How to eat your way through Palermo
In Palermo, the saying goes ‘non si può togliere dalla bocca’ and literally means ‘you cannot take it out of your mouth’. Before you get the wrong idea, the Palermitans are talking about food, a sacred part of Sicilian culture and the best way to discover it. So, here’s how to eat your way through Palermo…
When in Palermo, do as the Palermitans do, right? Well, if there is one thing to know about breakfast anywhere in Italy, it’s that a cappuccino becomes criminal once the clock strikes eleven. If you want to blend in with local life, an espresso will be your disguise – and in order to keep up appearances, you’ll need to drink another half a dozen throughout the day.
Nestled on a corner of Piazza Garibaldi, named after the republican general who unified Italy in 1861, Café del Professore is a hive of life. Enjoy a cornetto (croissant) filled with sweet ricotta, chocolate or pistachio cream as old men smoke on their pipes and young ones arrive on their mopeds for their first coffee of the day. This is not only the perfect place to start your day, but to end it with an Aperol Spritz or Forst – the local beer with strangely Germanic roots – at the end of it, served with token patatine (crisps). The piazza hosts a flea market every Sunday to peruse after your caffeine fix. The vintage clothes stall, Vintage Berlin, has some of the best finds – I can say that from experience.
The Sicilian capital is compact, but walking around the Centro Storico is sure to work up an appetite. And if lunch were a coin, these places would be two very different sides of it…
Found opposite the Botanical Gardens and just round the corner from the Foro d’Italico, Rosa e Nero is more than just a spot for lunch – it’s a world in itself. You’re hungry? Look to your left and choose from pasta, arancine (deep fried rice balls), parmigiana (a traditional aubergine dish), gelato, cannoli or any of the specials Luca is serving that day. You’re thirsty? Look to your right, and you’ll find the bar. You’re after debaucheries? Look straight ahead at the tobacconist where you can buy tickets to see the football team this place is named after, peeling round to the back to make a bet on who will win. Expect lots of shouting and gesticulation.
Perhaps it’s a panino you pang for, after having one at St’Orto, sandwiches will never seem the same again. Choose from mozzarella, scamoza (smoked cheese), mortadella (cured ham), stracciatella, pomodori secchi (sundried tomatoes), tapenade, coppa (another cured ham), fresh pesto and avocado served in a golden crusted bread – literally, they put turmeric in it. This sophisticated café became a staple of mine, serving what proved itself to be the best Spritz in town with live music to enjoy once the sun is down. Whilst it may be in the heart of the old town, this café is truly cosmopolitan.
In Sicily, lo snack (yes, snack) is an institution in itself. Steeped in Street Food, it’s hard to resist panelle (chickpea fritters), crocchè (croquettes) and sfincione (thick, sicilian pizza), and even harder still to turn down a traditional gelato e brioche (gelato served in a sweet brioche).
But who makes them? Well, when one thinks of Italy, one may think of a Nonna cooking in a red and white apron. When one goes to Palermo, one can find exactly that. Wander through Il Capo market for an arancina with a side of panelle made fresh in La Cucina di Arianna. Be sure to order an arancina though, not an arancino you’re in Palermo, not Catania.
As for gelato, Brioscia in Politeama has customers queueing out the door for a taste of its artisanal ice cream. With a motto like ‘A noi piace farlo davanti a tutti’ (we like to make it for everyone to see) you can trust that only the finest, natural ingredients are used for this traditional gelato. The ‘maestri di gelato’ (masters of gelato), don’t scrimp on size, so be prepared to rise to the challenge.
There’s a reason why Italians eat late…their appetite needs to regenerate after all they have eaten during the day!
If you want a pizza, there is only one place for it – Frida Pizzeria. Named after and decorated in honour of Frida Kahlo, it’s hard to get a table here any day of the week, and that’s because of its quadris. These ‘paintings’ are not of The Two Fridas – they are the pizzeria’s pièce de resistance, square in shape and stuffed through the crust with the toppings of your chosen pizza. This restaurant truly takes the art of pizza making to a whole new level. For a swankier evening, try BALATA for a ‘Sicilian Experience’. With floor to ceiling windows and minimalist interior, this is the kind of place where you want to ask for the wine list, knowing full well that you will order the house. Indulge in a full four course meal of antipasti, primi (pasta), secondi (meat or fish) and some dolci (dessert) to feel like King Roger II. Look him up, this isn’t a history lesson.
Like the perfect drink, this section is short and sweet.
Taverna Azzura: it may as well be a historical monument. Grab a beer for one euro and dance in Vucciria market until the early hours.
Malox: a hidden treasure. Not only the bar, but its chief bartender: your wish is his command. Tell him what you like, and he will conjure a cocktail tailored to your tastebuds.
Garibaldi’s: a drinkeria that sits on either side of a cobbled street. Get a glass of wine at the bar and hobble to the lounge room they have taken straight out of the 60s. On a weekend, you’ll be struggling for air.
Ferramenta: who doesn’t love a wine bar? Take a stool at Ferramenta and await your sommelier, who will help you find a good bottle for your student budget.
La Rinascente: Palermo is best seen from a rooftop, so take a lift to the top of this department store and recline with a drink of your choice. Be warned, it’s pricey, so maybe just stay for one.