Musement takes a look at some of the best street food in Palermo.
Whether you are vegetarian or a carnivore, one trip to Palermo is not enough to taste everything, and you’ll want to come back!
Palermo’s inhabitants are known for frying, but it is almost immoral to reduce the local gastronomy to just that. Sicilian cuisine is a reflection of this multicolored, multicultural island. The people, architecture and art reflect the island’s rich past as does the gastronomy!
Palermo’s food is characterized by influences from the Arabs, Romans, Normans, Greeks, Spanish, Jews and so on, a crossroads that is particularly evident in the local street food. In Palermo, street food–and food in general–is serious business! Anywhere and at any time of day or night, you’ll always find something to sink your teeth into—authentic, tasty and essential, often at a bargain price.
Street food is omnipresent, so it should come as no surprise that large, multinational fast food chains don’t have a strong presence on the island. It’s so easy to eat significantly better dishes on the run at a great price point that there’s no room for McDonald’s.
It would be impossible to provide a full and detailed list of all of the Sicilian capital’s street food specialties in one article. Instead, we decided to give you a simple overview of some of the best street food in Palermo.
1. Pani Ca Meusa
This is THE sandwich of Palermo street food, so if you try only one, make it this. Of Jewish origin, it was invented in the thirteenth century! True it’s not that glamorous—it’s made of spleen –but you have to taste it! If you want to eat authentic pani con la milza, meet up on the sidewalk at 211 Via Vittorio Emanuele at Rocky’s, il Re della Vucceria (Rocky, the king of Vucciria, a historic market in Palermo) or at the booth of Nino U’ Ballerino (Nino the dancer) to taste one simply seasoned with a dash of lemon (and sprinkled with caciocavallo cheese at Nino’s). Personally, for your first visit, I suggest you try Franco U ‘Vastiddaru and order the all-the-way, that is, with lemon, caciocavallo and ricotta.
Surely the most famous Italian street food. These small rice balls are stuffed with stew, cheese, spinach–anything you want–and fried! They are soft and warm on the inside, and crispy and golden on the outside. My favorites are those at Recupero, at least as far as the most traditional version called “al burro” with béchamel, ham and mozzarella. Ke Palle, a newer establishment, features some very interesting options. P.S.: Careful: In Palermo, l’arancina is a feminine word. So arancine (pronounced /ɑrɑnˈtʃɪne/) is the plural and not “arancini” or “arancino” in the singular masculine. I do not advise you to find out what will happen if you use the wrong term. You’ll thank me later!
3. Lo sfincione
The word “sfincione” derives from the Latin word for “sponge” because of its consistency and appearance. Nuns in the San Vito convent allegedly invented this kind of thick, soft, wet pizza, covered with tomato sauce, onion, oregano, anchovies and cheese. To eat without moderation!
4. Pane e Panelle crocchè
This specialty owes credit to the Arabs. Although this dish may first seem like a culinary and nutritional aberration: a sandwich comprised of fried chickpea flour called “panelle” and fried mashed potatoes or “crocchè”… it’s delicious! The hot fried chickpea flour and mashed potatoes covered with a very thin fried shell will make you want to extend your stay. Local children enjoy eating this sandwich at the beach.
And yes, street food doesn’t always have to be heavy or served in bread. In Palermo, you can enjoy octopus cut into small pieces on a plate covered with a drizzle of freshly squeezed lemon juice and parsley. Easily caught at the “polparo”–a name that comes from “polpo” or “octopus” in Italian–in one of three historical city markets: Vucciria, Il Mercato del Capo and Ballarò. For maximum freshness, order from the vendor who prepares it in front of you.
6. The Stigghiuole
Vegetarians and sensitive souls refrain; this is only intended for intrepid culinary adventurers who are afraid of nothing! This popular ancient local dish dates back to the Greeks. Tripe is seasoned with lemon, parsley, salt and pepper, and cooked on a makeshift grill. I won’t give you guidance on where to try it. The day when you feel ready, let the thick barbecue smoke and aroma lure you. You can taste it on the street side, in a parking lot or even under a bridge. Be careful not to hover over the stigghiuole when you cut it open…liquid gushes out of it!