Understanding Palermo without delving into the street food scene is like eating french fries without mayo, simply impossible. The smell, the flavors, the local vendors screaming to entice locals and tourists alike; food is omnipresent whether you decide to indulge or not. Nothing is more representative of the city’s spirit than Palermo’s street food, this guide will run you through the must-tries!
I was lucky to fall in love with a Sicilian this year. This Sicilian bought me home to meet the undisputed love of his life – Streetfood. It became clear very quickly that I would always play second fiddle to the street food in Palermo, his hometown in southern Italy.
Somewhat intrigued at this turn of events, I delved headfirst into a journey that led to expanding waistlines and a newfound love for ice cream with brioche, (trust me, once you go brioche you do not go back) and a deeper understanding of Palermo cuisine and by extension the city Palermo itself.
Time to share this odyssey and initiate you into the marvelous world of Palermo street food in the hopes of making your trip a smidge more authentic and a heck of a lot more flavourful. This Palermo food guide contains 8 foods to try and where to try them, a quick overview of street food markets in Palermo, and a map!
Palermo street foods: A brief introduction
Let’s start at the beginning, wandering through the city you’ll stumble upon a stall, a bar, a chariot selling sfincione (more below), or one of the gazillion gelateries strategically located every couple of meters. As the bouquet of exotic delicious aromas hits you, it soon becomes clear this is a battle you’re bound to lose, trust me.
It’s not just my opinion, the latest Forbes’ ranking of the best cities in the world for street food, Palermo is the highest European city listed, ranking n.5. Not surprising come to think about it! Even more important than its amazing taste, you’ll learn that wandering through the street food stalls dotted around this heaving city, is not unlike a journey through the history of Palermo and its many conquerors. Tag along and you’ll hear a most delicious tale.
Read more: 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.
Palermo street food tours
Palermitan street food is pretty ubiquitous, you will be hard-pressed not to find an arancine or sfincione every 150 meters, at the bare minimum. Quantity however does not always equal quality, I have had my fair share of very average tasting arancine while wandering around town.
Taking a Palermo food tour is a great way to discover the city, local culture, and the best places for food. No average arancine was invited to this party! In addition to eating delicious street food, a food tour will offer you the possibility to connect with a local guide and witness him interact with street food stall owners in Sicilian!
Night Street Food Tour of Palermo
This is the very first food tour ever launched in Palermo. Join the team in a three-hour tour, strolling around the backstreets of the city center guided by a young Palermitan.
BEST VALUE FOR MONEY:
Highlights & Walking Street Food Tour
Palermo’s top-rated walking tour! Combines the highlights of the historical center of Palermo with a visit around the buzzing markets Ballarò and Vucciria. In essence, you eat your way around Palermo. Delicious!
Dedicated Street Food Walking Tour
A tour with a clear aim: Get you to try the best street foods in Palermo. A visit to two of the oldest food markets in Palermo, Vucciria Market, and Mercato di Capo.
Best street food Palermo: 8 foods to try
Developed through the millennia – the city boasts over 3500 years of history – Palermo street foods mirror the city’s soul: Joyful, flavourful, heavy, and very much 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), the street food will capture you – and add a few pounds to your waistline.
You might also like: A complete guide to Palermo – What to do, where to eat and where to sleep!
Meat-based Palermo street food
Palermo fast food is oftentimes a combination of fried meats, wrapped in some type of carbohydrates and – if you are lucky – a tomato baked in for good measure. While the next section explores vegetarian options, at heart Sicilians love their meat (and fish) and the most iconic street foods reflect this devotion.
Arancine (with an -e!)
I couldn’t start this list with anything but her Majesty the Arancina, the queen of street food in Palermo, 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.
Arancine has achieved somewhat of a cult status, with factions disputing every minute detail: Better with meat ragout (arancine a carne) or with butter and ham (arancine a burro)? Should new flavors (e.g. Salmon, Mushroom, Sausage, etc…) be admitted or should tradition be upheld?
But the most important dispute has nothing to do with ingredients, rather it centers around their official name. You might not know this but Arancine are in fact at the center of a huge feud between the Western and Eastern part of Sicily (area around Catania).
The West insists on using Arancina, while the East is steadfast on the wording Arancino (with an -o). The battle became so heated that it required an intervention by Italy’s official institution for the regulation of language, Accademia della Crusca
The Accademia della Crusca wrote a detailed report which essentially claims both parties are correct in their own way. As my Palermitan partner loves to proclaim “Everyone can see that this amazing food is inspired by the fruit (aranci-A) and not by the tree (aranci-O), so we clearly know who is right.”.
