Sicilian food: discover and enjoy it all!
i piatti tipici siciliani

If you find yourself visiting Sicily, I recommend that you take the time to taste traditional Sicilian food… I assure you that you will not regret it. So, follow me to find out all about Sicilian cuisine!

 

Sicily is the largest island in Italy and in the entire Mediterranean. It is a wonderful land, rich in traditions, where art, culture and history intertwine to create a surprising result.

Thanks to its sea, landscapes, towns and villages, it is a popular tourist destination for Italians and foreigners alike. Moreover, its mild climate allows it to be visited at any time of the year.

The beauty of the place is perfectly described by Frederick of Swabia, King of Sicily from 1212, who began by saying “I do not envy Paradise to God, for I am well satisfied to live in Sicily”.

The island is also known all over the world for another reason: the famous Sicilian dishes, which attract people from all over, thanks to their unmistakable colours, scents and flavours.

I advise you, if you are in Sicily, to taste every local delicacy, because although they are reproduced all over Italy, only there can you discover the authentic taste of these specialties. Moreover, Sicilian foods are a great souvenir to take back home from your trip!

Sicilian cuisine today is very varied and articulate, with each municipality or city having its own typical dish. This is due to the contributions of all the cultures that have settled in the area over the last two millennia: from the food habits of Magna Graecia to the cuisine of the Monsù (the cooks of the Bourbons), passing through the sweet delicacies of the Arab-Norman era, to Jewish traditions.

It is clear, therefore, that when speaking of Sicilian food specialties, we understand a very broad history, but beyond the various differences within the island, there are some dishes that are known and appreciated all over the world, so much so that they are photographed and shared on social networks every day!

At this point, we are ready to start talking about traditional Sicilian food, its characteristics, history, ingredients and much more.

I will tell you about all the authentic Sicilian dishes, from the first course to dessert… So, follow me and you will see that your mouth will water at the end! 😋

 

Travel and taste Sicily, with us at Italia Delight!

 

The most famous Sicilian dishes 👇

 

Arancino and arancina

sicilian cuisine
Flickr, mr.filter

 

As I imagine you already know, when we speak of arancino we mean a ball of breaded and fried rice, usually stuffed with meat sauce, peas and caciocavallo cheese, or cubes of cooked ham and mozzarella. The name derives from the shape and golden colour of the dish, which resembles an orange. But, in eastern Sicily, arancini are often cone-shaped, probably symbolising Mount Etna.

This is the origin of the dispute between “arancino” and “arancina”. In fact, in Palermo and western Sicily it is called arancina, while in the Catania and eastern region it is called arancino. The Accademia della Crusca has also expressed itself on the matter, ruling that both usages are correct. In short… Whatever they are called, they are one of the most popular Sicilian dishes in the world. Be sure not to miss them!

 

Busiate

sicilian dishes
Flickr, alessandra adorno

 

They are a type of fresh pasta with an elongated shape, with a dough made from water and semolina, which is rolled on a knitting needle, called Buso.

This kynd of pasta is perfect to be seasoned with Trapanese pesto, made with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, pecorino cheese, basil and chopped almonds. Alternatively, it can also be seasoned with pistachios or a tuna sauce. If you are looking for traditional food in Sicily, this dish is definitely for you.

 

Fish couscous

sicily food
flickr_dabobabo

 

If you are travelling in western Sicily, I highly recommend sampling the local fish couscous. This Sicilian food originated from the encounter between Trapani’s fishermen and those from the nearby coast of Africa. In fact, these exchanged supplies at sea, including semolina, which was then processed by the island’s cooks and turned into a magical dish. It is a very simple dish made, precisely, from semolina and mixed fish, olive oil, garlic and an inevitable pinch of chilli pepper.

 

Caponata and Parmigiana

traditional sicilian food
Flickr, Antonio Ilardo

 

Aubergines are the undisputed protagonists of two exceptional Sicilian dishes, loved and reproduced throughout Italy.

Starting with Caponata, this is a rich and tasty side dish made with aubergines, tomatoes, onion, green olives, capers, celery and basil. It is a mix of fried vegetables, pan-fried with sugar and vinegar. The recipe has its roots in the poor cuisine, so much so that the name seems to derive from “capone”, which in dialect indicates a prized fish served on the tables of aristocrats with a sweet-and-sour taste. The peasants, not being able to afford such an expensive dish, replaced the taste of fish with that of aubergines. And here is our beloved caponata!

Parmigiana, on the other hand, traditionally consists of tomatoes, aubergines, basil and cheese. The name derives from the Sicilian “Parmiciana”, which in dialect means the stack of wooden slats of the shutters. In the same way the slices of aubergine are arranged in a pan!

 

Bread, panelle and crocchè

sicilian foods
Flickr, Alessio Fangano

 

Let’s now move on to another typical Sicilian dish, a much-loved street food made with bread containing potato croquettes, also called “Cazzilli”, and panelle. At this point you may be wondering what panelle are: they are fritters made with chickpea flour and fried in boiling oil. Clearly, therefore, it is not exactly a light dish, but I assure you that it tastes great and is absolutely worth it!

