Typical Palermo table setting

Palermo Food: A pleasure trip through Palermo cuisine

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Did you know? Palermo has more to offer than the typical Italian dishes such as lasagne, pizza or spaghetti. Don't worry, you can also order these delicacies in top quality at every corner of the city - Italian cuisine is rightly known all over the world for this. But in this article, we'll prepare your taste buds for the local cuisine and give you some tasty tips. Hai appetito? Well then: a Tavola.  

This is what you can expect in this article:

  1. The reason why we Palermitans always talk about food

  2. These influences can be found in Sicilian cuisine

  3. Cucina regionale: ingredients straight from the island    

  4. Typical Sicilian dishes

  5. Our top 5 Palermo restaurant tips

  6. Palermo Street Food 

  7. Our Top Street Food Market Palermo Tips

  8. Sicilian sweets and desserts

  9. Typical drinks in Palermo

  10. At the end of your food journey

Ciao, I'm Adriana.

I am a host at BnB Dolcevita and I hope you enjoy my article about Palermo food. It is part of our Palermo travel guide.  More about us!

Host Adriana

The reason why we Palermitans always talk about food

Mangiare! Mangiare! Mangiare! If you spend a day with a Palermitan family, you will notice that food is the dominant topic of conversation. While we are still dining, the next meal is already up for family debate. But why does food have such an importance in Palermo?

 

Since the city was founded by the Phoenicians around 800 BC, many changes of rulers have taken place. For the capitals, the ritual of eating and being with loved ones has always meant a bit of security in all these uncertain times.

 

Even though the islanders may not have had any influence on the current political situation, they were always able to firmly plan the meal together with the family. This connection between food and family reliability has been deeply etched into our Sicilian soul for centuries. So: we eat well and with pleasure. And what exactly - we will show you in a moment. 

The Rusignuolo family at a Palermo meal

Insights into the family dinner of the Parlermitan Rusignuolo family. Here the Nonna still cooks herself. Photo:  © Robin Marx - BnB Dolcevita

These influences are found in Sicilian cuisine

The island's turbulent history with its many changes of rulers is also a reason why Sicilian cuisine is very versatile. The Greeks brought olives, ricotta, honey and wine to the island, the Romans ice cream and the Arabs rice, citrus fruits, new spices, sugar, almonds and marzipan.

 

The preparation of fish was adopted by the Normans and vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergines and peppers came to the island with the Spanish, as did the knowledge of how to make chocolate. The closeness to the African continent is not only felt in Sicily's climate, it can also be seen on the menu. For example, there are many different types of couscous on the island.

 

The greatest influence on Palermo's food was the Arabs, who, with the introduction of rice, laid the foundation for the now popular rice balls called arancini, for example. We'll come back to these rice oranges later.

Fish market stall in Palermo

Fish market stall in Palermo

Photo: © Animaflora PicsStock – stock.adobe.com

Cucina regionale: Ingredients directly from the island

Pasta, fish and sweets, that's how Sicilian cuisine is often described in a simplified way, but that doesn't do justice to the diversity of what's on offer. Besides the influences of foreign cultures, Sicilian cuisine is characterised by the rich yields of its own agriculture, such as olives, lemons, peppers, artichokes, tomatoes or aubergines. Durum wheat is also grown on the island, which is used to make pasta.

 

A large number of home-grown kitchen herbs such as basil, but also almonds, pistachios or pine nuts also find their way from the local farms into the local cooking pots and are used both to refine local dishes and for the many colourful desserts and pastries. In addition, many wild plants and herbs such as fennel or capers are used as ingredients by the locals. 

In Sicily, fish is also more important than meat. Tuna, swordfish, anchovies, sardines and numerous crustaceans are among the most popular varieties, which are served freshly prepared, but also preserved in olive oil, smoked or dried. Small fish are often found on the plate as a deep-fried side dish to other dishes. When it comes to meat dishes, lamb or pork are very popular with the Palermitans. 

Our tip:

Be sure to visit at least one of the city's three famous markets: "Mercato Vucciria", "Mercato Ballaro" or "Mercato del Capo". Taste the intense flavours of the fresh ingredients directly at the farmers' stalls. You will literally taste the Mediterranean sun on your tongue. You can find detailed information about the markets in our article "Palermo Markets" in the section "Palermo Sights". 

Fruit and vegetable stall at Il Capo market

Fruit and vegetable stall at the Mercato il Capo

Photo: ©  Peter Adams/Danita Delimont – stock.adobe.com

Our list of the many island treasures is coming to an end, but it would not be complete without the first-class cheeses produced specifically in Sicily. First and foremost, ricotta and pecorino siciliano. Ricotta is typically found in the filling of creamy desserts.