Eating in Palermo can get even more opulent as is evident by the Arancine Bomba (the supersize version of a normal Arancina), pure decadence covered in wax paper.
Good to know
The 13th of December is “Arancina day” all of Sicily. Technically it is the religious festival of Santa Lucia where 400 years ago a vow was made not to eat wheat that day (something about honoring God for ending a famine…). Anyway, in practice, it means Arancine is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and – most importantly – the regular offer is expanded to include a host of new flavors (sausage, a la norma, spinach, salmon, gorgonzola, …).
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, street food in Palermo is poor man’s cuisine, making the best of all ingredients (especially left-overs). So it will come as no surprise that entrails play a central role in many dishes. The most famous recipe to 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 seeds, stuffed with chopped veal lung and spleen (yikes!) which have been boiled and then fried in lard.
Pane con la Milza comes in two versions, Schietta (single) or Maritata (married): the former is “simple” with a splash of lemon added to the meat, the latter has a thick layer of ricotta added to the meat, which with a bit of Sicilian imagination makes it resemble a bridal gown (hence the name).
The most authentic way to try a Pani câ Meusa is from one of the street vendors, in the wee hours of the morning after a few too many glasses of Aperol Spritz with your new best friends, met at a local bar and whose names you will have forgotten as you awake with a heavy head the next morning.
The second-best alternative is to head over to the historical markets of Palermo, “La Vucciria” and “Ballaro” on the doorstep of the Church of Carmine Maggiore, where Pani câ Meusa is readily available for locals and adventurous tourists.
Best Pani câ Meusa in Palermo
Porta Carbone (Via Cala, 62, 90133 Palermo PA)
Tip: Porta Carbone is located right off the harbor, order a cold Peroni or Morreti beer with your Pani câ Meusa and walk around the harbor direction of the coast. Plonk down on one of the benches and watch the sunset.
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 describe 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 motorbikes chewing on pezzi di rosticceria at 3 or 4 am after a night on the town.
Describing exactly what rosticceria is in Palermo makes for an impossible task – there are just too many different types. From Arancine, to Rollo con Wurstel (brioche pastry filled with wurstel sausage), 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 will be really hard-pressed to choose a favorite!
Rosticceria is bought to eat on the go, wrapped in grease-free paper with a flimsy napkin tossed in for good measure. The packaging is vaguely reminiscent of fancy pastries in Northern Europe, the content however is slightly more precarious for your arteries.
Best place to eat rosticceria in Palermo
La Romanella (Via Giacomo Leopardi, 90144 Palermo PA)
Vegetarian-friendly street food in Palermo
As a long-time vegetarian, delving into the wondrous street food scene in Palermo was a little challenging at times. With spleen sandwiches and Arancine the clear starlets, it was up to me to find the overlooked heroes and explore the vegetarian options available.
Can I let you in on a secret? In this case, the vegetarian underdogs are more than worthy opponents to their meat-based rivals. Vegetarian street food in Palermo not only exists, but it is also absolutely delicious!
« Chi ciavuru, ‘u pitittu ti fazzu rapiri » (Such a good smell, I’ll make you hungry!) is the battle cry of every Sfincionaro that roams the streets of Palermo’s historical center. But what is it that they’re encouraging you to buy?
Sfincione – although a staple in Palermo’s street food scene – might resemble a pizza to the uninitiated, in which it’s made up of a similar (but thicker) dough. However, ask any Palermitan and they’ll dismiss this idea vociferously. Believe me, I made the mistake once and was met with odd looks and gasps “Sfincione is NOT a pizza!”.
Sfincione is typically made with tomato sauce, (a lot of) onions, sardines, oregano, and cubes of a typical Sicilian cheese called Caciocavallo. Which in all honesty are also the ingredients for pizza come to think of it, but let’s not go there.
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, traditionally sold by an older man on the side of the street out of a 3-wheeler called Apecar (or locally, A L’Apa) which serves the dual purpose of transportation and fryer.
Panelle are fritters made of chickpea flour and normally served as filling for a small round-shaped bun (pane). Often paired with Crocche (see below) creating a crunchy and extraordinarily filling snack. It is widely believed that this particular recipe was introduced to the island by the Arabs who ruled Sicily from the 9th to the 11th century.
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 mashed potatoes, cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Because carbohydrates do not count as calories in Sicilian cuisine, these potatoes are served inside….bread and Panelle ( chickpea fritters).
Often eaten as starters together with other fried food in what is commonly known as “Antipasto Siciliano” (a platter of Crocche, Panelle, Arancinette and fried, buttered vegetables).
From one foodie to another, brace yourself when eating this Antipasto. Any self-respecting Sicilian meal will usually contain three more courses (primo, secondo, dessert) after the antipasto. As tasty as this plate of fried goodness might be, save some room for the rest of your meal.
