If like me you enjoy eating, Palermo won’t let you down.
In this Northern Sicilian city, dishes are hearty, full of flavour and tend to be served in large portions.
Stay true to your budget. In Palermo, more money doesn’t necessarily mean better quality and Michelin Stars just didn’t quite deliver for me. Trust that the markets and their surrounds are popular for good reason and if in doubt – follow the locals!
Even if you order specialities like seafood, don’t expect fancy little morsels coiffed into a circle in the middle of your plate. Arrive at all restaurants and markets hungry. Very hungry. And go for your life.
No scrimping on the Octopus at the restaurants around Vucciria night market – this was a starter portion of the local catch served with celeriac puree at Garraffo Ristorante. Don’t be fooled by the odd looking awning outside – this place has excellent food, service and wine!
Thought to be of Arab origin, this dish is probably Palermo’s most famous. Yes, that is three different types of carbohydrate on a plate and yes, it really is delicious. It can be found anywhere in the city but I had the best one in the central drag of Ballaro Market. Chickpea flour fritters and minty potato croquettes are served up in a white bread (often with sesame seeds).
It was one of the best value lunches I’ve eaten anywhere in the world, so I figured I deserved the bottle of local beer that I washed it down with!
Potatoes are often more prevalent on northern Sicilian menus that pizza and pasta. So I broke away from my old favourites one lunchtime and had gnocchi. The sauce, I’m promised, was a typical combination of pork, tomatoes and nuts. It was as fantastic as it looks so I’ll forgive the restaurant in Piazza Bologni for serving it on a slate.
You’re probably wondering how a salad has made my top six. Well, I was equally dubious at the time. It turns out that after several days of over-eating and not doing much to work it off, this orange based salad was just the refreshment my pallet needed. It’s not for everyone. North African influences are at play again as oranges are mixed with spring onions, raisins, olives and bitesize pieces of anchovy. Something in this bizarre mix of salty, oniony, sweetness actually works and I cleared my plate.
Sicilian stuffed sardines (Sarde a Beccafico) have come full circle from when they were invented by Sicilian peasants as a cheap alternative to the gentry’s stuffed warblers. Now, they’re very much back in fashion in Palermo’s higher-end restaurants as well as at the stalls of Vucciria night market. Essentially, it’s breadcrumb stuffed sardines, with nutty, citrus flavours infused throughout the fish. What’s not to like?
I challenge you to find anything better for a Palermitan party hangover than a ball of deep fried rice. Sicilian Arancini are arguably the best in Italy and there’s nothing better to charge you up for a morning’s touristing. This one was stuffed with spinach and cheese, was piping hot and only cost a euro. Bargain.