 

Pecorino in its young and soft form is often used as a substitute for the otherwise popular mozzarella in Italy, while the riper and spicier version of pecorino often replaces grated Parmesan. There! Enough with the head-scratching of ingredients. Let's take a look at what the Palermitans conjure up from it.   

Pasta with grated pecorino siciliano

As a substitute for parmesan, pecorino siciliano is often grated in Sicily

Photo: © myviewpoint – stock.adobe.com

Typical Sicilian dishes

Pasta con le Sarde

Pasta con le Sarde is pasta with fried sardines, fennel, saffron and sultanas. The dish originated in the 10th century under Arabic, Mediterranean and Italian influences and has continued to be popular in subsequent centuries because of its unique fishy flavour.

 

It still represents the intersection of different cultures. In many places, the dish is garnished with toasted bread crumbs and pine nuts, giving it a toasty, al dente flavour. Our tip: Ask the waiter for bread crumbs and a slightly spicy garlic oil. Simply delicious.   

Also recommended is "sarde beccafico", another traditional sardine dish, where the sardines are stuffed with sultanas, parsley, pine nuts and anchovies. 

Pasta with fried sardines, fennel, saffron and sultanas

Photo: © denio109 / Shutterstock.com

Cous Cous di Pesce

An oriental dish that is traditionally prepared in the area around Trapani is cous cous di pesce or Trapani-style couscous. With this dish, the proximity to North Africa and Morocco can be felt on the tongue.  The couscous is prepared in a "couscoussiera", a terracotta-coloured pot with a floral pattern, and then seasoned with a delicious fish stock. While in the North African areas the couscous is combined with meat and vegetables, the Sicilian version adds fresh fish from the Mediterranean. 

Plate with Cous Cous di Pesce

Photo: © marco mayer / Shutterstock.com

Parmigiana di Melanzane

If you read Melanzane on a menu and don't know what it means, just build yourself a mnemonic and think of how melancholy the mood would be if a dish with aubergines were missing. You can derive the other part of the name by thinking of Parmesan cheese (Italian: parmigiano) and you'll come up with the aubergine vegetable casserole.

Ok, the comparison from just now is a bit lame, as the term "alla parmigiana" refers to the slicing of vegetables and not the cheese. But now you have a food bridge. 

 

Delicious and elaborate to prepare, parmigiana melanzane originated in Sicilian cuisine and was invented in the early 18th century after Arab traders introduced tomatoes and aubergines to Sicily from America and Asia. It is prepared with spicy grilled aubergine slices, basil, mozzarella, tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese (Ital. parmigiano). Mhh: Simply delicious.

Plate with Parmigiana di Melanzane

Photo: © Tony Glamshot – stock.adobe.com

Caponata

The aubergine, introduced from Asia in the 17th century and sun-ripened in the south, is also the protagonist in caponata. In the sweet and sour vegetable mix, onions and garlic are first stewed over low heat to release the mild sweetness of the onions. A little extra sugar is added to caramelise the mixture, which is then deglazed with a dash of sour vinegar. This basic base is called "agrodolce" and is used as a base for various dishes in Sicily.

 

In the caponata, the aubergines now come into play. They are previously sprinkled with salt and placed in water for hours. They are diced and fried. For the final braising, diced, skinned tomatoes and pieces of celery are added. This Sicilian vegetable revelation is ready to be served cold with bread as a starter or as a warm side dish with fish and pasta.

Pot with caponata

Photo: © gkrphoto – stock.adobe.com

Anelletti al forno alla siciliana

Anelletti al forno alla sicilia is a casserole topped with mozzarella cheese and made with ring-shaped pasta, aubergines, minced meat sauce and peas.

Casserole dish with  Anelletti al forno alla siciliana

Photo: © Antonino D'Anna – stock.adobe.com

Our Top 5 Palermo Restaurant Tips

Where can you eat well in Palermo? Which are the best restaurants? Which pizzeria is recommended? Here are our insider tips:

Restaurant.jpg

Gagini
Restaurant

Via dei Cassari, 35,

90133 Palermo PA,

https://www.gaginirestaurant.com/

Palermo Street Food

Street Food Stand in Palermo

Photo: © radiokafka – stock.adobe.com

Up to this point, the dishes we have shown you still bore a resemblance to the typical Italian dishes you know. That will now change. Palermo also stands for street food. Forbes lists the city as the 5th street food capital of the world. It is the only Italian city in the top 10.

