By Stephanie Hua
There’s something about this sensuous island that makes its food so swoon-worthy. Perhaps it has something to do with the blazing Mediterranean sun, bronzing bodies all along the shoreline, or the sultry night breezes, or the lemon trees that perfume the air. Sicily makes you hungry. You find yourself diving into thick watermelon wedges, letting the juice run off your elbows. You feel the abundance of good olive oil nourishing your soul and making your skin supple. You feast deep into the night. And while the list of good eats to be had in Sicily is too long to name, here is a short list of five items you really can’t miss.
Arancini are essentially balls of creamy risotto rice, typically stuffed with cheese and meat, then breaded and fried to a golden crisp. They are the size and shape of an orange (or arancia) which is how they get their name, although sometimes they’re shaped into more of a cone shape. Traditionally, they are filled with melted cheese, some peas, and a tomato-based meat sugo, however, you can find interesting variations like ones stuffed with pistachio pesto, for example.
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Pistacchio di Bronte
Pistachios were first brought to Sicily in the 9th century when Arab conquerors ruled the land. Today, the area of Bronte in eastern Sicily, fertile from the volcanic soil of Mount Etna, is world-famous for producing what they call "green gold." You will see pistachios liberally used everywhere, flavoring gelato, granita, cookies, and pastries with their rich, nutty flavor. Keep an eye out for jars of savory pesto di pistacchio and sweet crema di pistachio in local grocery stores. They make a tasty souvenir—see that the label says "Pistacchio di Bronte" to be sure you’re getting the real thing. Ingredient labels will also often have the percentage of pistachio used, so the higher the better.
First, let’s get the lingo right so the locals respect you. It’s one cannolo, two cannoli. Capische? This iconic Sicilian pastry is said to have originated in Palermo and the area surrounding. The hallmark of a great cannolo is a fresh, crispy shell that crumbles into a mess when you bite it, and a ricotta cream filling that is decadent yet surprisingly light at the same time. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.
Granita e Brioche
Granita in Sicily is not like granita anywhere else. Sicilian granita is smooth and thick, like sorbet. It is more scoop-able than it is slurp-able. Creamy nut flavors like almond (mandorle) and pistachio (pistacchio) are popular, as are seasonal fruit flavors like strawberry (fragola) or mulberry (gelsi). A favorite local way to enjoy this icy treat? Why, sandwiched between a sweet buttery brioche of courseâ€¦for breakfast. Now that’s a breakfast sandwich.
Frutti di Mare
You are surrounded by the sea, which means you must indulge in the plentiful fruits of the sea. Go early to the fish markets and gawk at the catch of the day. And then get your mangia on. Dine like a Sicilian and try some marinated sardines, progress to succulent mussels over linguine, and sink your teeth into some meaty swordfish.
Stephanie Hua is a writer and photographer based in San Francisco. Her food blog, Lick My Spoon, chronicles her culinary adventures and love for all things delicious.
Photo Credits: Courtesy Stephanie Hua