” All of Sicily is a dimension of the imagination “
– Leonardo Sciascia
Home to Europe’s highest active volcano beautiful Mount Etna and surrounded by some of the most stunning turquoise coastline, Sicily is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Europe. With a rich history and greek influence which is evident in it’s stunning architecture, its narrow town streets and it’s delicious food, Sicily is a great place to visit.
“Gossiping Nonna’s at their balconies and the amber sun, slowly searing your skin”
I chose to stay in its second largest province, Catania which sits at the foot of Mount Etna, on the East coast of the island. Although the volcano’s multiple unpredictable bursts have wreaked havoc throughout Sicily, its ash has provided Catania with the most incredibly rich fertile soil which enables the farmers of Catania to yield delicious crop, year after year.
Wherever I go, I really love to live as the locals do. It’s the quickest way to have the most authentic experience as possible.
“With the beautiful umami that only roast vegetables yield and flitting notes of sour and saltiness…”
I chose a beautifully airy two story townhouse on via grotto bianche, which outside was aged, and beautiful and inside perfectly designed by the architect owners to create a stunningly simple little escape. Just outside the door you’re bombarded with the constant buzzing of vespas zipping down the street, the gossiping Nonna’s at their balconies and the amber sun, slowly searing your skin. As the door closes behind you, you’re no longer in old Italy, you’re were in downtown New York, in a cool modern apartment, abundant in light and charm!
The streets of Sicily are cobbled highways with a constant foot fall of locals, each pavement a parking space, outdoor restaurant seating, popup fruit market, or all three simultaneously.
“The best way to understand the importance of fish on a Sicilian tablets to visit this fish market”
Sicily is home to some of the most delicious food Italy has to offer, one of which being the golden balls of Arancini that can be found all over; one of Italy’s most famous treats. Arancini is a breaded ball of rice, deep fried with various different fillings .Weather it be filled with peas, Ragu or a simple tomato based sauce, if you ever visit Italy, arancini is something that you have to try.
Like many sicilian dishes, aubergine always seems make an appearance, notably in the delicious caponata.Made by roasting a medley of diced vegetables ,olives and seasoned with sweetened vinegar, you’ll find this dish served as a side or even one of many main courses served at an italian feast.With the beautiful umami that only roast vegetables yield and flitting notes of sour and saltiness, caponata is one if the most memorable flavours from my trip.
For me, the heart and soul of a city lives in its market and in Sicily, the famous fish market at the piazza Duomo is a must see. A short walk down via Etna (Catania’s famous shopping street) and through the bustling piazza duomo lies La Pescheria. The best way to understand the importance of fish on a Sicilian table is to visit this fish market.
I trekked down to the market at 6am and watched it come alive with trays of snails, octopus and mantis shrimp taking prized position and stunning, metallic eels propped up into perfect hoops, mesmerising in their luminosity. Most of the fish comes from Mazzara de Vallo, Italy largest port, south west of the island, with a few other specialist varieties from nearby towns.
“Jewelled with emerald shards of pistachio and dusted with a veil of icing sugar…”
The buzz of a market is a feeling that is transcendent of culture and destination. The market here felt very similar to other markets I have frequent in different parts of the world ; Morroco, Bejing, Paris, Spain, Germay just to name a few. Markets are a true representation of an area and its locals and retains a sense of simplicity despite its age. From the overpriced gentrified markets of east London, to the piazza’s of Rome picturesque in grander and beauty, they all have a similar feel.
“…an ode to the Nonna living opposite me, who must have been about 80 years old, face wrinkled like old leather with a smile that felt like home…”
When travelling, I always feel compelled to try a multitude of different popular foods to broaden my taste repertoire and when visiting Sicily there’s no way you cannot try their world famous cannoli. Beautiful tubular rounds of dough are fried until immaculately golden then pipped with a sweet ricotta based cream.Armed with the few Italian words i know that aren’t offencive, and after browsing through the many perfectly uniform variations i requested ” un cannoli di cioccolato per favore”.
Jewelled with emerald shards of pistachio and dusted with a veil of icing sugar, this cannoli was just beautiful. I’ve tried cannoli in Italy before, none of which are comparable to the authenticity of Sicily. The decadent dark cocoa ricotta was very thick and bitter sweet which exquisitely complimented the crisp almost savoury dough cylinder.
On my last evening in Catania i decided to order from one of the many restaurants in the area, and of course it had to be pizza. I chose three “baby” varieties which i thought would be a selection of mini pizzas and being between €2 – €3 each i wasn’t expecting anything full size. They were the normal size of a pizza in London that would feed four people, and i had three!!! They were all very fresh, crips dough and oozing cheese but after a couple of slices of each I had to admit defeat.I hate wasting food but with a stomach full of cheese ( a very lactose intolerant stomach) and a flight a few hours away, I decided to make an adult decision to prevent me from
shitting myself at 30,000ft!
This post is an ode to the Nonna living opposite me, who must have been about 80 years old, face wrinkled like old leather with a smile that felt like home. Thank you for sharing your lovely Sicilian oranges with me, for showing me the best breakfast spot in Catania, and for helping me unlock my front door when I couldn’t figure it out. Community is everything and coming from busy industrial London to the southmost island of Italy, that has never been more apparent.