat dishes are equally good, perhaps particularly the chicken or veal (vitello) al marsala, cooked in sweet Marsala wine.
In case you've still got some space in your stomach you got to try one of the delicious desserts like almond pastries or cake. The light version would be some fresh fruit. And even if you think you have eaten enough for the next two days - ice cream always goes.
After dinner the best thing to wash it all down with is a strong caffè and a Limoncello or Amaro Siciliano.
And if you’ve made all this in one day, you’ll certainly sleep well. Have a good night!