A lot of the most delicious food in Italy is what is known as ‘la cucina povera’, or ‘the cooking of the poor’, that is, based on the philosophy of not wasting anything edible, and using simple techniques to make every bite as tasty as possible. Palermo’s famous offal-based street foods fall very much into this category. Granted, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I love it…
The most famous Palmeritan street food dish is known in Sicilian as Pani câ Mèusa, or in Italian as Panino con la Milza, which is simply translated as ‘bread with spleen’. In fact it includes veal lung, and sometimes trachea, as well as spleen, that is boiled and fried in lard…
…and used to fill a hollowed out sesame-seed soft bread bun (called a Vastedda or Vastella locally). It can then be eaten in two ways, either Maritatu (‘married’ in Sicilian) with grated caciocavallo or ricotta, or Schettu (‘single’), without cheese but perhaps with salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, as in this photo. According to my observations, most people, myself included, prefer it Maritatu. It was difficult to like at first, but with time the chewy texture and slightly livery taste has grown on me with time.
I understand that the origin of Pani câ Mèusa dates back to the Middle Ages, when Jews working in the slaughterhouse were paid with the entrails which they cooked and resold with bread and cheese.
I’ve eaten it at three of the most famous places. The best in my opinion is L’Antica Focacceria di Porta Carbone at 62 Via Cala by the old port. Pani câ Mèusa is virtually the only thing they sell, besides panelle and crocche, which is maybe why it’s the best. Unlike other places, all the customers seem to be locals. The road around the port is a bit busy but you can sit at a table outside and get a view of the boats in the marina and Monte Pellegrino beyond.
Back in town, all the guides will mention the Antica Focacceria San Francesco as another good place to try Pani câ Mèusa.
Although historically famous, it’s now part of a national restaurant group and locals generally deride it as a tourist trap. I think it’s still worth a visit though as it’s in an old building located in a pleasant square. You can take away or stay for lunch (my review here).
Another good spot is ‘Nni Franco U’Vastiddaru on Corso Vittorio Emanuele on the corner by Piazza Marina. It has become increasingly popular with both tourists and locals and most likely you’ll have to queue a short while.
They’re particularly famous for their Pane e Panelle (chick pea fritters in a bread bun, see previous post). I tried it in their special (Il Triplo, a panino with panelle, crocche and fried aubergine) but I still found it a bit bland and found myself craving something with more flavour.
As a jack-of-all-trades, they also do other classics like Sfincione and their signature sandwich, the Panino Vastiddaru (with roast pork, salami, emmental cheese and spicy mushrooms), is supposed to be pretty good. You can sit outside on plastic tables and chairs in the small piazza next door.
Another place with a great rep is Nino U’ Ballerino at 76/78 Corso Camillo Finocchiaro Aprile, but sadly I was already too full when I walked past.
The next most famous Palmeritan street food dish is Stigghiole: lamb intestines (sometimes kid or veal), washed in water and salt, seasoned with parsley and skewered, or rolled around a spring onion, before being cooked directly on a grill. They should be eaten hot, seasoned with salt and lemon.
I tried them at a vendor (stigghiularu) in the Mercato di Ballaro and they were really good.
A similar-looking streetfood, you might see being grilled alongside Stigghiole is Mangia e Bevi (literally’ eat and drink’), which are barbecued spring onions wrapped in pancetta.
A good place to try them is Piazza della Kalsa by the Porta dei Greci where they are roasted outside on large grills. It’s a good spot as it’s near the sea and catches a bit of a breeze on warm evenings. This style of cooking meat outside on the street and eating on the fly is known as Arrusti e Mancia (‘roast and eat’). The clouds of smoke advertise the grill and draw people to it.
Another delicious offal dish I was intrigued to try was Frittula which is the scraps from the industrial slaughter of veal calves (fat, small cartilage, bones etc) which has first been boiled then fried in lard after which bay leaf, pepper or lemon juice may be added.
The frittularu serves it from a large wicker basket called a Panaru, which is covered to keep it warm.
The only frittularu I know of, a very good one, is this chap in Piazza Carmine in the Mercato di Ballaro. You need to arrive early in the morning, around 7.30, as he sells out pretty quickly.
One thing I didn’t get to try was Quarumi (Sicilian) or Caldume (Italian) which is veal tripe stewed with vegetables, served hot, with salt, pepper, oil, and lemon. If you want to practice listening to dialect, here’s a video (with subtitles in Italian) of a quarumaru talking about his trade.
You can find all the vendors I mention above, and many more I didn’t get to, on my map marked with the fast food symbol.
Now we just need a coffee and a pastry…