Palermo Street Food

Having decided to eat his way around Sicily, DonQui begins his gastronomic tour in Palermo.

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Time for an espresso 

The coffee from the machine in the hotel breakfast room is not that great so he takes a tip from a local and starts his day with a super-charged shot of espresso from the bar over the road.

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Capo market

Then he makes his way over to Capo market which is reminiscent of an Arab souk. This is hardly surprising given that it sprung up during the Arab occupation of Sicily 1200 years ago.

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The tastefully arranged displays of vegetables are amazing and DonQui learns a couple of interesting facts.

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Long Zucchini

These super long zucchini (courgettes) are a local speciality. They are grown over trellises which allow the zucchini to hang down and gain their long length.

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When broccoli becomes cauliflower

In Palermo, broccoli is called “sparacelli” and cauliflower is called “broccoli”.

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Palermo is famous for its street food.  

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After a bit of a wander around the market, DonQui stops off at  Arianna’s “Friggitoria Gastronomia” to sample some. 

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Cazzili are a sort of potato fritter flavoured with mint and parsley. Although not a great potato eater, DonQui rather likes them although one is plenty for him.

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Next up are arancine — deep fried balls of saffron-flavoured rice with a filling of meat and vegetables. These can be found all over Italy but these ones use the original recipe which pre-dates the introduction of tomatoes to Europe. They are utterly delicious and DonQui much prefers the saffron rice to the tomato infused version often served elsewhere. 

DonQui is informed by his local guide that a good arancina needs to be crisp and crunchy on the outside. This can only be achieved if freshly fried. If left in a display case for any length of time the steam will cause it to go soggy.

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Panella — a fritter of chickpea flour is OK but a bit boring. It needs a good squeeze of lemon to give it some cut-though but even then it is rather bland, stodgy and a bit greasy. DonQui can imagine that it would be the sort of thing he might enjoy later in the evening after a few too many beers.

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After a bit of a trot around the old city to work off one or two calories, DonQui summons up the courage to taste that most infamous of Palermo street food — the pani ca meusa, or spleen sandwich.

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Pippo serves up his Palermo delicacy

The inhabitants of Palermo love their spleen sandwiches and 72 year old Pippo has been preparing them since he was 6. His are reputed to be the best in the city. 

Thinly sliced pieces of offal are slowly simmered in a cauldron. The only spicing is salt. You can have them “single” with just a squeeze of lemon, or “married” with a sprinkling of cheese as well. DonQui goes for the former as his guide advises that it is best to remain single at first and only contemplate marriage later.

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DonQui finds it absolutely delicious. The meat is very tender and quite mild-tasting. The lemon juice provides a bit of a zing which balances the flavours perfectly. Maybe next time he will try ithe ‘married’ version with cheese.

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A short trot away from Pippo’s spleen sandwich stall is a tiny taverna which has been operated by the same family since the 19th century.  It is a bit of a dive but DonQui rather likes this as the place has plenty of atmosphere.

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A barrel of Sangue

Here he samples the local sangue or “blood wine”. This is a rough, sweet, fortified wine — a little bit like port without any refinement. It is rather good and DonQui is glad he tried it, even if it does not quite match the taste of a good port or marsala.

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Sfincione

To accompany his sangue he nibbles on some cheese and a piece of sfincione — thick soft bread with a topping of tomato, onion and anchovies. Although often described as Sicilian pizza, DonQui thinks it is perhaps more like a soft bruschetta. It is OK but not outstanding.

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Having grazed his way around the old city, DonQui stops off at a gelateria for a coffee and bacio ice cream. A more traditional way to have an ice cream in Palermo would have been a broscia which is a brioche cut in half with an ice cream in the middle. Since he has eaten so much already DonQui decides to stick with a cone as do most of the locals eating there.

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His stroll around the city provides DonQui with more than enough food to last him the day. In the evening he settles down at the very  pleasant Caffe Spinnato on via Belvadore for a beer or two.

