Having decided to eat his way around Sicily, DonQui begins his gastronomic tour in Palermo.
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.
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.
The tastefully arranged displays of vegetables are amazing and DonQui learns a couple of interesting facts.
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.
In Palermo, broccoli is called “sparacelli” and cauliflower is called “broccoli”.
Palermo is famous for its street food.
After a bit of a wander around the market, DonQui stops off at Arianna’s “Friggitoria Gastronomia” to sample some.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.