 

Pasta with sardines

On the list now is a very tasty traditional first course: pasta with sardines. It is made with many simple but tasty ingredients, closely linked to the territory, such as sardines, wild fennel, sultanas and pine nuts. There are many variations, such as adding saffron or cooking in the oven… But in any case, it is truly a delicacy!

 

Pasta with tenerumi

Famous Sicilian dishes include pasta with tenerumi, a kind of summer soup, made with simple ingredients but with a very tasty flavour. But what are tenerumi? This word indicates the leaves of a typical courgette that grows on the island and is used to make this local speciality. In addition to tenerumi, in the recipe we find tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and salted ricotta cheese, which add flavour to the dish.

 

Pasta alla Norma

food in sicily
Flickr, Gianluca norma

 

Speaking of traditional Sicilian food, we cannot leave out pasta alla Norma. This is one of the symbols of the island’s cuisine and a tribute to the composer Vincenzo Bellini’s most beautiful opera: La Norma. It is an exceptional first course, made with fresh tomatoes and fried aubergines, with the addition of a clove of garlic, fresh basil and salted ricotta grated on top.

 

Sarde beccafico

Called “sardi a beccaficu” in Sicilian dialect, they are a local recipe for sardines, particularly from the Palermo, Messina and Catania areas. To prepare them, the sardines are rolled around a mixture of breadcrumbs, minced garlic, parsley, sultanas, pine nuts, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.

The recipe belongs to the popular tradition and originates from an aristocratic dish, obviously economically unattainable for the rest of the people, where beccafichi (a kind of bird) were stuffed with their own entrails. Then the common people fell back on the raw materials they could get their hands on… And that is where sarde a beccafico comes from.

 

The sfincione

One of the typical Sicilian street foods is Palermo’s sfincione, a very soft focaccia that contains all the ingredients of Sicily: tomato sauce and plenty of caciocavallo cheese. The dough is very soft and tasty. That’s why it is a food usually eaten on the island, and you can easily find it in bakeries, pizzerias or even in roadside kiosks. I advise you not to miss it!

 

Sicilian pizza

This expression refers to a series of different ways of preparing pizza. The best known is “sfincione”, but there are many other versions, shapes and ways of preparing it, such as “scacciata”, a kind of calzone, or “crispelle”, pancakes stuffed with anchovies and ricotta, or even “pizzolo”, a stuffed pizza. There are many variations and I invite you to try as many as you can!

 

Pani ca’ meusa

food in sicily italy
Flickr, Martina Sgorlon

 

I now take you to taste a very special dish, called “pani ca’ meusa”, which in Italian stands for bread with spleen. It is in fact a soft sesame-flavoured loaf filled with pieces of calf spleen, lung and trachea, boiled and simmered in “sugna” (pork fat) in copper pans.

It can be served “schettu” (unmarried), i.e. with just a little lemon, or “maritatu” (married), i.e. accompanied by ricotta and/or caciocavallo cheese. This Sicilian food is mainly found in Palermo, and is a typical street food often found at street vendor stalls.

 

Pasta n’incasciata

Who doesn’t like baked pasta? Nobody, in my opinion. Given this assumption, in Sicily food never ceases to surprise us! Pasta n’incasciata is a Sicilian version of baked pasta… A bomb!

It is widespread throughout the island and each area has got a different version. For example in the Messina version, made famous by Camilleri in “Inspector Montalbano”, we find, in addition to the classic ingredients, meat sauce. Generally, the original recipe calls for a short pasta format, drained halfway through cooking and finished cooking in the oven, topped with fried aubergines and caciocavallo cheese, with the addition of hard-boiled eggs and cooked ham (or salami) to complete the dish.

 

Stocco alla messinese (stockfish)

Among the most famous Sicilian dishes, there is “stocco alla messinese”, a speciality based on the stockfish, which is mostly caught in the seas of Norway and Iceland. As soon as it is caught, this fish is cleaned and put to dry on special wooden racks, exposed to the cold air and sea winds: it is cold-dried! This is an ancient, inexpensive and very effective method of preservation. Afterwards, stocco alla messinese is slowly stewed with herbs, potatoes and tomatoes, resulting in a richly flavoured dish.

 

Scacce ragusane

As the name suggests, this Sicilian food comes directly from Ragusa and is based on a simple but tasty cuisine, made with ingredients linked to the territory.

Scacce are typical flatbreads prepared mainly for Christmas or Easter, but for those who love the dish, they can be cooked anytime! The most classic filling is with onion, tomato and Ragusano cheese PDO (the caciocavallo cheese par excellence). The seasoning, however, can vary: there are scacce with ricotta and sausage, with onion and parsley, tomato and fried aubergines…

 

Sicilian-style meat rolls

We have seen how the majority of authentic Sicilian dishes originate from a poor cuisine and this is exactly the case here too! These are skewers (in dialect “spitini”) of meat, in particular veal, which is cut thinly, folded in on itself and stuffed with typical ingredients such as pine nuts, sultanas, onion, breadcrumbs, bay leaves and caciocavallo cheese, which give the meat a very special flavour and aroma.