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As these come with copious snacks he has no need to seek out a restaurant for dinner.

Note: DonQui likes to portray himself as an intrepid, independent explorer. He has a bit of that in him but the truth is that he would never have discovered the delights of Palermo street food on his own. His guide was the knowledgable and cheerful Marco on Exodus’ Sicily Food Adventure tour.

Bah Humbug

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Mid November is far to early for Christmas decorations in DonQui’s opinion.

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At least the, far too early, London decorations are reasonable tasteful.

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None-the-less, if he hears a Christmas carol playing any where before December he will trot sharply away.

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DonQui enjoys Christmas but he does so on the 24th-26th of December, not on the 16th of November.

Fort Lauderdale

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is not the sort of place one would usually expect to encounter DonQui. Yet he had a very enjoyable week there despite the vagaries of a particularly severe hurricane season.  September-October is not the best time to visit Florida but DonQui had his reasons, arriving after Hurricane Irma and dodging Hurricane Maria.

 

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The east coast of Florida managed to escape the worst of Hurricane Irma although cleaning-up operations were still going on. Piles of palm tree branches clogged the smaller streets awaiting clear-up and crews were still busy taking the sand from the roads and spreading it back on the beaches.

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Like so many North American cities, Fort Lauderdale has been concreted over to make way for the ubiquitous automobile. Wide roads and spaghetti junctions carve up the city leaving very little charm.

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Even the much touted Las Olas Boulevard feels like it is struggling to hold its own against the encroaching office blocks.

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The little strip along the beach at the eastern end of Las Olas does make for a good stroll with many bars and restaurants offering a lively atmosphere along with mediocre live music.

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The beach itself is quite wonderful with easy public access despite the many high rise hotels which line the front.  During the week the beaches are almost deserted…

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… yet on weekends and holidays they rapidly fill up.

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It is the water which makes Fort Lauderdale so much more than a concrete jungle. In addition to the beautiful beaches there are many canals which are best appreciated if you can take a boat — even if it is just one of the water taxis.

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Only a 30 minute drive to the west, the everglades begin and an airboat excursion there is very well worth it as DonQui has previously described.

 

In Search of the Perfect Pizza

Pizza is a serious matter in Naples — the city in which it was invented and perfected. In DonQui’s humble opinion, pizza in Naples if far better that pizza more or less anywhere else on the planet.

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Standards are maintained by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neopolitan Pizza Association), or Vera Pizza for short. It aims to promote and protect ‘true Neapolitan pizza’ in Italy and around the world.

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DonQui has a few tricks to ensure that his pizza lives up to expectations. Firstly he looks for a place that uses a traditional wood fired oven. Secondly he only ever orders pizza in Italy at night. Good pizzerias will fire up their ovens in the evening and it will take until close to 9pm before the ovens are properly hot enough to cook the prefect pizza. Thirdly he goes for simple classic ingredients, no bits of pineapple, pulled pork, curried chicken or other Anglo-Saxon atrocities for DonQui.

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The classic Neapolitan pizza is the Margarita which is said to have been invented in Naples in 1889 for Queen Margarita in the early years of Italian unification. In a clever move of political sycophancy, its creator managed to replicate the colours of the new Italian flag: red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil).

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Anchovies, capers and black olives are other traditional ingredients which DonQui quite likes. Here the local anchovies are not as salty or overpowering as tinned anchovies can be outside Southern Italy.

Finally DonQui looks for a place that is not too fancy-looking while still pulling in a substantial local crowd. The many places lining the Via Partenope close to his hotel look inviting but DonQui worries that they might be overpriced tourist traps. A quick skim through TripAdvisor seems to confirm his fears with comments about dodgy surcharges and surly waiters abounding.

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At the very end of Via Partenope, at the corner of Piazza Vittoria, sits an establishment with promise. It is just before 9pm and Sorbillo Lievito Madre al Mare is filling up with locals. Offering pizzas with top organic ingredients cooked in a wood fired oven it is little wonder that it is a popular place. There are even gluten free options, not that DonQui cares about such things.

