Palermo – restaurants – eating cheaply & well

All my favourite eating experiences in Palermo were at the cheaper, everday trattorias frequented by locals and in this post I review three of my favourites. The first one (one of my most beloved restaurants of all time), is a retro place where people take their grandparents to eat traditional dishes, while the other two are typical workingmen’s eateries servicing the local lunchtime trade with Cucina Tipica Siciliana (click on the links for recipes). Everywhere mentioned can be found on my map.

Altri Tempi (Low Intermediate A+), 65 Via Sammartino,

I absolutely adore ‘Other Times’ for its ethos as much as its food. It’s old school in every way; the menu is witten in local dialect (and English) and the dishes are very traditional, and therefore occasionally a bit challenging! I’ve been twice, the first time in 2010 and again in 2021, when I was delighted to discover, it had barely changed. The set menu (the only option) was still only €25, up from €20 eleven years before, and still included free refills of water, wine and digestivi!

Sadly I’ve lost my photos of the food but I can still give you a good idea of what to expect. My advice is to go on an empty stomach because you will be given much more food than you can possibly eat. The antipasti alone involves seven dishes! These included the following traditional plates;

Caciu e Pomodoro Siccu, medium-aged cheese with sundried tomatoes and capers (B).
Caponata, stewed aubergine (B).
Vrocculi e Carduna a Pastetta, deep fried cauliflower and cardoons, served with Panelle chickpea fritters (A).
Favi a Cunigghiu, broad beans cooked with garlic, oregano and oil, which should be eaten in ‘the style of a rabbit’ i.e. with your hands as you have to remove the thick outer skin of the beans (A).
N’zalata d’Arenga, smoked herring with orange, lemon, celery and olive oil, too powerful for me and I’m half Norwegian (C-).
Mussu e Carcagnòlu, calves muzzle and cartilage, which sounds worrying but is actually not bad at all (B)!
Muffuletti, small buns filled with goat ricotta in 2021 (B+) but in 2010, sauteed octopus, squid, mussels (B).

Remember to click the links for recipes.

The following pasta course is Pasta chi Sardi (hollow pasta with sardines, dried broad beans, wild fennel and oil) which was a bit too rustic for me on my first attempt, but I liked it more the second time. I admitted defeat at this point in 2011 but in 2022 I reached the main course, a trio of fish-based specialites; Baccalà a Frincione (saltcod with Sfincione sauce), Purpetti ri Sardi (meatballs with sardines) and Purpiceddi Murati (baby octopus in a tomato-based sauce).

After a dessert of seasonal fruit and a Cannolicchi (small cannolo), three chilled bottles of homemade liqueurs arrive on the table, namely Limoncello, Finocchietto (fennel) and Alloro (infused laurel leaves, a herbal taste like amaro but clear), all (!) of which are delicious. What a place! Do please go.

Trattoria Il Bersagliere, 38 Via S. Nicolò All’Albergheria,

‘The Rifleman’ is a down-to-earth trattoria in the heart of the Ballarò market. It’s where a lot of the stall holders and other local workers come for lunch and the tables inside and out are usually packed. For all these reasons, you can expect fairly brusque service as a tourist. I was unceremoniously turfed out once I’d finished eating but I didn’t mind too much as I was a single diner and there were lots of other hungry mouths to feed.

Again the food is very rustic and crazy cheap (all antipasti and pasta dishes were €6 in 2022). I always go for the unfamiliar stuff on the menu so I started with the Insalata di Bollito, a boiled veal ‘salad’ (so-called because it’s cold and includes a little veg and some vinegar). While a little daunting to look at, it tasted pretty good (B) although the amount was way too much for one.

One of the pasta dishes on the menu was new to me so I got that. Spaghetti alla Boscaiola (pasta in the style of the Lumberjack) involves sausage meat and mushrooms as a base with the possible addition of pancetta. It can be eaten Bianca (with little or no cream at all), as it is here, or Macchiata (with a little tomato and a little cream) or Al Sugo (lots of tomato but no cream).

When I researched the dish, I found out that many Italian regions have their own versions (the Sicilians tend to add peas) so I made my own British version when I got home with smoked bacon and Gloucester Old Spot sausage meat which worked very well (A).

I loved the no-frills simplicity of it all so I’ll definitely be returning to Il Bersagliere. This next place is quite similar but a bit more friendly…

Trattoria Piscia e Trema – da Pino, 6 Via dello Spezio,

‘Piss & Tremble’ (!), or more popularly ‘da Pino’, is another lunch joint serving labourers, located on the edge of the Borgo Vecchio (quite near the Hotel Plaza Opéra where my employer puts me up) which is a slightly rough district where few tourists go. Don’t let that put you off though, the staff and customers were lovely, even though I slightly overstayed my welcome…

I started with an excellent Caponata…

…and followed up with from Pasta alla Grassa, a local dish of spaghetti with potatoes and ham. It’s classic ‘cucina da povera’ where the pasta is dressed with the cooking juices left over from stewing the meat and veg for the main course. An energising double carb hit for the working man!

For the main, some roasted chicken and potatoes…

…followed by a slice of Cassata al Forno (baked cassata) and a shot of sweet wine to finish.

I detected a slight frustation on the part of the owner when I ordered dessert as I was a single diner on a table for ten (the others had left) and there were large groups of waiting customers on the pavement outside. So I finished as quickly as I could and asked for the bill, which made my jaw drop…

That’s four courses of good food with four different drinks for around £20! Absolutely gobsmacking value compared to eating out in the UK. Maybe I should move to Palermo…

Eating at the opposite end next!

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