If you enjoy Italian food, get ready to fall in love with Sicilian cuisine. Food and drink is an essential part of any great holiday and here on the island of Sicily, it is an intrinsic part of the culture. Depending on which time of year you choose to visit you can expect to see colourful farmers’ markets, piled high with mouth-watering seasonal produce; vibrant harvest celebrations; and agricultural festivals celebrating key ingredients indigenous to specific regions.
One of the elements that makes food in Sicily so special is that it is representative of the melting pot of cultures that have made their home on Sicily’s shores, bringing together a host of influences from Italy, the Mediterranean, and even North Africa, to name but a few.
Additionally, fresh ingredients are a trademark of the island’s cuisine due to its fertile countryside and self-sufficient nature. From juicy oranges to succulent aubergines, plump tomatoes to crunchy almonds, Sicily offers a temping natural larder, bursting with colour and flavour. It’s not hard to see how such delectable dishes are created…
The different rulers and cultures that have settled on Sicily’s shores have added to the fascinating culinary landscape of the country. Thousands of years ago, the Ancient Greeks brought salted ricotta cheese to the island –an ingredient which is consumed widely in both the sweet and savoury specialities of Sicily to this day. This ancient culture also imported honey, olives and delicious wines to the island. Next came the Romans who introduced the famous sepiolini (octopus rings) or the maccu (a puree made from spiced beans). This puree can be found mostly in the interior of the island and is eaten with a little olive oil and some fresh bread or noodles.
Arabian settlers brought rice from the Orient and transformed the coastline by planting fragrant citrus groves, building sugarcane plantations and introducing many delicious spices to the island over 1,000 years ago whilst in later years, once the French came to power, a European influence spread throughout the recipes of the island.
The rich speciality dish, veal roulade became popular during this time as did ancidda brudacchiata, an eel dish, cooked in saffron, cinnamon and wine. Additionally, the Spanish introduced ingredients which play a key role in Sicilian cooking to this day, such as tomatoes, aubergines and potatoes.
From sumptuous street snacks to consume on the go to dinners designed to linger over long into the night, the list of tempting things to eat in Sicily is endless – any foodie traveller will be spoiled for choice. Some of the top Sicilian street food specialities to look out for include: arancini – a fried ball of rice encasing all manner of delicious fillings, from creamy mozzarella to an herby meat ragu; pani ca meusa – a seeded bread offering stuffed with cuts of veal; pane e pannelle – crunchy chickpea fritters; and sfincione – a pizza topped with ollive oil and caciocavallo cheese. Other regional dishes we recommend are the flavoursome eggplant recipes caponata – a chopped side salad seasoned with capers, balsamic vinegar and pine nuts, and parmigiana di melanzane – a layered eggplant and cheese bake.
Additionally, as you might expect from an island lapped by three seas, seafood features prominently on the Sicilian menu. The spaghetti ai ricci, a salty spaghetti starring sea urchins, makes for an interesting choice whilst the pasta con le sarde brings together the flavours of sardines, fennel, pine nuts and raisins.
Vegetarians will not be disappointed either with the pasta alla norma, a mix of eggplant and creamy ricotta, or the pasta al pesto di pistacchi, a basil-infused dish, garnished with ground pistachios.
Last but not least come the delectable desserts. Sample a sugary frutta martorana, the marzipan sweets of the region, or send yourself to food heaven with the famous cannoli, a cylinder of fried dough, stuffed with sweet ricotta cheese. And of course, in the heat of the summer months, a creamy gelato, the Sicilian version of ice-cream, or refreshing granita a sugary iced treat will certainly tick all the boxes.
Sicilian beverages and wine
The Sicilian wine industry has undergone something of a revolution over the years. Traditional white grapes have been blended with sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and sometimes viognier whilst the red grapes of the island have combined with merlot, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. A visit to the vineyards that are particularly prevalent in the western regions offers the chance to learn about Sicilian wine-making and to sample the cream of the crop.
Most famous, however, are the sweet wines of Sicily. Marsala, produced in the south-west, should be sampled from Florio, Marco de’ Bartoli and Pellegrino, but the dessert wines that can be found in Pantelleria and the Aeolian archipelago are truly exceptional – try the Moscato Passito di Pantelleria and the Malvasia di Lipari if you want a real treat.
Experience the vibrant culture of Sicily and time your visit to coincide with one of the colourful food festivals celebrated throughout the island. Many of the towns and villages of Sicily throw festivals known as Sagre in the honour of seasonal ingredients, dishes or wines – usually a specialty associated with the region, such as the blood oranges of Centuripe, the artichokes of Cerda or the seafood recipes of Mazara del Vallo.
Some of the other best loved food festivals in Sicily include Cous Cous Fest, an international festival with a carnival atmosphere celebrated at the popular seaside town of San Vito Lo Capo; Sagra della ricotta e del Formaggio, a local cheese festival in the Vizzini hills; and the Inycon a Menfi wine festival in Menfi where visitors can sample the island’s finest wines.
The restaurants of Sicily range from sophisticated Michelin-starred eateries to traditional, family-run trattorie, offering authentic, home-cooked Sicilian meals. There are too many wonderful establishments on this island to mention, but some of our favourites include the following:
La Tartaruga, Capo d’Orlando
Osteria dei Vespri, Palermo
Chat Noir and La Brace, Cefalu
A Pizza sutta l’acchi, Catania
Casa Niclodi, Taormina
Trattoria La Bettola, Ragusa
Trattoria Al Crocifisso da Baglieri, Noto
Thaam, San Vito Lo Capo
Monte San Giuliano, Erice
La Pentolaccia, Erice
However, this is but a fleeting glimpse of the culinary treasures Sicily contains. The best option is to wander, explore, discover and ask local people for their own recommendations. Alternatively, with our range of self-catered villas, you can bring fresh ingredients to your own kitchen and create your own Sicilian feast.