Sicily is world-renowned for its sweets and as the island’s second city, it goes without saying that Catania has some fantastic cafes and patisseries serving them. Below I review four of the most famous ones and suggest the best things to eat and drink in them. You’ll find everywhere mentioned on my map.
The two most famous cafes are handily located right next door to each other. I rented an AirBnB nearby just so I could take breakfast at one or the other every day of my stay.
Savia (Advanced A), 300/302/304 Via Etnea, on the corner with Via Umberto I, www.savia.it
The classic summer breakfast in Sicily is “a granita câ brioscia” (granita and brioche) and Savia has been making it since 1897.
Granita is made from a mixture of water, sugar, and fruit that’s continuously stirred while it’s being frozen to give it a grainy texture. I went for the Pistacchio flavour because of Catania’s proximity to Bronte, the small village near Etna where the best pistachios come from and it was really excellent (A). The fluffy brioche was also lighter than any others I tried (A). Sicilian brioscia are made with a leavened egg-based dough and flavored with vanilla or citrus. The shape is similar to a hair bun and Catanians fight each other for the best bit which is the small knob on the top, or the “tuppu” as it’s known. The brioche is served warm, along with the granita for dipping into.
Sicily is of course also famous for Gelato, a milk and sugar-based dessert that differs from ice cream in that it has a higher milk content and has less air and fat, making it denser and richer in flavour. I did some considerable research to find the best gelateria selling the best flavour and narrowed it down to the classic Gianduia (chocolate hazelnut) sold at Savia. It remains to this day the best gelato I’ve ever tasted (A+).
Their coffee (also a vital breakfast constituent at any time of year) is great too (A).
Spinella (Advanced A), 292 Via Etnea, www.pasticceriaspinella.it
This is probably Catania’s most famous café and pasticceria, an institution since 1936. They do make excellent sweets and coffee although for me their rival next door edges them on both.
However I think Spinella is probably better for savoury items. I’ve already recommended their Arancina con Ragu (A) in my previous post on street food, but I also liked their Cipollina, a flaky baked pastry containing tomato, cheese and onions (B+).
That said they are also famous for their Frutta Martorana, traditional marzipan sweets shaped like fruit and vegetables.
And down in the old town…
Nonna Vincenza (Intermediate A), 7 Piazza San Placido, www.dolcinonnavincenza.it
As the name suggests this is a very traditional cake shop. It’s just around the corner from Palazzo Biscari (one of the top sights I mention in my coming post on Baroque Architecture in Catania).
There are many sweet things to try.
The Cannolis (Sicily’s most famous sweet) look like a particularly good option.
However I’d come to try their Minne di Sant’Agata (A) which are like very small Cassata (hence the alternative name Cassatella), yet another favourite Sicilian dessert of mine when it’s done right.
The filling is sponge cake soaked in rosolio (rose petal liqueur) and stuffed with ricotta (sheep’s milk cheese), chocolate drops and candied fruit. Then they’re covered in white icing and finished with a candied cherry on top.
The story behind them is quite shocking so skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know! Saint Agatha was a local Catanian girl who became a Christian martyr and patron saint of Catania. The manner of her death was particularly gruesome as she was tortured by having her breasts cut off with pincers. The minne are made as a representation of her sacrifice for the festival held in her honour every February.
I continued my obsession with spherical cakes on the other side of town…
Caffè Europa (Advanced A), 302 Corso Italia, www.caffeuropa.it
Bit of a trek this one (to the new part of town over by the port) but totally worth it if you’re sweet of tooth. Their cake display is simply flabbergasting. My video here.
Their coffee, almond granita and brioche are all top notch too (A).
They’d sold out of Capezzoli di Venere (Nipples of Venus) so I went for their highly refined Tortino di Pistacchio instead.
Just to reiterate, anything that features pistachios from Bronte is going to be killer and of course this was no exception (A).
As you can imagine you’d need at least a year to work through all the Sicilian sweets, many of which are seasonal, but I hope you can see I gave it my best shot!
Rest assured there will be more sweet stuff to come, in my coming posts on Messina and Reggio Calabria, but sticking with Catania for now, let’s move on to the restaurants and bars…