 

In Palermo's alleyways, at markets or simply on the roadsides, numerous mobile stalls on wheels tempt you with various street food dishes. These mobile snack bars, with a range of food that can be sampled quickly and on the go, have been around for centuries and are an inseparable part of the cityscape.

 

Meanwhile, many of the traditional street dishes have found their way onto restaurant menus. Typical of Palermo is the aroma of the gastropubs that permeates the city's alleys and paves the way to the delicacies. The diversity of Palermo's street food can only be described to a limited extent in a single article. In the following, we show you Palermo's best-known street food specialities.

Arancini

Arancini - Sicilian rice balls - are probably the most popular street food to satisfy your hunger in between meals. How the golden-brown and crispy balls with soft filling got their name is obvious. In German, "Arancini" means "little oranges" and indeed the "little oranges made of rice" are reminiscent of citrus fruits because of their colour and shape.

Arancini are of Arabic origin and are an integral part of traditional Sicilian cuisine. They are saffron rice balls breaded with flour, deep-fried in oil and filled with various ingredients. The most classic filling, "Arrancini siciliani", consists of some cheese and a Sicilian ragú, made of minced veal, olive oil, onions, carrots and peas, embedded in a fruity tomato sauce.

 

Another popular filling is "Arrancini bianchi", a "ham and pea and cheese" filling that can also contain a béchamel sauce instead of cheese. Newer variations, such as the meatless "mozaralla spinach" filling, have also become part of the street vendors' offerings. But they all have three ingredients in common: Rice, filling and breading. In Palermo, arancini are eaten at any time of day and are an absolute must for every Palermo holidaymaker.

Sicilian rice balls Arrancini on a plate

Photo: © Nelea Reazanteva – stock.adobe.com

Panelle

Panelle are small patties baked in hot rapeseed oil and made from a dough consisting of chickpea flour, water and spices such as parsley. The slices, which resemble cutlets, are prepared on the street by the so-called panellari and served in a white flour bun, but you can also get them in a restaurant on a plate without a bun. 

This classic street food was invented in Palermo between the 9th and 11th centuries by the North African Moors as they experimented with the basic ingredients available in the Mediterranean. 
With panelle, they found a simple and well-filling dish for the general, poorer population. Later, panelle also became a popular dish for the aristocratic class.

 

Today they are trendier than ever because they are vegan and gluten-free and therefore fit perfectly into the urban zeitgeist of young people. The choice is yours: try the panelle pure or season them with a little salt and pepper or enjoy them with some fresh lemon juice. Just the way you like it

Panelle in a bun

Photo: Dedda71Pane e panelle, Excerpt from RM, CC BY 3.0

Pani câ meusa

Even for real meat lovers, eating one of the most famous street food delicacies, pani ca meusa, takes a little effort. But those who dare will not be disappointed. The pana ca meusa is chopped veal lung and spleen in a soft white flour bun.

 

It was invented by the Parlermitan Jews in the Middle Ages. They worked as butchers for the better society and were not allowed to eat their offal themselves for religious reasons. 

The spleen roll is prepared in the streets of Palermo by the so-called meusari and served with salt and lemon or with cheese.The spleen is cut into thin slices, boiled and then fried in clarified butter. This simple variation is called "schettu", single. If you order the married one, "maritatu", you get the spleen roll with cheese.  

The spleen roll pani ca meusa

Photo: © Álvaro Germán Vilela – stock.adobe.com

Stigghiola

With the stigghiola, the street grillers offer another speciality aimed at true meat lovers. These are roasted intestine skewers of lamb or goat. The intestines are washed in salt water, wrapped around a spring onion and parsley, grilled and seasoned with salt and lemon. Stigghiola are prepared by the stigghiolari in the streets of Palermo.

 

If you want to know whether a barbecue has stigghiola on offer, all you have to do is look out for a stronger smoke development, which occurs because the fat that increasingly escapes from the skewers evaporates on the barbecue. It is an experience worth seeing when the stigghiolaro spread pork fat on the grill to signal with the white smoke that the grilling can start - True to the motto "Habemus Stigghiola". 

Gut skewers Stigghiola on a grill

Photo: © Gandolfo Cannatella – stock.adobe.com

Frittola

Frittola are prepared by the Frittolani. They are calf giblets that are cooked at a high temperature together with the bones, cartilage and pieces of meat of the calf and then squeezed. The giblets are then deep-fried in clarified butter and served on paper, with a little salt and pepper. As is so often the case with street food specialities, the Palermitans add a lemon.

Polpo bollito

For many, it is considered a delicate highlight of the Palermo street food scene: the boiled octopus. After cooking, it is cut into small pieces and served with a squeeze of lemon and parsley. The dish is a typical traditional street food, but is now found on just about every menu in Palermo's restaurants. While it is served plain in the street food markets, it can be tasted in different variations and dishes in the restaurants.  

