In this guide, you will discover all the beauties of this corner of Sicily and the most famous Syracuse delicacies.
“The most beautiful and the most noble among Greek cities” – that is how the author Titus Livy defined the city of Syracuse. Founded between 734 and 733 BC, Siracusa became one of the most important cities of Magna Graecia, dominating the entire Mediterranean until its conquest by the Roman Empire.
In this city, located in the southeastern part of Sicily, you can enjoy traditional dishes under the banner of the artistic and architectural beauty of the historic center and the rocky necropolis of Pantalica, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The necropolis, unique as it features more than 5,000 tombs carved into the rock, is located 40 km from the city of Syracuse.
Also, don’t miss some of the most beautiful villages on the island. Among them, you absolutely must see Buccheri, a town located in the Hyblaean Mountains that became the world capital of extra virgin olive oil in 2015. Counted among the most beautiful villages in Italy like the previous one, Ferla stands out for its traditional Easter procession. You cannot miss a visit to Marzamemi, a town with crystal-clear waters, famous for the ancient origins of the local tuna fishery, or a trip to Palazzolo Acreide, a Baroque-style UNESCO site.
Syracuse: the first cooking school
Throughout the West, it was Syracuse that grabbed the title of the first cooking school. That of Syracuse, in fact, was a cuisine so delicious and structured that it attracted cooks from neighbouring regions to learn the art of gastronomy.
Among the most renowned in Greece, Syracusan gastronomy saw its cornerstones in such dishes as salted fish, so prepared to allow optimal preservation, pasta and home-made bread, paired with cheese. In the 1st century AD, on the other hand, honey and wine, typical local products, were the most exported foods within ancient Rome.
Today’s Syracusan cuisine also sees the presence of ingredients that are the result of Arab domination; were the Arabs, in fact, to introduce citrus fruits, such as orange and lemon, almonds and sugar, from here later commercialized throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Some products also came from the Americas: potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.
Ingredients of Syracuse cuisine
Siracusa is definitely characterized by the presence of poor and genuine ingredients. The gastronomic tradition involves the union of sea and land products, although the Syracusan people present a vocation for seafood cuisine, the result of the territory’s facing the Ionian Sea.
The tradition of tuna fishing is combined with that of oily fish; in fact, it is possible to find at the local markets in Ortigia and Viale dei Comuni – which you absolutely must visit – anchovies, called masculinu in dialect, mackerel and sardines. There are also shellfish, such as lobsters and red shrimp, and molluscs, mainly murex and limpets, which are often eaten raw here.
Land products include dairy products, among which ricotta, prepared – as they say in Siracusa – by u ricuttaru, as well as spices, such as oregano, marjoram, and bay leaves. In fact, little curiosity, near Syracuse rises Mount Lauro, so named because of the presence of laurus nobilis, that is laurel. A product of excellence in the area is the Palazzolo Acreide sausage, a Slow Food presidium.
The excellences you cannot do without!
How precious the raw materials of the Syracuse area are is evidenced by the PDO and PGI certifications. Syracuse PGI lemons, produced mostly in organic agriculture, are harvested in the Siracusa territory by hand.
Also in this territory occurs the cultivation of the PGI Sicilian blood orange, unique for its colouring and richness in antioxidants, excellent for strengthening the immune system. The territory is also suited for the production of the Pachino PGI tomato, characterized by a sweet and strong flavour; you can taste it cherry, ribbed or smooth round.
You will be able to take home with you, with the aim of donating it or enjoying it to bring back the enveloping Sicilian flavour, the extra virgin olive oil PDO of the Hyblaean Mountains, Avola’s almond, the honey liqueur of Sortino and the Nero d’Avola wine, a Sicilian red wine par excellence, produced with native vines from the eastern part of the island.
There is no better advice I can give you than to lose yourself in the streets of the city, discovering the gastronomic realities that will allow you to enter fully into the local food and wine cultures. You will be drawn in by the smells of the rotisseries and fry shops and hear the sound of fish and fruit and vegetable vendors. I strongly suggest you to taste the local specialities at the ancient market in Ortigia, where you can taste and buy fresh and hard cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, the catch of the day, and vegetables.
Follow me to learn about what to eat in Syracuse: cheap and tasty dishes that you can enjoy in local trattorias and farms, or prepare at home in the name of conviviality. 👇
What to eat in Siracusa?
