Palermo street food: A finger licking guide!
Written in collaboration with Andrea Torcivia
Palermo cannot be understood without its food. The smell, the flavours, the local vendors screaming to entice locals and tourists alike. Also, Palermo cannot be experience without it, regardless of whether you’ve decided to indulge in the food or not, as it is omnipresent in the city. Nothing could be more representative of the city’s spirit than Palermo’s street food. Wandering through the city you’ll stumble upon a stall, a bar, a chariot selling sfincione (more below) or one of the thousands gelaterie every couple of meters. Just give in, it is a battle you’re bound to lose, trust me.
Developed through the millennia – the city boast over 3500 years of history – Palermo street food is a mirror of the city’s soul: Joyful, flavourful, heavy, in your face. From rice balls filled with ragout meat (her majesty, the Arancina), bread stuffed with pork’ entrails and cheese (Pani câ Meusa), or sweet fried dough filled with sweetened ricotta (Cannoli), Palermo street food will capture you – and add a few pounds to your waistline.
Also, did I mention to you that in the latest Forbes’ ranking of the best cities in the world for street food Palermo is the highest European city listed, ranking n.5?
But even more important than its amazing taste, you’ll learn that wandering through the street food stalls that dot Palermo, is a journey through the history of the city and its many conquerors. Tag along and you’ll hear a most delicious tale.
If your journey to Sicily does not take you to Palermo, do not fret! These delicious dishes can be found in even the smallest villages in Sicily, though perhaps a little less tasty than in downtown Palermo.
Meat-based Palermo street food
Arancine (with an -e!)
I couldn’t’ start this list with anything but her Majesty the Arancina, the queen of Palermo street food, a fist-size fried rice ball (the name means small orange, but trust me it has nothing small!) that is so much more than simply food in Palermo. It’s almost a cult, with its faction disputing almost everything: Better with meat ragout (arancine a canne) or with butter and ham (arancine a burro)? Should the new flavours (e.g. Salmon, Mushroom, Sausage, etc…) be admitted or not? And most importantly their name: Arancine are in fact at the centre of a huge feud between the Western part of Sicily and the Eastern one, where they’re called Arancino (with an -o). However, everyone can see that this amazing food is inspired by the fruit (aranci-A) and not by the tree (aranci-O), so we know who’s right… right?
Best Arancine in Palermo
Bar Alba (Piazza Don Bosco, 7/c, 90143 Palermo PA) or for the Arancine Bomba: Touring Cafè Beach (Viale Regina Elena, 17, 90151 Palermo PA)
Pani câ Meusa (Bread with spleen)
At its heart, Palermo street food is poor man cuisine, making the best of all ingredients (especially left-overs). So it comes as no surprise that entrails play a central role. The most famous recipe that leverages these less-used parts is known as Pani câ Meusa in Sicilian, Pane con la Milza in Italian or simply bread with spleen. This typical Palermitan delicatessen consists of soft bread topped with sesame, stuffed with chopped veal lung and spleen which have been boiled and then fried in lard. There are two versions of it, Schietta (single) or Maritata (married): the former is the “simple” one described above with some lemon added, the latter has a white layer of ricotta added resembling a bridal gown (hence the name). The easiest way to try a Pani câ Meusa is from one of the street vendors or at the historical markets of Palermo, “La Vucciria” an “Ballaro’”
Best Pani câ Meusa in Palermo
Porta Carbone (Via Cala, 62, 90133 Palermo PA)
The term rosticceria is widely used on the entire Italian peninsula, usually it refers to a shop where ready-to-consume dishes (e.g. pasta, meat, vegetables) are sold. In Palermo however the term is used to described any kind of pastry – either oven-baked or, more often, fried – that Palermitans of all walks of life snack or dine on, at any hour of the day, literally: It is common to see a crowd of youngsters on their motorbike chewing on pezzi di rosticceria at 3 or 4am after a night on the town. Describing exactely what rosticceria is in Palermo makes for an impossible task – there are just too many different types. It truly is a veritable mix of the best Palermo street food. From Arancine, to Rollo con Wurstel (brioche pastry filled with wurstel), the Spiedino (triangular fried bread filled with meat ragout and cheese) to the mythical Ravazzata (round brioche pastry filled with ragout and with a piece of mozzarella on top), the list goes on and on – you would be really hard-pressed to choose your favourite!