Cooked squid at a stall in Palermo

Polpo is freshly prepared in the city's markets

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Frittura al cartoccio

If you're into seafood, you'll never be disappointed in Palermo, and if you can't or won't decide on a variety, just order a cartoccio. This is a bag of deep-fried seafood made from calamari, prawns and small squid, served with - you guessed it - a slice of lemon. 

Tüte mit frittierten Meeresfrüchten

Foto: © travnikovstudio – stock.adobe.com

Crocché di patate (cazzilli)

Crocchè di Patate are basically Sicilian potato croquettes known in Palermo as "cazzilli". The croquettes are prepared by mashing cooked potatoes into a puree and mixing with chopped parsley. In many places, chopped mint and pieces of garlic are added to the basic mixture, which is then rounded off with salt and pepper.

From the basic mass, pieces are formed into the typical elongated croquette shape with the hands and fried in hot oil. The croquettes are offered at the stands as a side dish, but also served in a roll, similar to the falaffel. In combination with the rich fish offer, croccé di patate are the Sicilian equivalent of the British fish n chips offer. 

Bowl of Sicilian potato croquettes

Photo: © Angela M. Benivegna / Shutterstock.com

Sfincione

Sfincione are small and rather simple pizza tongue twisters made of fluffy soft yeast dough. They are often eaten as breakfast by Palermitans after the first espresso, but are suitable at any time of day and are classified as street food. Traditionally, the small pieces of pizza are topped with tomato sauce, onions and anchovies, cheese and oegano. 

stacked pieces of pizza on a wooden board

Photo: © Claudio Rampinini / Shutterstock.com

Unsere Top Street Food Market Palermo Tipps 

Want to know where the best street food addresses are in Palermo? We'll tell you. Nevertheless, we recommend that you don't choose one location, but take a street food market tour. Each market has its own specialities and peculiarities to offer and it is worth discovering them at the different markets and stalls:   

Frau am Stand vom Vucciria Markt

La Vucciria

Via dei Frangiai 50

90133 Palermo

We have written an article about the markets in Palermo with detailed info. Click here for the article "Palermo Markets

Sicilian sweets and desserts

Display of Sicilian desserts

Photo by Valentina Locatelli on Unsplash

Have you satisfied your hunger? Good, then let's move on to dessert. For centuries, elaborately made and lavishly decorated sweets and desserts have played a major role in Sicilian food culture. In the past, these were mainly made and sold in the monasteries and primarily for clergy and nobles.

Nowadays, they are offered in large quantities, especially for church holidays as well as family celebrations. But you don't have to wait for a church holiday or marry into a Palermo family to enjoy the colourful sweet taste buds

 

In Palermo's pastry shops, huge mountains of almond, pistachio and pine pastries, ricotta-filled pastry rolls and marzipan fruits, so-called frutti della martorana, pile up for daily consumption. Below, we present the most popular desserts you should try in Palermo - provided your scale agrees:

Cannolo con Ricotta

They adorn the windows of every café in Palermo: Cannolo con Ricotta. This is a pastry rolled around a "cannolo" (tube) and deep-fried with a creamy ricotta filling. The filling consists of different ingredients. You can typically get cannolo with vanilla, cocoa, chocolate chips or even candied fruit.

 

We can't answer the question of where to find the best cannoli. Every Palermo resident has his or her own answer. Just try your way through the city's colourful and sweet delicacies. You can't go wrong.

Brioche con gelato

If you are walking through Palermo and you notice people eating ice cream straight from a fluffy milk roll, it is not because they have run out of cups, the "brioche con gelato" is part of the tradition and often replaces lunch. In the morning for breakfast, the milk roll is also very popular, but is then served separately with a granita. 

Milk roll with pistachio ice cream

This is what a milk roll filled with pistachio ice cream looks like in Palermo

Photo: © Robin Marx – BnB Dolcevita

Our tip:

Ice cream in Sicily is incomparably good. No wonder: ice cream was invented in Palermo. There are many good flavours and tastes vary. At this point, however, we recommend that you definitely try a pistachio ice cream with pistachios from Raffadali (Pistacchio di Raffadali). The high content of local pistachios in the ice cream gives it its world-famous intense flavour. 

Cassata Siciliana

Caution, now there is a danger of addiction for those with a sweet tooth. Cassata Siciliana is a Sicilian layer cake in the baroque style that was originally only made in monasteries and manor houses and was only served at Easter or weddings. In Palermo, however, you can nibble on the delicious dessert all year round.