Scaccia is the quintessential Syracuse dish. This food, belonging to peasant tradition, has its roots in the late 1600s.
The recipe, handed down from generation to generation, is presented as simple but tasty and involves a base of well-leavened bread dough and a filling made up of fresh vegetables, usually cauliflower and broccoli. Typically baked in a wood-fired oven, scaccia is characteristic of the Christmas tradition, as well as Easter, and it involves a bronze surface colour, due to the addition of egg yolk or oil before baking, and a soft filling.
Numerous variations are found throughout Sicily, made with the addition of potatoes or local cheeses. In the Syracuse area the scaccia takes the name impanata (mpanata, in dialect), indicating a possible reference to Spanish empanadas. Two local versions include the filling with potatoes and sausage or with chard.
You can enjoy them while walking through the city streets, maybe sitting and admiring the sea, so buying them in one of Syracuse’s bakeries, or sitting in a restaurant.
From the Sicilian word ancucchiare, meaning “to put together”, cucche are rounded rustic dishes. According to tradition this dish is made from leftover bread dough, following the preparation of home-made bread. The sausage and cheese filling makes this food very tasty; you can find it daily inside the city’s rotisseries.
Pastizzetti, also known as pastieri, are small baskets of dough made with flour, water, olive oil, salt and yeast, usually filled with minced meat, rice and pecorino cheese; prepared in the past with lamb entrails, they are now part of Syracuse’s Easter tradition.
4. Syracuse-style fried pasta
Pasta fritta alla siracusana boasts very ancient origins: created in 400 B.C. during the reign of Dionysius I of Syracuse, the recipe consisted of very fine spaghetti, called angel hair and eaten together with honey from the Hyblaean Mountains. Coming to the present day, the recipe needs thicker spaghetti, which, once cooked, must be whipped with anchovies and served with well-toasted bread crumbs.
Today the recipe is known as “fried pasta” because the most popular version involves spaghetti that are fried, without the use of eggs (in this it differs from the Neapolitan fried pasta). There is also a red version of this pasta, using tomato sauce.
5. Pasta with sardines
Beloved so much by Syracusans, pasta with sardines dates back to the 9th century and it is a recipe inherited from the Arab peoples; it is said to be the world’s first “sea and mountains” recipe, as it combines ingredients from these two environments. In any self-respecting pasta with sardines, three ingredients must be present: fresh sardines, pine nuts, and wild fennel, typically harvested in Sicily between spring and fall. In addition to the presence of saffron, some popular variations in other parts of Sicily include the use of tomato paste, in the Agrigento area, and toasted breadcrumbs, in the province of Catania. You will find this dish in all the typical places of this area.
6. Pasta with taddi
This first course in broth belongs to the tradition of the entire island; called “pasta with taddi” in the Syracuse area and throughout eastern Sicily, it is instead named “pasta with tenerumi” in western Sicily. But what am I talking about? Taddi, or tenerumi, are the leaves of the snake zucchini, a variety that grows up during summer in the Sicilian territory. It is characterized by the use of broken spaghetti and involves the use of a few other ingredients: garlic, olive oil and fresh tomatoes.
7. Pasta with Moorish sauce
Like other traditional Sicilian dishes, pasta with Moorish sauce owes its invention to Arab incursions. The protagonist of this popular recipe is tuna roe, a fish belonging to the local tradition. The mix of flavours unleashed by this dish is due to the presence of specific ingredients: orange, lemon and cinnamon, which are mixed with caciocavallo cheese and breadcrumbs, creating a unique recipe.
8. Lolli with fava beans
Two simple ingredients create a delicious dish: fresh pasta and fava cottoia, the latter is a typical fava bean of eastern Sicily and a Slow Food presidium. Broad beans, legumes that for centuries have been used as a source of sustenance for farmers and animals, are combined with home-made pasta made with durum wheat flour and water.
Matalotta is a fish soup typical of the Syracuse area. Throughout the area there are variations using different species among them; whether lampuga, red scorpionfish or mullet is used, the important thing is that fish has to be fresh. You cannot miss the addition of white wine and caper, a plant that grows in much of the region.
10. Syracuse-style tuna
The name already suggests what the star of this dish is: tuna, obviously very fresh, cooked with tomato sauce; the recipe also calls for the addition of cloves and cardamom. Variants with peppers or onion and mint can be found in the area.