Best Crocche in Palermo
Nni Francu u Vastiddaru (Via Vittorio Emanuele, 102, 90133 Palermo PA)
Street food Palermo to eat as dessert
Dessert is an integral part of the meal in Sicily. You will rarely go eating in Palermo and not end up with gelato to finish off the evening. I suspect a combination of a warm climate (40°C and higher in the summer) and an insatiable sweet tooth are the driving force. Whatever the reason, eating gelato will quickly become your new favorite thing.
Talking about the street food in Palermo 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 exactly are Cannoli? Elongated fried dough filled with sweetened ricotta cheese, often topped by either a cherry or a slice of orange. That 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 is the island’s favorite).
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.
Wherever they originated from, these crunchy little chunks of heaven are perfect for breakfast, dessert, a snack, and any other excuse you can fathom to indulge! The perfect antidote for the sometimes overwhelming “busyness” of Palermo.
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, the most famous flavors and the typical cones that are used to serve this posterchild Italian desert. Enter the Palermitans: They take pride in telling you exactly how you have been eating gelato wrong up until now.
According to Palermitans the only logical way to eat gelato is stuffed inside an oversized brioche (and I mean really oversized), preferably topped with whipped cream.
You read that right: Gelato, brioche and whipped cream. I did mention somewhere in this article that carbohydrates do not count as calories in Sicily right? Once you have tried it (even the whipped cream), you will never want to eat gelato any other way!
Sadly, brioche is not usually eaten with gelato outside of Sicily. Whipped cream on gelato is readily available throughout the country though (hurray!).
Back home in Belgium, gelato is served meticulously according to the one scoop per flavor rule. This rule never reached the island of Sicily, one simply fills the cone/brioche with copious amounts of gelato regardless of how many scoops it takes.
Tip: Fruit flavors are usually suitable for vegans, to be sure ask if they are senza latte (without milk).
Best place to eat Gelato in Palermo
ll Signor di Carbognano (Via Emanuele Notarbartolo, 2/L, 90141 Palermo PA)
Palermo Food Markets
What better way to get a feel for Palermo than to peruse the heart and soul of the city, the ancient food markets. Palermo has four historic markets that can be visited throughout the day Ballarò, Capo, Vucciria, and Borgo Vecchio.
Aside from the usual fruit, vegetable meat & fish stalls, the markets are peppered with little restaurants, local bars, and street food stalls where you can get some of the best street food in Palermo. Rub shoulders with locals & tourists alike as you order a spleen sandwich, the Palermo fast food of choice!
Looking to get more local insights into which specific foods to eat at these typical Palermo street markets? There are a few locally run, affordable tours that might do the trick.
COOK PALERMITAN FOOD: Market tour and cooking workshop
This top-rated tour is great for anyone who loves to cook. Meet up at the Capo market and browse the stalls. Pick up the very best seasonal ingredients, learn how to make 6 typical Sicilian dishes, and have them for lunch with a glass of delicious Sicilian wine.
RECOMMENDED: Local market & street food tour
Head into the heart of Palermo with a licensed guide on a 3-hour tour of the local markets and surroundings. Sample no less than 5 different specialties of Palermo and 2 typical drinks. Learn about the city’s street food culture and plenty of insider tips on where to eat & drink in Palermo.
Keep a close eye on your belongings in the market as they are known hotspots for pickpockets. The little streets where the markets are located tend to get a bit sketchy at night, best to stick to daylight when visiting.
Map: Where to get the best street food in Palermo
This map will help you find the very best street food in Palermo as well as the markets. Looking to get a closer look, click on the interactive Google Map instead.
To conclude on Palermo street food
Palermo is a veritable treasure trove of smells and flavors. Centuries of dominations have left a mark in the culinary habits of its inhabitants, coupled with the typical Mediterranean focus on conviviality and outside spaces have made Palermo one of the world’s capitals for street food.
So don’t be shy, listen to the screaming of the food stall owners (did I mention that everyone screams to invite you to buy their food?), and indulge in the opulence of Palermitan street food. You might come home with the unwanted souvenir of a few extra kilos but trust me your soul will feel a whole lot lighter.
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR TRAVELING TO ITALY
Sicily: Charming Sicilian Villages
Sicily: Sicilian Traditional Cuisine
Sicily: Where to stay in Sicily and which areas to avoid
Sicily: 14 breathtaking churches in Palermo
Sicily – 20 things to do in Palermo
Sicily – 15 day trips from Palermo
Sicily – 15 day trips from Catania
Northern Italy: Northern Italy one to two-week road trip guide
General Italy: Vegetarian food in Italy