Take a Sicilian Street Food Tour in Palermo
This Palermo Street Food Tour was named perfectly — StrEat Palermo. As it implies, today we were doing one of our favorite things, sampling street food. Eating street food gets you right into the center of the culture and provides a glimpse at the heart of the people who are sustained by it. But this tour had much more to offer than just showcasing Palermo’s famous street food.
Sicily in an Italian island that has a long list of conquerors. All leaving behind their own impact on its culture, and it’s food. If you were thinking the street food consists of pizza and meatballs, guess again. Eating like a local will definitely expand your previous range of standard food choices. Here, nothing goes to waste. And like many of the generations of who have lived here, their traditions, including the food offered on the street, have been embraced for centuries.
Palermo’s street food is well prepared to stretch your culinary comfort zone and put their claim as having some of the very best street food in the world.
Our first taste of the day was at an unassuming cart with a basket covered with a dish towel. Across from us a fruit vendor sang out the specials of the day and got into loud discussions with the vendor selling fresh vegetables next door.
The Tour guide beckoned us in closer, telling us that within the basket was a special gift. Several locals were milling about, getting their samples of the gift tucked into fresh-baked rolls covered in sesame seeds. To be honest, when the vendor slid his hand into the warm basket and deposited a sample on a scrap of wax paper with a squeeze of lemon, I wasn’t so sure how thankful I was for the steamy bits before me.
The warm bits were glutenous, lightly spiced and lemony. Actually, it was surprisingly good. The offering, known as frittula, are the leftover bits from processing of cows. Frittula is considered a delicacy by locals that is only available in the morning until the baskets contents have run dry. It didn’t take long to discover that analogy of taking your lemons and making lemonade is something the citizenry of Palermo have down to a science.
In the market, we meandered up the narrow street, flanked on either side by vendors of all sorts. Fruit, fish, spices, olives, bread, wine were all available in abundance.
On our next stop we were set to sample of some Palermo’s popular fried foods. A Sicilian hot appetizer platter typically includes fried potato croquettes (cazzilli). It usually also includes, chickpea fritters and other vegetables. Sometimes covered in batter made with chickpeas seasoned with mint. These food traditional Sicilian street foods are left over from Arabs who made a lasting mark on the cuisine and culture here.
Next came my favorite taste of the day — arancine. These delightful rice balls are deep-fried and crunchy on the outside. Inside the fluffy rice has a savory center, the most typical here being ham and cheese. They were as delicious as they were filling, and we were just getting started.
We made our way to a place where our guide started preparing a picnic. One of the most unusual picnics I have attended. On this stop we entered a small bar where regulars were leaning against the bar. We were very warmly greeted (maybe too warmly?) and I was soon to find out why.
We snacked on delicacies that our guide selected along the way along with some local wine. As we left to continue our sampling the locals descended on our leftovers like a pack of wild dogs – toasting us happily as we went on our way. They apparently were relieved that there was plenty left for them to descend upon. Marco used the word “piranhas” I believe. No wonder they were so happy to see us.
Our next taste was looked and tasted a lot like a thick slick of pizza — but don’t call it pizza. Sfincione is spongy focaccia- like bread topped with tomato, cheese and bread crumbs. This popular street food is made by one bakery and sold in carts in the city center. Vendors invite you to try the bread, “full of oil and a little dust.” The dust referring to the sprinkled cheese/breadcrumb mixture on top and paying homage to the dusty streets on which it is enjoyed.
We walked for a while longer, taking in the sights and trying to work up an appetite for what Marco had in store for us next. Which, admittedly, took a little bit of a sell job. The next street vendor and his brother have been taking turns every other day cooking up this Palermo Street Food delicacy. The spleen sandwich . A few on the tour were a little reluctant to try it. Marco described it as pieces of spleen and lung cooked up in what I suspect was lard.
The vendor seemed to take a little offense when some were refusing his offering, exclaiming in Italian “How do you know you don’t like it unless you try.” We had actually had a spleen sandwich on a street food tour in Marrakech, but more of a ground version. And we thought this version was equally good, much to the delight of the vendor.
We had one more food stop on our tour. I’ll bet you can guess what it was. After much personal testing of the local offerings, our tour guide insisted that we were about to have the BEST cannoli in Palermo. Even though, we can say that despite being pretty full, we finished every crumb. It was that good.
As I look back, I wouldn’t skip any one of the stops we made on the tour. I’ll admit I anticipate more pizza than spleen sandwiches during my time in Palermo, I’ll probably remember eating the sandwich a whole lot more.
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