Best place to eat rosticceria in Palermo
La Romanella (Via Giacomo Leopardi, 90144 Palermo PA)
Vegetarian friendly Palermo street food
« Chi ciavuru, ‘u pitittu ti fazzu rapiri » (Such a good smell, I’ll make you hungry!) is the battlecry of every Sfincionaro that roams the streets of Palermo’s historical centre. But what is it that they’re encouraging you to buy? Sfincione – although a staple in Palermo’s street food scene – might resembles a pizza to the uninitiated, in which its made up of a similar (but thicker) dough. However, ask any Palermitan and they’ll dismiss this idea. Sfincione stands by itself: Its typical ingredients are tomatoes sauce, (a lot of) onions, sardines, oregano and cubes of a typical Sicilian cheese called Caciocavallo. Noteworthy is also the variations made in Bagheria, a small village close to Palermo: There the tomato sauce is substituted by ricotta cheese.
Best place to eat Sfincione in Palermo
Forno di Sanlorenzo Mercato (via San Lorenzo 288, Palermo).
(Pane e) Panelle
The delight of every little kid in town, they are traditionally sold by older man on the street, from a 3-wheeler called Apecar (or locally, A L’Apa) whose back has been modified to become a moving frier. Panelle are fritters made of chickpea flour and normally served as filling of a round-shaped bread, together with Crocche (see below). It is believed that the Arabs that rule Sicily from the 9th to the 11th century introduced this recipe to the island.
Best Panelle in Palermo
Nni Francu u Vastiddaru (Via Vittorio Emanuele, 102, 90133 Palermo PA)
Crocche (or as the locals refer to them cazzilli) are oval fried battered nuggets made of potatoes’ puree, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. This typical Palermo street food is most often served inside bread with the Panelle or eaten as starters together with other fried food in what is commonly know as “Antipasto Siciliano” (a platter of Crocche, Panelle, Arancinette and fried, buttered vegetables).
Best crocche in Palermo
Nni Francu u Vastiddaru (Via Vittorio Emanuele, 102, 90133 Palermo PA)
The sweetest Palermo street Food
Talking about Palermo’s street food without mentioning the most famous sweet pastry is not only a crime against every foody, but it’s completely impossible. These delicacies have been gracing Sicily since the dawn of time, with their first mention dating back to Rome’s great Cicero (though to be fair, the origins are disputed, some attributing them to nuns in Caltanissetta, others to the Arabs who conquered Sicily for a couple of centuries, others still linking them to the celebration of Carnival).
What exactely are Cannoli? Elongated fried dough filled with sweetened ricotta cheese, often topped by either a cherry or a slice of orange. This is, if we talk about the original recipe. Nowadays you can find Cannoli with a variety of fillings (chiefly, chocolate or pistachio) and toppings (again, chocolate and pistachio being the island’s favourite). A curious note about the name: Although many think it refers to the word “cannon” (cannone in Italian), the actual origin of the name is derived from the river canes that were once used to mould the dough into the correct shape.
Best place to eat cannoli in Palermo
Pasticceria Costa (Via Maqueda, 174, 90133 Palermo PA)
Brioche con Gelato
You might think you know a thing or two about gelato, its most famous flavours and the typical cones. Enters the Palermitans: They will explain you always did it wrong, as the only logical way to eat gelato is stuffed inside an oversized brioche (and I mean really oversized), preferably topped with whipped cream. How could you not know? So do not be surprised if you hordes of local biting and licking at this explosion of taste and calories. You’ll do the same as soon as you try one.
Best place to eat Gelato in Palermo
ll Signor di Carbognano (Via Emanuele Notarbartolo, 2/L, 90141 Palermo PA)
Palermo is a veritable treasure trove of smells and flavours. Centuries of dominations have left a mark in the culinary habits of its inhabitants and the city’s life focused on conviviality and outside spaces have made so that Palermo became one of the world capital of the Street Food.
So don’t be shy, listen to the screaming of the food stall owners (did I mention that everyone scream to invite you to buy their food?) and indulge in the opulence of Palermitan street food. You might find yourself with a kg or two more in your waist, but your soul will be soaring higher and lighter.
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