Follow me on this journey of taste to get to know the typical dishes of Catania, not to be missed during your holiday.
Catania is one of the most beautiful cities in Sicily, world-famous for its incredible food and wine as well as its Baroque palaces and architecture, making it a city rich in art and history; declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the protagonist of several Italian films such as the movie “Johnny Stecchino”.
In the city there are several colorful and lively markets that provide a unique atmosphere and offer fresh and genuine products. Among the oldest and most famous ones there are the Catania fish market, also known as “Piscarìa”, which offers a wide selection of fresh fish, and Fera ‘ô Luni, an open-air market offering various local food products such as seasonal fruit and vegetables, local cheeses, meats, cold cuts and olive oil.
Catania is located in an excellent geographic location: it arises on the east coast of the island, at the foot of Mount Etna (Europe’s highest active volcano), and overlooks the Ionian Sea. It offers marvelous, varied landscapes, beautiful not only from a tourist point of view but also the source of the gastronomic richness that makes Catania’s cuisine so full of unique flavors, fragrances and colors; so appreciated by travelers that, when they visit the city and its surroundings, they very often choose to take home as souvenirs some of the typical products such as Bronte pistachios, Martorana fruit and Condorelli nougat instead of the usual magnet.
Are you ready to set off on this journey? Then follow me, because in this article I will introduce you to the best typical Catania dishes through typical trattorias, festivals and tasty street food that you absolutely must try during your holiday in Catania! 👇
What to eat in Catania
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This guide is perfect for all those travelers who, as soon as they arrive in a place, immediately want to taste all the typical products it has to offer. Today I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about the best dishes in Catania’s cuisine; from their origins to their preparation to less known curiosities.
They are the iconic Sicilian street food dishes. They are tasty Sicilian rice balls, fried with egg and breadcrumbs and stuffed with various fillings, such as ham, cheese and meat sauce.
The shape and especially the name of this dish have always been a matter of debate. Generally, it is called “arancino” in Catania and the eastern part of the island; while in Palermo and the western part of Sicily it is called “arancina”, in the feminine form. The Palermo arancina is round like the orange fruit and in the Catania area the arancino has a more pointed shape, probably inspired by the profile of Mount Etna.
The original recipe for arancini, handed down for years by Catania’s grandmothers, calls for tomato sauce, horse meat and peas; but there are also more creative versions to satisfy every taste, such as those with pistachio or swordfish.
2. Seafood street food
Catania is world famous for its food and wine, and it is street food in particular that conquers the hearts and palates of travelers.
The kingdom of Catania’s seafood street food is certainly the ancient fish market (in dialect A’ Piscarìa); one of the most loved places by the Catanese and tourists as well, where they can buy the best quality seafood and enjoy an incredible experience thanks to the folklore that reigns among the colorful stalls of the fishmongers.
Right at the entrance to the market is “Scirocco Sicilian Fish Lab”; a gourmet street food shop famous for its excellent fried fish wrapped in the traditional cartocci with squid, anchovies and prawns, but also for its fried macco sticks, battered vegetables, arancinetti with squid ink and freshly cooked fish balls.
3. Other Catania street food specialities
Also part of the street food tradition are the so-called rustici, all those savory preparations such as pizzas, focaccia and schiacciate. These include:
● Cartocciate: rustici similar to a calzone, usually baked and filled with tomato, cheese, ham and olives. In addition to the classic variant, cartucciate with spinach or sausage are also famous.
● Bolognese: a delicious, soft, stuffed pizza, covered with golden puff pastry and filled usually with ham, tomato and cheese or often with béchamel sauce, ham and mushrooms.
● Siciliane: fried pizzas stuffed with anchovies, pepper and olives. There are also other variations, but the one with anchovies is the most famous.
● Quarumi: means “hot dish”. It is a street food specialty served and eaten hot, seasoned with salt, pepper, oil and lemon. They are boiled veal entrails of various kinds and the resulting broth, called “quarara”, contains onions, celery, carrots and parsley.
● Mauru: is a salad of edible red seaweed with an intense taste of the sea, seasoned with lemon and salt. In the past, this dish could not be missed on the stalls of Catania’s fish market, but in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to find.
4. Sicilian cannoli
This is a very famous typical Sicilian dessert. It consists of tube-shaped fried wafers (hence the name “Cannolo”) filled with sheep’s milk ricotta and chocolate chips and enriched with a sprinkling of icing sugar. Finally, dried fruit grains and candied orange are added as decoration on the filling sticking out of the wafer.