In the cassata, a ricotta sugar cream is alternately layered with a sponge cake and covered with a sugar or chocolate cream icing. Candied fruit, marzipan or a coloured sugar icing serve as its decoration. Depending on the recipe and where it is prepared, the cassata is enhanced with other ingredients such as pistachios, dark chocolate, cinnamon or orange liqueur. 

Sicilian layer cake in baroque style

Photo: © fotogiunta / Shutterstock.com

Typical drinks in Palermo 

Caffè

Like pizza and pasta, caffè is an inseparable part of the Italian way of life. In the 16th century, the drink was brought to Europe from its place of origin, the Kingdom of Kaffa, via Oriental traders. The Catholic Church initially rejected the hot drink on the grounds that it was invented by the devil. Nevertheless, it subsequently caught on with the Italians and found its way to Palermo.

When you order a Caffè in Palermo, you automatically get an espresso from the portafilter machine. Dark, thick and intensely strong in flavour - that's how the Palermitans love their black gold. That's why the initially green beans are roasted particularly dark. Roasting increases the proportion of bitter substances and reduces the proportion of acid and caffeine, which means that the coffee not only tastes stronger but is also more digestible than filter coffee.

Typically, the islanders take their morning espresso standing up and right at the counter of a café - crowded together with other frahling lovers. After their morning refreshment, and without lingering long, they escape into the hustle and bustle of the city to jump into life.

Our tip 1:

In one of the oldest roasting houses in the city, the "Torrefazione Ideal Caffè Stagnitta", wonderful coffee blends have been created for several generations. Here you can buy great souvenirs to take home and try classic varieties as well as more unusual ones like "Kopi Luwak".

Address and opening hours

Mon - Sat: 08:00 - 19:00 

Antica Torrefazione Ideal Caffè Stagnitta

Discesa dei Giudici 42

90133 Palermo

Our tip 2:

In Palermo, you will usually look in vain for filter coffee. However, if you prefer a large, classic coffee, simply order a "caffee americano" and you will get an espresso diluted with water.   

Espresso in a blue cup

Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Wine

Due to its geographical location, wine is one of Palermo's favourite drinks. The capital of Sicily is located in one of the most famous wine-growing areas in the world. The soil conditions and climate are ideal for growing vines, which produce the most diverse varieties. The occasions on which wine is drunk in Palermo are also very diverse:

The light white and rosé wines with a maximum alcohol content of 12 percent can be served during the day. They complement pasta, fish and poultry dishes in particular. The somewhat heavier red wines are reserved for the evening hours, where they harmonise wonderfully with grilled or roasted food. But Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Nero d'Avola or Perricone are also very popular as "connoisseur's wines"..

Sicilian Wine Growing Area

Sicilian vineyard with black and white grapes. 

Photo: © Alessandro Di Giugno / Shutterstock.com

Dessert wines

In addition, various dessert wines are popular in Palermo, which are also produced in Sicily and have characteristic sweetness. These include Malvasia delle Lipari and the world-famous Marsala; but also the lesser-known Vino di mandorle, an almond-based wine that tastes best when well chilled.

Two glasses of dessert wine with pastries

Zahlreiche Dessertweine wie der Marsala werden in Palermo gerne getrunken

Foto: © Yulia Grigoryeva / Shutterstock.com

Limoncello

Another typical drink for Sicily's capital is limoncello - a fruity lemon liqueur that is served as a digestif or used as an ingredient in desserts. One of the most famous recipes in this regard is the variation of the classic tiramisù to the version "limoncino", in which Marsala or Amaretto are replaced by limoncello.

Limoncello is served with the Limoncino

Photo: © Marina – stock.adobe.com

Amaro Siciliano

At the end of a sumptuous meal - but also to cheer themselves up in between - the people of Palermo like to order an Amaro Siciliano. The bittersweet herbal liqueur tastes mainly of oranges and liquorice, but also brings out various herbal aromas. To intensify the individual notes, innkeepers serve it with orange or lemon slices or with a stalk of mint, rosemary or sage.

Sicilian bitter liqueur with ice and lemon

Der Amaro, ein beliebter Bitterlikör auf Sizilien

Photo by Adam Jaime on Unsplash

At the destination of your pleasure trip

Done. Our mental eating expedition has come to a successful end. We review it once more and reminisce about fresh ingredients, deep-fried delicacies and sweet treats. Mhh, was - that - good! And while we are stroking our full bellies, we are already talking animatedly - in typical Palermo fashion - about the next trip to San Mangiare. But then, not online but live and in colour. 

View of Palermo from the roof of the Cathedral

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