One of my favorite things about Italian food is the rich regional variety. When we think of Italian food, most people think of pizza and pasta. But there is so much more! Because for a long time, Italy consisted of separate kingdoms, all regions developed somewhat individually. As a result, they vary in terms of language, architecture, culture and cuisine. Each region has its own specialities, developed from the available local produce.
Sicily, being an island, certainly went through its own culinary development. The food is Sicily was influenced by the volcanic landscape, occupations by foreign powers and international trade. Especially French and North African influences are clear. Sicilian food tends to be a bit richer and spicier.
I would say that Sicily has some of the best food in Italy. It’s humble, hearty and full of love and flavor. Sicilian don’t do subtlety, not in their culture and not in their food. So, if you’re planning a trip to Sicily, prepare to eat till you’re ready to burst. There are a few typical Sicilian dishes you absolutely have to try from my list of the best things to eat in Sicily:
Possibly the most famous Sicilian food is a sweet treat: cannoli. A cannolo is a fried piece of dough, rolled into a tube and filled with a sweet ricotta filling. The filling comes in all kinds of flavors, from vanilla and chocolate to pistachio and almond. There are even gelato filled ones! You can get small ones (like the one above) or cannoli the size of your hand. There is a cannolo for every occasion 😉
Cannoli were originally a Carnival treat from Palermo, but you can now enjoy them year round all over Italy. But the best are still made on the island, making it one of the most iconic things to eat in Sicily.
There is nothing better on a hot day in Sicily than a granita. Most people think of Italy as the land of gelato (which it is), but that’s not the only frozen treat they have. Granita is basically shaved ice, sort of like a slushie, but it is nothing like the bright blue chemical crap you may be familiar with.
Granita is made with fresh fruit juices, water and sugar. But there are also creamier versions with coffee, almonds and pistachio. Although the ingredients are the same, it is more grainy than a sorbet. In Sicily, granita is considered a drink rather than a dessert. My all-time favorite flavor is lemon, which is super tart and refreshing, made from those amazing Sicilian lemons. Traditional flavors are lemon, chocolate, almond, cinnamon and jasmine, but you can find them in all sorts of flavors now.
Pasta alla norma
If there is one dish Sicily is famous for, it is pasta alla norma. This simple, but hearty dish has become a beloved staple all over Italy (and beyond). And what’s not to love about a plate of pasta with spicy tomato sauce, soft chunks of eggplant, fresh basil and cheese?
If you like pasta alla norma, the traditional Sicilian version will blow your mind. Once you taste it exactly as it is meant to taste, there is no going back. This is truly one of the best things to eat in Sicily.
The best place to eat pasta alla norma is in Trattoria del Forestiero (where the above picture was taken). This is a traditional trattoria with exceptional Italian homecooking. Remember: the best food in Italy is always found in rundown little trattoria’s, not fancy restaurants. Don’t expect quick service, but do count on a relaxing, delicious and affordable meal.
This trattoria, run by a real Sicilian nonna and her family, serves pasta alla norma the way it is supposed to be made. With handrolled thick Sicilian maccheroni, which are shaped like long tubes where the sauce will get stuck in. The eggplant is baked in a lot of good quality olive oil to make it soft and scrumptious. The fresh tomato sauce is herby, zesty and a little spicy. Salted ricotta, not Parmesan cheese, is the finishing touch. I also highly recommend trying the caponata, another eggplant based Sicilian dish.
Technically, polpette are meatballs. But they are nothing like the meatballs you’re probably used to. I would say they’re more similar to the Dutch “bitterballen”. Polpette are made from slowcooked beef, not ground beef and the balls are breaded and fried.
Polpette are traditionally served as a side dish (never on spaghetti!), but also make for a great bar snack. The original polpette are beef, usually slow cooked shoulder or a similar cheap cut, but you find all sorts of fillings now. The Polpetteria in Catania has a wide array, ranging from different kinds of meat and fish to cheese and vegetable fillings. I highly recommend the eggplant parmigiano one, it’s delicious!
Arancini are a great example of the inventiveness of the Italian cuisine. Nothing goes to waste, but is instead used to create something new and delicious. Arancini are rice balls, but that doesn’t really do them justice.
Traditionally, they were made from leftover risotto and filled with any leftover meat, cheese, sauce and/or vegetables. They were shaped into cones, breaded and deep-fried. These days, arancini are so popular that the risotto is made specifically for this purpose, rather than use leftover rice. The soft, sticky risotto rice is perfect as it holds its shape very well. A good aracino is served still warm, crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. With velvety rice, flavorful sauce and chunks of meat/cheese/vegetables.
Although you’ll find aracini everywhere in Italy now, the Sicilian version is a large cone, rather than small balls. They are the perfect street food snack if you’re feeling peckisch. This fried little snack is one of the best things to eat in Sicily.
So, these are my favorite Sicilian dishes. But there are plenty more things to eat in Sicily. If you’re a foodie traveling to Italy, Sicily has to be on your list. The food here is unique and extremely flavorful. Bold, like the Sicilians themselves.
Did I miss any of your favorites? Let’s talk about Sicilian food in the comments.
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