Sicily’s most famous street food is the Arancina, a deep-fried rice ball, which is similar in size, shape, and colour to a small orange, hence the name.
However in Catania they have their own version called the Arancino which, rather than being round, has a pointed tip in homage to the cone of Etna, their local volcano. To eat them, they should be turned upside down and held by the tip, an elegant method of consumption that will help you blend in with the locals.
The issue of what to call them is so sensitive that the Cadèmia Siciliana was asked to decide which forms were correct, although wisely they say both are acceptable and the difference is due to shape and geography. Still it’s best to remember the terms you use are a matter of civic pride. Get them wrong and you risk insulting your hosts! In both cities the plural is ‘arancini’ so maybe order two to be safe!
Arancini come with different fillings, the classic being ‘al ragù’ (slow-cooked meat and tomato sauce) with mozzarella and/or caciocavallo cheese and peas.
The first of the three arancini al ragù I had in Catania was at Etoile d’Or (Intermediate B), a 24-hour bar and bakery at 7/9 Via Cardinale Dusmet, near the fish market. It was a lifesaver as my plane got in around 11pm and I hadn’t eaten, so I came here for a bedtime snack. God it tasted good (B+).
However I had an even better one at Pasticceria Spinella (Advanced A), which is also great for lots of other reasons (see my post on Cafes & Bakeries in Catania).
Equally as good and offering more options was Arancineria Espresso Serafino (Initial A) at 90 Via Musumeci. Unlike Spinella on busy Via Etnea, their tiny takeaway is a bit off the beaten track, a couple of blocks north west from Fera O’ Luni market, but totally worth searching out. Arancini are the only thing on the menu, although there’s about a dozen different varieties to choose from, including two other favourites of mine, ‘al burro’ (filled with ham and mozzarella or bechamel sauce) and ‘al nduja’ (spicy Calabrian sausage). They’re cooked from fresh so you might have to wait a short while (the frying takes six minutes) but it’s worth it to get one that’s still warm.
I stuck with the classic al ragù again which was a bit runnier than Spinella’s and had some boiled egg inside. It was totally delicious (A).
The best accompaniment for a warm arancino is a cold beer, Moretti for choice. In 2017 Moretti ran an advertising campaign with the slogan “Prova birra Moretti con arancino!” (Try Moretti beer with an arancino!) which led to Palermitans launching a campaign to boycott their beer!
Another place I went to for an arancino was Friggitoria Stella (Elementary C+) at 66 Via Ventimiglia which is the oldest friggitoria (frier) in Catania. They still have their ancient oven and the big basins they use for frying. It’s probably not worth going out of your way for but it’s halfway between the train station and the town centre if you’re doing that walk.
I arrived very late to discover they were sold out of arancini so instead I tried a Siciliana, a type of fried pizza stuffed with cheese, onion and olives. Other varieties include anchovies I believe. Sadly it was quite doughy and I left half of it (C+), but it filled a hole and I’d still come back for an arancino.
By the way, this type of fried pizza is what people in Puglia would call a Panzerotto but here in Catania, just to keep you on your toes, it means a chocolate-filled bun, whereas in Genoa it’s a kind of ravioli!
For fried fish, check out Scirocco Sicilian Fish Lab (Elementary B+) at 7 Piazza Alonzo di Benedetto, which also got a mention in my fish market post. It’s a tiny hoe-in-the-wall shop with four high tables and bar stools outside, overlooking the fish market. Their Cartoccio di Mare, a traditional paper cone of deep-fried small fish and prawns, cost me 6€ and an artisan craft beer was another 6€, which is a bit expensive but they were both very good (B+).
Another great thing about Catanian street food is the kiosk scene. Dotted around the city, in virtually every square, the chiosci are popular places for the Catanese to meet for a quick coffee or a snack, both in the day and at night. A particularly famous one is Chiosco Sicilia Seltz at 8/14 Corso Sicilia.
They sell all kinds of cocktails, snacks and desserts but they are particularly known for their Frappè alla Nutella Catanese, a kind of milkshake made with the famous chocolate spread.
For an extra euro you can have it topped with whipped cream and wafers or little biscuits but sadly I was watching my waistline. It still tasted great without them though (A).
Alterantively in the daytime you might like to get a refreshing Seltz e Limone to slake your thirst and replace your electrolytes on a hot day. All the kiosks will sell it.
You’ll find all the places mentioned and more on my map.
On to the cafes for some more calories next!