Palermo- both the capital of Sicily and of street food in Italy. It’s a city where street food culture is a proud, longstanding Palermitan tradition borne out of necessity and scarcity.
Palermo is the world’s most conquered city- the Phoenicians of North Africa, the Greeks, Normans, Romans, Arabs, they’ve all ruled here. The island didn’t in fact join the Kingdom of Italy until 1851 so the food culture is one of the most unique in Italy- a reflection of the diverse cultures that have occupied this land. You’ll find the use of clove, saffron, raisins, pine nuts and nutmeg in traditional Sicilian dishes, Palermitans love nose to tail eating, and there is a strong street food culture. In short, if you love to eat, you’ll feel right at home. Here are a few Palermitan favourites to get you started:
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1. Frittola at Ballaro Market
It’s not everyone’s idea of a great breakfast but there’s no denying frittola has many fans. It’s essentially scraps leftover from the slaughter of calves- think cartilage, tendon, offal and the like, boiled and then fried in lard. We know it doesn’t sound overly appealing but the hoards of hungry locals that jostle around the stall at Ballaro Market are testament to its deliciousness.
It’s a mysterious street food. Look out for a giant covered basket- the contents of which are concealed beneath a cloth to keep the heat in. The vendor will reach in, grab a handful of the hot frittola and serve it up on a plate with lemon and pepper or stuff it into a bread roll for easy eating. It’s a lucky dip of texture- gelatinous tendon, slightly crunchy cartilage, tender tripe and very rich (that’d be the lard). We’ve never felt happier- standing by the stall, wolfing into a plate of warm frittola as the vendor shouts “mancia mancia”, “eat, eat”- it’s the ultimate street food experience.
Eat at: Ballaro Market, Via Ballaro, 1, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy. Open daily 7:30am to late afternoon. Arrive in the morning for frittola as it sells out quickly.
2. Granita at Caffetteria del Corso
One of Palermo’s most popular sweets is granita- a semi-frozen dessert made up of sugar, water and flavourings. It’s said that hundreds of years ago people would ascend into the mountains to get ice, which they would bring down into the villages to make granita. It isn’t as arduous a task now but it pays to know that not all granita are made equal. Make a beeline for Caffetteria del Corso, owned by Pino, a charming gentleman who makes his granita using natural ingredients.
The fruit granita are intense and vibrant- ask Pino for a combination of peach, strawberry and lemon or if you’re visiting in the morning, start your day like the locals do with a coffee granita and brioche- and always order it with pana (cream). The coffee granita delivers a sharp bitter kick which is mellowed by the piles of softly whipped cream and dusting of sweet chocolate powder. It’s quite simply, magic.
Eat at: Caffetteria del Corso, Via Vittorio Emanuele, 370, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy. Open Monday to Saturday 6:30am to 7:30pm and Sunday 6:30am to 12:30pm.
3. Arancine at I Cuochini
Said to have originated in the 10thcentury during Arab rule in Sicily, arancine are one of the island’s most famous foods. A crumbed and deep fried ball of risotto rice cooked in ragu- they make a great snack, or a meal even as some are about the size of a small orange (it’s where their name comes from too as they are said to resemble little arancia or oranges). We love the ones at I Cuochini- a hole in the wall joint that’s been churning out mini arancine since 1826. The classic ragu version features tender grains of rice cooked in a robust, tangy, tomato based meat sauce.
Eat at: I Cuochini, Via Ruggero Settimo, 68, 90139 Palermo PA, Italy. Open Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 2:30pm.
4. Sfincione at Panificio Graziano
Some might call the sfincione a Sicilian pizza or a Sicilian focaccia to which natives of the island would vehemently argue that it is its own distinct dish. What we know for certain is that you can’t leave Palermo without eating it. The name sfincione is derived from the Latin and Greek words for sponge because the dough absorbs the tomato, anchovy, onion, oregano, breadcrumbs and caciocavallo cheese topping as it bakes.
You’ll see sfincione vendors on the streets of Palermo and in the markets but the best version we ate was from Panificio Graziano. This local bakery produces a sfincione which you’ll be thinking about, weeks, months, even years after you’ve eaten it. The sfinicione is soft and pillowy, the tomato topping tangy and sweet with a hit of umami from the anchovy and caciocavallo. We guarantee you’ll devour a slab and immediately order a second one.
Eat at: Panificio Graziano, Via del Granatiere, 11/13, 90143 Palermo PA, Italy. Open Monday to Saturday 7:00am to 3:15pm and 4:30pm to 9:30pm.
5. Pane e panella at Friggitoria Chiluzzo
One of the most beloved street foods in the city is panella- deep fried chickpea fritters, another vestige of Palermo’s past. They’re about as fuss free as it gets- chickpea flour, water, parsley, salt and pepper whipped into a batter, left to set and then deep fried. They can be eaten on their own but we like ours stuffed into a bread roll together with crocche- little potato croquettes. Eat them at Friggitoria Chiluzzo, a family run stall who do a roaring trade in these Sicilian favourites.
Eat at: Friggitoria Chiluzzo, Piazza della Kalsa, 11, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy. Open daily 8:00am to 5:00pm.
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