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.

Food and Drink in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia has a distinctive cuisine which DonQui would like to know better. The staple is injera – a very large soft flatbread made from fermented teff flour. It tends to be served rolled up and the diner unrolls it to place a spicy thick stew (wat) on top.

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Injera has a slightly sour taste and it takes DonQui some time to get accustomed to it. Dishes without meat are usually identified as ‘fasting’ since the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a number of fasting days when meat is not supposed to be eaten.

With only a few days in Addis Ababa, DonQui is only able to try out a few places and sample a limited number of dishes. He would have liked to try kifto which is a sort of Ethiopian tartare of high quality spiced meat served barely cooked or raw. Unfortunately he does not get around to it on this trip.

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A ‘Traditional Ethiopian feast with Cultural Show’ sounds frighteningly touristy to DonQui but dinner at Yod Abyssinia comes highly recommended so he decides to give it a go. The show is actually rather good and he does not feel like he has entered a tourist trap.

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The vast majority of customers are well-heeled looking locals and before long many of them are up on their feet and dancing along with the music.

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The food is excellent with an extensive buffet giving DonQui the chance to sample a wide variety of Ethiopian dishes he might not otherwise have come across. This is a good place to come with a group to share the vast array of food on offer.

DonQui is surprised at the large portions which seem to be offered up in the restaurants he goes to. At the Jupiter Hotel restaurant he tries out tibs fir-fir with injera. Tibs are roasted meats — in this case lamb. The fir-fir is a spicy tomato sauce with also has slices of rolled injera mixed in. The dish is is served with two additional injera, not than DonQui needs more.

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It is excellent but the amount is overwhelming and DonQui can barely manage half of it. He reckons that his portion could easily feed a small family. A Kenyan expat tells him that such large portions are increasingly common in Addis Ababa.

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Ethiopian beer is good. DonQui previously mentioned Habesha Cool Gold which is one of his favourite local bottled beers. Better still are the German style blonde and dark beers brewed on the premises of the Beer Garden.

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Catering to a mix of locals and expats this brew pub quickly becomes DonQui’s favourite watering hole. He particularly likes their dark beer but does not go as far as to try out one of the five litre towers. The Germanic influenced food is excellent — especially the chips and the Beer Garden’s signature grilled chicken.

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DonQui does not get around to sampling tej — Ethiopia’s honey wine. He does, however, drink plenty of the country’s most famous beverage which is coffee. The Ethiopians claim to have discovered coffee and they take great pride in it. Served in a similar way to Turkish coffee it has a smooth, slightly chocolaty taste which DonQui likes very much. At the end of a meal it is often somewhat bizarrely served with popcorn.

A Corner of Italy in London

By now readers will be well aware of the large role breakfast plays in DonQui’s life. When he is in London, his breakfast of choice is often a croissant with fresh pressed orange juice and a large milky coffee at Il Molino on Battersea Park Rd.

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With the world being colonised by identikit coffee shops DonQui is very happy whenever he finds a good independent. The furnishings are a delightful mishmash of distressed wood tables (none of them matching) with a bar under the window covered with newspapers and a few seats outside. Various Italian food stuffs are stacked on shelves around the walls both for decoration and purchase.
The staff are young, friendly, and mostly Italian. They approach their work and customer service with that typical southern European insouciance which DonQui rather likes. There is none of this ghastly American: ‘how may I help you’ or ‘have a nice day’ — or worst of all when the servers tell DonQui their name in hope of getting a better tip. Not likely – it only makes him more curmudgeonly!

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Il Molino, therefore, is not a place to come if you are in a rush — there are plenty other places for those who prefer cold efficiency or saccharine over-exaggerated friendliness. Il Molino is a place to come and have something to eat and drink, read the paper, watch the world go by or maybe get the laptop or pad out to do a little work. Just like in France or Italy, for the price of a single coffee you can stay all day.
The coffee is excellent as are the various pastries. They also have a deli counter with items more suitable for a light lunch. These look good but as DonQui has not yet sampled any, he cannot vouch for them. There is music in the background but not too loud. With the likes of the Who, Pink Floyd, and Rolling Stones on the play list last time he was there, it is the kind of music DonQui approves of.
Although it has a youngish, slightly trendy vibe the customer base is as eclectic as the furniture. They may be an old man sitting in the corner with a paper, a couple of yummy mummies with tots in tow, an urban professional playing with his iphone, and workers dropping in from a nearby building site. No bearded hipsters, however — after all, this is Battersea not Shoreditch.