Palermo is the street food capital of Italy. There are stalls selling ‘cibo di strada’ everywhere you go, and there is something for everybody, from vegans to meat eaters. There is also lots of delicious offal to try, which I have put in the next post, part 2, to protect those weak of stomach…
I had my work cut out for me but I managed to get to many of the most famous places. You can find all the vendors I mention below, and many more I didn’t get to, on my map marked with the fast food symbol.
For me, the best pickings were to be had around Piazza del Carmine, in the centre of the Ballarò market, around 7.30 in the morning.
This chap is selling Sfincione, a thick-crusted flatbread topped with a tomato sauce containing onion, anchovies, herbs and pecorino. It’s said to be the origin of the Chicago deep-pan pizza.
In Palermo, it seems to come in two main shapes, either circular like a pizza, or a longer, smaller version suitable for one.
I got this one from a cart in the Borgo Vecchio which the guy cut in half for me.
The ones from the carts were the best I had but if they’re not around and you want to try it, then most bakeries will also have it.
Of the two bakeries I tried in the Ballarò, I preferred Panificio Marino at 10 Via Albergheria over Panificio Lo Coco at 23 Via Collegio di Maria Al Carmine.
I was intrigued to compare their mini-sfincione with their pizzetta, the latter made with a plain tomato sauce, a slices of mozzarella and a scattering of herbs. It was fine, but the sfincione was better.
Another popular snack everyone should try is Pane e Panelle, deep-fried chick pea fritters in a sesame bread bun. Personally I find them a bit bland but they are very popular and quintissentially Palmeritan.
Again this one was from a stall just off Piazza Carmine.
A must-try is the Arancina, a deep-fried saffron-scented rice ball that can have a variety of fillings but the classics are either ‘al Burro’ (with bechamel, cheese and ham)…
or ‘al ragù’ with meat sauce and peas. A warm one of these with a cold beer is one of my favourite things in life.
The two examples above came from different branches of Bar Touring, a small chain which is sometimes also called Arancina Bomba, after the name of their over-sized best seller. Each branch I went to was quite different with the most refined being in Mondello (see later post), the biggest (the original branch) at 237 Via de Gasperi, and the cheapest (and greasiest) near the Botanical Garden at 15 Via Lincoln. The quality of their Bomba varied accordingly but was a meal in itself each time.
Another good place to try them is at the relative newcomer Ke Palle at 270 Via Maqueda where they have over a dozen different Arancini on the menu.
I tried their pistachio version, which was an interesting change, but it’s all about the ragù for me. The crust seemed a bit crispier here than at Touring where sometimes it could be a bit soggy (but still delicious).
My favourite spot for arancini is Bar Vabres at 85 Via Michele Cipolla, near the station.
Their arancini are ranked amongst the best in the city and they get through an average of fifteen kilos of rice a day!
However, at the risk of never being allowed back to Palermo, I have to say though that overall I preferred the arancini I had in Messina (post here) and Catania (post here). Please feel free to disagree with me in the comment section below!
There are many other deep-fried delicies to try. Here we have the afore-mentioned chick pea Panella on the left. The square to the right is Spiedini Ragù (a deep-fried bread and ragù combo), and the triangle is what locals call Crostini. In central Italy the same word means ‘bruschetta’ but in Sicily they are slices of deep-fried bread, in this case containing a filling of mozzarella and bechamel with prosciutto. The balls are Arancinette (small Arancini, one al ragù, one al burro).
The longer, paler tubes are Crocchè (mashed potato, egg and cheese, covered in bread crumbs) which are known locally as Cazzilli which translates as ‘little cocks’! The darker tubes are the hard-to-find Rascatura (fritters made with the leftovers from panelle and cazzilli).
In my experience, the best place to try all of these is Panineria Chiluzzo in Piazza della Kalsa (open daily 8:00am to 5:00pm).
I really liked their attitude here and would put it down as a must-visit, but you might need some help if like me you ordered a whole plate!
Another interesting spot is I Cuochini (Little Cooks), the oldest rotisserie in Palermo (since 1826), which is hidden in a courtyard off the posh shopping street, Via Ruggiero Settimo. You’ll see their sign by the arch of #68, just go inside and they’re through a doorway on the right.
I had an Arancinetta al Ragù and a Pizzeta, both of which were good. They are also renowned for their Pane e Panelle (see above), Crocchette di Latte Fritto (fried balls of milk with flour and nutmeg) and Panzerotti (stuffed fried dough pockets with fillings that include ricotta and mint, squash blossoms and cheese, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and anchovies). You can also get more unusual items such as Krapfens (a savoury version of the central European doughnut, ie fried dough with ham and cheese filling), and Timballetti (deep-fried balls of pasta with various sauces).
A flavour experience that made a lasting impression on me was Pomegranate Granita, the perfect antidote to boiling hot weather. It became a bit of an obsession and I must have eaten it at least half a dozen times. The best I found was from the Chioschetto della Cattedrale, a kiosk opposite the cathedral.
Another new drink for me was Caffè Crema, an iced, creamy variant of espresso served from a constantly spinning machine which keeps it creamy.
I was slightly surprised by how little seafood there was for sale on the street, but maybe it has become too expensive. I scored this plate of delicious boiled and marinated octopus in the Mercato di Capo but it wasn’t cheap at 10€ for a plate.
So lots of choices to keep you going!
But for the hardcore, keep reading for Palermo’s famous offal dishes, coming next in street food – part 2 …