Tradition tells that pizzolo, a stuffed flatbread, is baked on hot stones, from here the term pizzòlu, an oval-shaped stone. The spread of this dish, born in the peasant tradition with peppers, began in the first half of the 1900s. Today, the dough, cut in two to be stuffed, is seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme and cheese, and then filled with various products: spinach, aubergine, meat, cold cuts and local cheeses.
12. I puppetti di maccu
Puppetti di maccu are a traditional second course seafood, more specifically they are fish fritters. A few ingredients are mixed to form a product that is very popular in the city: whitebait, eggs, PDO Sicilian pecorino cheese, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and parsley.
Stimparata is a condiment that is used to accompany fish and meat, typically white meat such as chicken and rabbit. Made from potatoes, olives, carrots, vegetables, garlic, olive oil, mint, and vinegar, this accompaniment gets its name from the verb “stemperare,” due to the use of vinegar as a mitigator of the strong flavour of bushmeat.
Ghiotta, or gghiotta in Sicilian dialect, is a fish soup belonging to the tradition of the eastern part of the island. In Syracuse, and more precisely in the Marzamemi area, this recipe is prepared with three key ingredients: salted tuna, land snails and peppers. A dish with an unmistakable flavour that you must enjoy in the restaurants of the area.
Babbaluci, also called babbuci or vavaluci, are a typical Syracuse main course. What they are? They are land snails that are stewed with olive oil, onion, vinegar, tomatoes and peppers; you can find them in all areas of the province, from the sea to the mountains. Findings of perforated pots from the Hellenistic period, probably used for purging snails, testify the antiquity of the recipe.
Giuggiulena is a Syracuse and Sicilian dessert typical of the Christmas season. This meal-ending food comes from Arabs, hence in fact the name meaning sesame. Sesame makes up along with honey the entirety of the dessert, which is cut in the shape of a rhombus or rectangle, to be served with the addition of sprinkles.
17. Cuccia di Santa Lucia
A typical Sicilian dessert, cuccia is prepared with cooked wheat and sheep’s ricotta cheese, with the addition of orange peel, candied pumpkin, cinnamon and chocolate. Traditionally, this dish is eaten on December 13, on the occasion of Saint Lucia; in fact, legend tells that on December 13, 1763, a large quantity of wheat arrived in the port of Siracusa with the aim of ending the period of famine.
18. Zippuli of St. Martin
Zippuli di San Martino are sweet fritters that are eaten in the Syracuse area from November 11, St. Martin’s Day, until Carnival. A dough of flour, yeast, water and salt welcomes cinnamon and citrus fruits, and then they are often filled with fresh ricotta. You may also find a savoury version with anchovies.
19. Cassata siracusana
You are surely familiar with one of the recipes that most represents Sicily, namely cassata. In Syracuse, however, there is a version that differs from the classic one: in fact, if Palermo’s cassata is covered with marzipan, which gives the dessert its typical green colour, Syracuse’s cassata is covered externally with ricotta cheese. This variant, in addition to the classic sponge cake and ricotta cream, also includes a chocolate cream.
If you want to enter fully into the local food and wine traditions, you need to pair Syracuse’s typical dishes with the area’s best wines, produced from grape varieties that boast an ancient history and have ensured its international fame. Among the excellences, enjoy the wines belonging to the Siracusa CDO appellation: Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Moscato di Siracusa, sparkling or still. Don’t miss the chance to taste Eloro CDO and Avola IGT wine as well.
After this itinerary to discover the Syracuse food and wine tradition, it is time to point out some very interesting events where you can get in touch with typical Syracuse specialities.
If you are a wine lover and want to immerse yourself in the vineyards of the province of Syracuse, I recommend you participate in the “Cantine aperte in Vendemmia” event, which takes place every year in September and October, allowing you to visit the wineries of this area.
To enjoy Syracuse’s gastronomy instead, I suggest you head to the city during two main festivals, St. Martin’s Day, on November 11th, and St. Lucy’s Day, on December 13th. You will find many stalls and street food vendors, ready to let you taste the delicacies of this region.
At this point, now that you know what to eat in Siracusa, all you have to do is pack your bags and hit the road! Get to know the welcoming and genuine spirit of the city, which you can find in all its dishes. 😉
Cover photo: mario-caruso-unsplash
Featured photo: luca-n-xF3x-unsplash