A couple of days in Catania

Catania is a fantastic city, with some great restaurants, especially down my the fish market.

La Paglia (Elementary A), 23 Via Pardo, closed Sundays. GEM ALERT!

Also recommended by the guides, this is more down-market than Antica Marina next door and less crowded. You can have a great three course seafood meal here at a very reasonable price.

I  had the Antipasti di Mare, which consisted of a fried sardine coated in breadcrumbs and possibly filled with bottarga and pine nuts (B), a plate of delicious Telline, little clams that look like butterflies when open (A), raw prawns with peperoncino and parsley (A) and an Insalata di Mare of octopus, mussels, squid (B+) and mopped up with delicious sesame seed bread (A).

For the next course I had spaghetti with squid, prawns, octopus and vongole clams (B+) which didn’t look very appetising, and wasn’t al dente, but tasted delicious! Some of the prawns had been fried which added a different taste and texture and the pasta had soaked up the stock which really made it.

My friend Nicky had Zuppa di Vongole e Cozze which we thought had been cooked in sea water as it was deliciously salty and again the stock was wonderful (B+). To drink we had a bottle of Cataro Grillo ‘Rampante’ (Russo, Bianco di Etna IGT) white (B) and Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC red (Etna Terre di Giurfo ’04) (B) and a glass of disappointing Zibibbo (C). Lemon sorbet with wild strawberries to finish (B).

Total cost for two, a meagre €65. Great food and great hospitality from the lovely lady who runs the place.

Osteria Antica Marina (Advanced ?), 29 Via Pardo (fish market), Tel 095 348 197, closed Tuesdays.

Recommended in several guides, this is perhaps the best seafood place in town. Very popular, I tried to reserve on the day but couldn’t get in and went next door to La Paglia instead.

One year later, I reserved a table a couple of days ahead but when we arrived the table they offered us was right next to the door and they couldn’t/wouldn’t give us anywhere else even though hardly anyone had arrived. In protest we went next door to La Paglia again and had a great meal for a fraction of the price.

Agora Hostel (A), Piazza Curro. GEM ALERT!

This is a late night bar with a large seating area outside. They do great Mohitos and serve food inside too but I didn’t try it. If you go downstairs, all the way down through the restaurant, you will see a stream running through the cellar which was once used as a bath house by the Romans. A unique and eerie spot.

Sicilia in Bocca (A), 16 Piazza Pietro Lupo, Tel 095 7461 361

‘Sicily in Mouth’ is recommended in a couple of guides, it’s a great place for seafood and local specialities, they have a large self-service buffet too. The waiters aren’t unfriendly as such but they’re a little brusque and speak very quickly in dialect! Very popular but we got in without a reservation.

A last minute visit to the market is a must. It’s in Piazza C.Alberto, between via Etnea, via Umberto I and Corso Sicilia. Even if you don’t want to shop (hard not to!) or take photos, it’s great fun just trying to decipher what the old guys on the stalls are croaking about to their audience of critical Sicilian nonnas.

You can get fresh cherry tomatoes from Pachino, artichokes, bags of peperoncino, dried oregano, sun-dried tomatoes, green lemons, olives, fennel, garlic, oyster mushrooms, almonds, chestnuts, dried fruit, cheese, salt-cod and multi-coloured Figi di India (prickly pears), though it’s better to point at that last one as it’s also a rude word!

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I got stung with three prickly pears that had small rotten patches, probably because I wanted so few, and wouldn’t be coming back. Other more honest stalls sell these cheap and upfront with the sign ‘bastardoni nostrani’ on the crate.

There is a panificio (bakery) at 68 Via Grotte Bianche where a nice old lady will sell you some freshly baked bread, with or without sesame seeds.

Catania, Sicily, 2008-2009

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