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DonQui manages to get one of the last available tables as a queue forms behind him. Those arriving later put their names down on the waiting list and look on enviously as DonQui tucks in.

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By 21:30 a fairly large crowd has built up, all waiting patiently for their turn for a table.

The choices are interesting. Although the menu is in Italian only, DonQui is able to decipher enough to understand the basics. He had thought he might order a simple classic margarita but the Cetara catches his eye.

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With fresh tomatoes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, smoked Provola cheese, capers, olives, oregano and Alici di Cetara, it sounds most intriguing. Alici di Cetara is an oil infused with anchovies. Reminiscent of garum, the infamous fish sauce which the Ancient Romans added to just about everything, DonQui decides he wants to try it.

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To say that it is delicious would be an understatement. The thin, springy crust, slightly charred from the super hot wood-fired oven is an absolute delight. The combination of cheese, tomatoes, basil, olives, capers and anchovies are a perfect taste of Naples. The pizza is large enough for him to share with Duchess and the bill is most reasonable — far less than any of his other previous Neapolitan meals.

DonQui is unaware that Gino Sorbillo is one of the most famous pizza chefs in the world. His coastal establishment is the second of his Naples outlets and he is soon to open one in New York’s Times Square. DonQui feels quite pleased with himself that he managed to discover Sorbillo’s seafront establishment before knowing any of this.

 

A Hot Day in Naples

It is 36º in Naples. Far too hot for DonQui to consider doing much of anything at all.

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Fortunately his hotel — the rather nice Excelsior on the pedestrianised seafront promenade Via Partenope — is nicely air-conditioned. It also has great views over the bay of Naples, with Mt Vesuvius and Capri in the distance, and the Castel dell’Ovo and harbour in the foreground.

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DonQui is quite happy, therefore, to spend the heat of the day simply lazing around the hotel.

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Lunch at the hotel terrace restaurant is pretty good too, if a little on the pricy side.

The Castel dell’Ovo is worth a visit. Not only is it free but the the thick sandstone walls keep the passageways very cool — even in the blistering Naples heat. Although dating back to Roman times, the restored fortification has a distinct 15th century appearance.

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The views from the top are quite magnificent.

Once the worst of the midday heat is passed, DonQui trots out onto the Via Partenope to take a look around his immediate neighbourhood.

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Some of the locals have taken to the water but this is not something DonQui is tempted to do, knowing of the bay’s pretty awful reputation for water quality.

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Naples is not an elegant city. It is chaotic, hectic and ill-disciplined. Although not as dirty and litter-strewn as DonQui remembers it from years ago, the city is still pretty dilapidated in parts.

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Yet it has its own charm – a bit like a naughty child who gets away with mischief due to a cute smile.

Although the city may not be elegant, the Neapolitans, like most Italians, most certainly are.

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Just around the corner from apartments with crumbling facades…

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… are many chic shops and boutiques catering to the well dressed denizens of the city.

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As the sun starts to go down the streets come to life, first for a bit of early evening shopping, then an aperitivo at a favourite bar, followed by a stroll along the promenade and then maybe a little dinner.

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DonQui feels lucky to have found the Officina Bistro, just around the corner from his hotel on Via Santa Lucia for his aperitivo.

 

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Here he sips on an Aperol spritz, nibbles on the various little snacks that are offered and watches the pantomime of Neapolitan street life acted out in front of him.

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By getting here a little early (around 19:00) he and Duchess are able to secure a prime table outside. By 8pm there is a waiting list for tables with many people seated on one of the several benches awaiting their turn.

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The Via Partenope fills with people as the sun sets. Many just taking a stroll, others deciding on which of the many eateries to try out for dinner. There is even a ‘silent party’ with revellers listening and dancing to the music pumped out by 3 DJs over wireless headphones.

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DonQui only spends a day in Naples and as readers can tell he does not really do very much at all. That is probably the best way to spend a hot day in Naples.