This goodness has ancient origins! The Sicilian Cannoli date back to the time of Arab domination in Sicily. It was initially prepared to celebrate Carnival but later spread throughout Italy, becoming a dessert for all occasions!
5. Horse Meat
In Catania, horse meat is the queen of street food and its consumption is a long-standing tradition. Along Via del Plebiscito, for example, there are numerous trattorias where you can sample various Catania dishes made with horse meat and come across several butcher shops selling this type of meat. Wherever you choose to go, you absolutely must try the meatballs and horse sausages!
6. Catania meatballs
This is a typical product of Catania cuisine made with minced meat (usually horse meat), breadcrumbs, eggs, cheese, salt and pepper that can be prepared in various ways: stewed, baked, grilled or inside a round bun.
In Catania, meatballs are the undisputed queen of street food and represent a low-cost alternative to more sophisticated dishes. An original idea is to try this typical Catania dish inside a characteristic meatball shop! Here you can eat meatballs of various kinds or simply have an aperitif in an atmospheric venue.
7. Pasta alla norma
This is one of Catania’s most iconic dishes, not at all light, but a must-try during your holiday! It is a dish of pasta, fried aubergines, tomato sauce, basil, garlic and finally a grating of the ever-present salted ricotta cheese.
The origin of the name seems to derive from the famous opera by Vincenzo Bellini. An anecdote reports that Nino Martoglio, an important Sicilian poet, in front of this dish allegedly exclaimed: “Chista è ‘na vera Norma!” (“This is a real Norma!”), referring to Bellini’s masterpiece to highlight the goodness of the pasta. Today, this delicious pasta dish is known all over the world. To celebrate it, the National Pasta alla Norma Day was also established, which falls every year on 23rd of September.
8. Spaghetti alla carrettiera
It is one of Sicily’s oldest recipes. The origins of this dish date back to the early 1900s, when in Sicily carters (transporters of goods and people), not having enough money to spend on eating in roadside restaurants, would take various simple and genuine ingredients such as pasta, garlic, olive oil, salt, pecorino cheese, chilli pepper, parsley and dry bread on their journey to make spaghetti alla carrettiera; a first course that is easy to prepare at any time and also good cold.
9. Broad bean macco
This soup is typical of the feast of San Giuseppe di Ramacca, in the province of Catania. In ancient times, this dish was considered “the dish of good omen” that landowners offered to all farmers to celebrate the end of work.
Broad bean macco is a poor man’s dish with a creamy consistency, obtained by prolonged cooking of the broad beans until they completely disintegrate. This soup can be served either as a first course or as a main dish, if accompanied by pasta and boiled vegetables, and can be eaten at any time of year, because depending on the season it is prepared using fresh or dried pulses.
10. Lemon seltzer
This is the typical drink consumed by the people of Catania, especially during the summer, in the kiosks of Catania and the surrounding area to refresh themselves with taste and naturally replenish the mineral salts lost through sweat!
This drink is prepared with soda water tapped from special siphons or using bottled sparkling water to which is added the juice of a very fresh Etna lemon extracted using a lever citrus juicer, which also allows the release of the fragrant essential oil from the peel. Finally, you can decide whether to add a little salt to replenish the mineral salts or sugar if you want to create an instant lemonade, rich in vitamin C.
Most Catanese remain faithful to tradition, preferring this cool and refreshing drink; but inside the kiosks, in addition to the classic lemon seltzer, we can find a wide choice of drinks such as the delicious Nutella milkshake, the mandarinetto perfect for fruit lovers, and the tamarind with a flavor similar to chinotto.
This is a delicious Catanese sweet typically eaten for breakfast in the local cafés or at the nearest bakery and the protagonist of various festivals and gastronomic events throughout Sicily. These are fried or baked half-moons filled with ricotta cheese to which cinnamon or chocolate chips can be added to make it even tastier.
This cake is one of Catania’s typical specialties and is related to the sweet fried raviolo, popular in the north, filled with ricotta like the raviola but smaller in size.
These are typical Catania (but also Messina) biscuits with a slightly chewy texture, made with toasted almonds, eggs, orange and cinnamon. They are excellent at the end of a meal, especially if accompanied by a good wine or the classic amaro.