To be faithful to the original recipe, as well as the correct filling, it is best to compose the skewers by alternating the meat rolls along the stick with bay leaves and red onion petals. Given their goodness and fame, the recipe has been revisited many times and today is also shown to us enriched with various cold cuts and cheeses.

 

Sicilian-style swordfish

A typical Sicilian second course, particularly from Messina, is swordfish alla siciliana, which encapsulates the wonderful flavours of the beautiful Mediterranean island: swordfish, cherry tomatoes, olives and pine nuts. The soft slices of swordfish are seasoned with simple and tasty ingredients, creating a rich dish that can make a meal a delight!

 

Sicilian Cannoli

sicilian italian food
Flickr, CaptureTheDetails

 

Now the undisputed kings among Sicilian dishes: the cannoli! Irresistible… I don’t know what your favourite dessert is, but this is definitely mine! Once you have tasted it, you will fall in love with it too.

The Sicilian cannoli date back to the time of Arab domination in Sicily. They originated from the hands of the nuns of a convent near Caltanissetta and were initially prepared for Carnival, but were so popular that they are now eaten all the time.

They are fried cannoli filled with sweetened sheep’s ricotta and garnished with candied fruit, chocolate drops, pistachios or something else.

 

Sicilian Cassata

sicilian food specialties

 

If cannoli are the kings, Sicilian cassata is undoubtedly the queen! These two desserts are in fact the most popular in Sicily and all over the world.

The name derives from the Arabic word “Quas’at”, meaning “big, round bowl”; this exceptional Sicilian dessert has a lot of history to tell. In fact, it has undergone a slow process of refinement by the Sicilians, the Arabs, the Normans, the Spanish and finally the Genoese.

Today its ingredients are: sweetened ricotta, traditionally sheep’s milk cheese, sponge cake, royal pastry and candied fruit. The work done over the years to improve it has brought us a cake that no one now dares touch or modify… A solid pillar of Sicilian cuisine!

 

Granita with brioche

If you think cappuccino and cornetto are the ingredients for a perfect breakfast, you haven’t yet tried “a granita câ brioscia”, the Sicilian granita with brioche! Granita comes in all flavours and is traditionally accompanied by the island’s classic brioche, soft and tasty… Perfect for any time of day!

 

The gelo

This exceptional fresh and tasty dessert takes the form of a spoon dessert similar to a pudding. It is made in different flavours, such as lemon, melon, watermelon or other citrus fruits. The ingredients are few and very simple, i.e. caster sugar, lemon (or the fruit of your choice) and water, and is thickened over the fire simply with starch. To make it more delicious, flavourings such as mint or ginger can also be added.

It is the perfect dessert for hot Sicilian days!

 

Martorana fruit

famous sicilian dishes
Flickr, Luigi

 

Seeing them on the stalls you might mistake these Sicilian sweets for real fruit. Martorana fruit, in fact, is made by reproducing the shapes of the fruits they are inspired by!

In its typical version, the martorana is made only with almond flour and sugar (sometimes honey). The dough is then moulded to the desired shape, originally that of the fruit, but today it is also made in the shape of fish, meat, pasta and more. Finally, it is decorated with colours to create a cake that reproduces as faithfully as possible the shape and appearance of the foodstuff it is inspired by.

 

Events dedicated to Sicilian cuisine

I think it is clear at this point that Sicilian foods are many and all very famous. This is precisely why there are many events on the island dedicated to gastronomy:

  • Sciacca Street Food Fest: held during Carnival time and based on street food
  • Busiata festival: in Salemi, on 10 and 11 August, you can taste the typical pasta format I mentioned earlier, the busiate!
  • Cous Cous Festival: held in San Vito lo Capo, usually at the end of summer, this is a festival dedicated to the union of peoples
  • Bronte Pistachio Festival: held in September and October, this festival allows you to taste the wonderful world-famous Bronte pistachio

 

 

Enjoy traditional Sicilian food on holiday!

sicily italy food

 

In conclusion, if you are wondering how best to enjoy some of the most famous Sicilian dishes (or even all of them), the advice I would give you is to eat them at local restaurants so that you will never be disappointed!

Other ways that will allow you to get to the heart of Sicilian cuisine are, for example, to take part in aperitifs, picnics in the vineyard or traditional cooking courses, or even better to organise a food and wine holiday at local farms, to immerse yourself in the very culture and traditional food from Sicily.

 

My virtual tour ends here. I hope I have made your mouth water and above all provided you with all the information you were looking for.

At this point, don’t waste time, book with Italia Delight and start tasting traditional Sicilian food! 😋

 

About Author

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Clara Caponetti
Ciao sono Clara! Sono laureanda in Scienze e Culture Enogastronomiche presso l’università Roma Tre. La mia passione è la cucina, adoro viaggiare e scoprire sempre nuove ricette e tradizioni, perciò non vedo l’ora di condividere tutto con voi!

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