The guides will tell you there are three main markets in Palermo but La Vucciria (probably a corruption of ‘boucherie’) has just has a few shops and no stalls (certainly not during the pandemic when I was there) and is really just a fun place to go drinking in the evenings (more of which on my coming post on bars).
Of the other two markets, the Mercato di Ballarò is the largest and most sprawling, whereas the smaller Mercato di Capo is in a better part of town and is perhaps a bit more touristy and upmarket. All three can be found on my map of Palermo.
That said, one of the most famous modern local paintings is ‘La Vucciria’ by Palermitano painter Renato Guttuso (which can be seen in the Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri in Piazza Marina). As well as capturing the atmosphere of an outdoor market in full flow, the painting documents the moment Guttuso (the man in the yellow jumper) first saw his future mistress (she is shown from three different angles as the women in white, red and green dresses) while out shopping with his wife (the older looking woman behind him in black).
I spent a lot of time wandering around the Ballarò as it was larger and I could see something different every day. It also has lots of great street food stalls, more of which in the next post. Click on the photo gallery for the best view.
The long curly courgette (Lagenaria Longissima) in the last picture is called ‘cucuzza’ locally (‘zucchina lunga’ elsewhere) and is particularly popular in the south of Italy. I presume they become straight (see Capo pic) when grown from a pergola. The preceeding picture shows ‘tenerumi’, the leaves and shoots of the same plant (called ‘taddi di cucuzza’ in Calabria) which regularly feature as a side dish on the menus of most local restaurants, or in the traditional soup Minestra di Tenerumi.
My second AirBnB was right by the Mercato di Capo so I was there nearly every day as well.
If you look carefully at the stalls, you’ll notice that the combinations of the colours on display are not random. The tomatoes may be next to the lettuce or aubergines but never the carrots, as red stands out better in contrast to green or black rather than orange. The fishmongers use the same chromatic strategy, alternating the reds of mullet and prawns with the white squid and the grey-blue of other fish varieties.
I took a lot of food home, even buying an extra suitcase in the Ballaro to pack it all in (only about €20 ). I bought most of my cheese and charcuterie at Pizzo e Pizzo, the best deli in town (see later post) but at the markets I loaded up on bags of peperoncino, bunches of dried oregano and several bars of delicious Modica chocolate. Smile nicely and the vendors may well give you ‘un assaggio’ (a taste).
You’ll find random stalls on street corners all over Palermo.
The photos below are of shops and stalls around the busy crossroads of Corso Finocchiaro Aprile and Via Re Federico.
There is also the Mercato Borgo Vecchio in Piazza Don Luigi Sturzo but it seems much diminished in 2022 in contrast to when I stayed nearby ten years earlier. This picture was taken in 2009 but I didn’t see any tuna or swordfish being sold on my last visit.
The Ballaro has a flea market section but you’ll probably find better quality bric-a-brac at the Mercato delle Pulci in Piazza Domenico Peranni.
Street food next!