The recipe for these biscuits has ancient origins: it was the Vincentian nuns of Catania who created the Nzuddi biscuits (“Nzuddi” means “Vincenzo” in Sicilian dialect). Today, they are widespread throughout Sicily and are usually eaten on 2nd of November during the All Souls’ Day and on 3rd of June during the Patronal festival.
13. Crespelle di riso Catanesi
Crespelle di riso Catanesi (in dialect, crispeddi) are very similar to sfincione di riso, a typical sweet of the city of Messina. These appetising sweets are prepared on 19th of March, on Father’s Day, but can be bought all year round.
Messina’s Sfinci di riso are leavened rice fritters, usually flavored with orange and cinnamon and sprinkled with caster sugar; Catania’s Crespelle di riso, on the other hand, are served with honey. Each area has its own recipe; some prefer to flavor them with lemon peel, or some cook them only with water and do not use milk. Whichever recipe you make, the most important part for the success of this dessert is the rice; the grains must not be overcooked and must stand out inside each Sfince.
14. Iris catanesi
These are poor, cheap pastries that the Catanese love to eat for breakfast in bars. They were created to recover leftover white bread or brioches. On the outside they consist of a crispy breaded and fried crust and on the inside a tasty filling of cream or chocolate.
There are two different types of iris; one linked to the culinary tradition of Palermo and one linked to that of Catania. The Palermitan ones are prepared using brioche dough and filled with ricotta cheese, while the Catanese irises are prepared using milk buns and filled with cream.
15. Olivette of Sant’Agata
These are typical Catanese sweets, traditionally prepared during the patronal feast of Sant’Agata. As their name implies, olivette are olive-shaped sweets, prepared using green almond paste and usually a few drops of liqueur. This characteristic shape is meant to recall an episode in the life of the saint. According to one legend, Agata, while being brought to trial by the proconsul of Catania, stopped to tie a sandal and as soon as she put her foot down, an olive tree full of fruit began to grow. From that day on, the fellow citizens got into the habit of harvesting the olives from the tree to donate or preserve them.
16. Granita with brioche
It is a cold dessert made with a mixture of water, sugar and fruit that is frozen slowly (never completely) and stirred constantly to obtain a grainy, creamy consistency. It is a real delicacy that was traditionally served with fresh bread, with time replaced by the typical Sicilian “brioscia”, made with leavened egg dough and flavored with vanilla or citrus fruits, served hot together with the granita, in which it can be dipped.
As for the flavors of granita, there are many and they change depending on the city where it is enjoyed. Lemon, almond, coffee, chocolate, but also pistachio, strawberry and black mulberry are definitely worth trying.
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Besides being a good food lover, are you also a wine lover? If you are looking for the best wine to taste and pair with Catania’s cuisine, then you are in the right place! The province of Catania boasts an important number of appellations of origin dedicated to wine; these include Cerasuolo Di Vittoria DOCG, Vittoria DOC, Sicilia DOC and Terre Siciliane IGT, but exclusive to the city of Catania is Etna DOC.
The most common type of Etna DOC wine is Etna Rosso DOC: a ruby red wine, characterized by an intense aroma and a dry, robust flavor; perfect with cured meats and, in general, with meat dishes, both red and white. Etna Bianco DOC, on the other hand, is a straw-yellow wine, characterized by a delicate aroma and a dry, fresh flavor; excellent with fish dishes. In addition to these, we also find Etna Spumante DOC, a rosé wine, characterized by an intense aroma and harmonious flavor; excellent with vegetable starters, fish dishes and cheeses.
Events to taste typical dishes from Catania
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flickr, Mauro Astolfi
Every year, a whole series of events are organized in the province of Catania that allow visitors to come into direct contact with the flavors, aromas and vibrant colors of Catania’s cuisine. Some examples are:
- Pistachio festival in Bronte: organized in October in Bronte, to celebrate the fruit par excellence of its land.
- Street food festival: Event organized in May in Catania, where you can taste the best expressions of street food enjoying music and shows.
- Strawberry festival: organized in June in Maletto, full of fun and taste among food stands.
And now that you know what to eat in Catania, what are you waiting for? Book now your next holiday dedicated to taste and fun in magical Sicily and remember that, with Italia Delight, you have the possibility of organizing the food and wine experience or trip that suits you best! 😍
Cover photo: Francesco-ungaro-nia, unsplash
Featured photos: pixabay, notiziecatania