Food Wine Tourism is all about understanding a place through its cuisine. When most people think of Italian food, they think of dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, or pizza. While these dishes are certainly popular in Italy, they don’t represent the entire country’s cuisine. In fact, there are many different types of Italian food, each with its own unique flavors and ingredients, like Sicilian food.
In this post, we’re going to explore one region in particular: Sicily. This island is located in the south of Italy and is known for its delicious food culture. Here are sixteen foods that capture the essence of Sicilian cuisine!
What makes Sicilian cuisine different from other types of Italian cuisine?
Sicilian cuisine is unique in a few different ways. First, the climate of Sicily is quite warm, which means that fruits and vegetables grow very well there. This results in dishes that are often brightly colored and full of flavor.
Secondly, Sicilian cuisine makes use of a lot of fish and seafood. This is due to the fact that Sicily is an island surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea.
Now that we know a little bit about Sicilian cuisine, let’s take a look at some specific dishes that capture its flavor.
Traditional Sicilian Food
Just writing about these Sicilian foods takes me back there. This list will help you navigate the bakeries, street stalls, and menus in Sicily, as some of these foods are likely unfamiliar. Buon appetito!
If you have a sweet tooth, cannoli is your go-to Sicilian treat. Cylindrical fried dough filled with sweetened ricotta, and usually dusted with powdered sugar. Toppings can be grated pistachios, almond slices or chocolate sauce – the sky’s the limit for options in Sicilian pastry shops.
Pasta alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma is a traditional pasta dish made with eggplant and a rich tomato sauce made from garlic, tomatoes, capers, and herbs. Likewise, you will find all manner of traditional Sicilian dishes made with eggplant, and some more are on the list below.
Scacce (pictured in the center) is a folded and stuffed bread snack originating from the Modica and Scicli area of Sicily. Fillings might include tomato sauce and cheese or ricotta and spinach, but there are many options. Try this instead of a slice of pizza for lunch one day.
Sicily is rich with unique baked goods. Briolata is Sicilian bread with Italian sausage, garlic and other seasonings baked into it. It’s savory, comforting, and oh so right.
Cassata is a dessert made with layers of liquor-soaked sponge cake, ricotta cheese, and chocolate chips sprinkled inside. It often has a marzipan icing with candied fruit on top. It’s very sweet, and quite involved to make. It’s a popular Easter treat, but you can find it in many pastry shops and restaurants around the island.
Arancini are fried rice balls typically filled with meat or cheese risotto usually with a pea or two – a popular Sicilian street food. You can find it just about anywhere for a quick snack. Some are cone shaped, some are spherical, some large, some small. They are best eaten hot, often a lifesaver food when you’re starving from walking all over town all day.
Caponata is an extremely flavorful vegetable dish made of eggplant, celery, onions, olives and capers, herbs and more, then sautéed in a sweet and sour sauce. It takes a long time to make, so the flavors can combine appropriately. Usually, caponata is served cold and spread on a piece of toast or a spoonful is used as a topping on other vegetable dishes.
Set aside expectations when you first try it, as the flavor blast can be off-putting for some. A couple of days in Sicily and you will grow to love this flavor!
Carne di Cavallo
Horse meat is a very typical Sicilian food and can be found in various dishes around the island. You might find it ground and used in pasta, but a more popular use for it is on a sandwich.
Brioche con Gelato
Gelato is like a very creamy and stretchy Italian version of ice cream. Calling it ice cream at all isn’t quite right, because it is so much better. When in Sicily, you’ll often find the option to add a brioche roll. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to make a gelato sandwich! After all, you’ll be having gelato two or three times a day in Sicily, so mix it up every once in a while. Gelato flavor? Pistachio, of course!
Sicilian granita is so refreshing on a hot day, and Sicily has a lot of those. This a semi-frozen treat is made with water and sugar, and resembles a sorbet, but seems more icy. Not as much as shaved ice, but somewhere in between.
There are many flavors of granita, but in Sicily, almond milk and lemon are the two most popular flavors. The almond version is often eaten for breakfast with a brioche roll. The lemon is great for an afternoon snack in summer.
Bottarga is designated a traditional food product in Italy (PAT). It’s a pouch of salted, cured bluefin tuna roe. In Italian it’s called “bottarga di tonno.” Bottarga is used in pasta, and the flavor resembles that of chopped up salt cured anchovies. It can also be served as an appetizer to spread on toast.
Sarde a Beccafico
Sarde a Beccafico is one of the many wonders of Sicily food! These are fresh sardines that have been butterflied, rolled up, and stuffed with a mixture of bread crumbs, herbs, raisins and pine nuts. After baking, you have a gourmet snack. Chefs all over the island love to improvise on this classic Sicilian dish, so try it everywhere you see it on the menu.
Pasta con le Sarde
This is a simple pasta dish. Pasta is tossed with sardines, herbs and olive oil for a fresh seafood dish.
Scoglio is a general term for any pasta sauce made with a mix of fresh seafood and fresh tomatoes. This can include anything from Sicilian red prawns or clams to mussels, tuna, or anchovies. You will often see a mix of shellfish and fish pieces in Scoglio, as seafood is king in Sicily.
Sfincione is a Sicilian pizza creation from Palermo. It’s a thick pan pizza somewhat similar to focaccia topped with various items like caciocavallo cheese, tomato sauce and anchovies.
Panelle is a fried street food snack made from chickpea flour, brought to Sicily from Arabic cultures. These Sicilian fritters are found in cities around Sicily, mainly in markets and street carts, and are a welcome snack after a long day of walking.
Sicilian Fruits and Nuts
Pine nuts, almonds, lemons, oranges, grapes, and olives are widely grown, but you’ll find so much more, given the climate and agricultural economy in Sicily. Castelvetrano olives are big and bright green and are lye-cured instead of brined – unique to Sicily. As table olives they have a greener, fresher flavor than the typical salty ones.
Sicilian Olive Oil
There are many olive trees in Sicily, and many styles of olive oil. The most well-known olive oil in Sicily is made from Nocellara del Belice olives grown in Castelvetrano in the province of Trapani. The olive oil made from these olives is typically mild but bright and fruity.
Vegetables Grown in Sicily
Produce is extremely seasonal in Sicily, so you will only see dishes made with seasonally and locally available vegetables. This can be a bit tiring, when there are only a few things in season at a given time, but Sicilian chefs are become very adept at creations made with eggplant, chard, and artichokes. You can also find squash, zucchini, asparagus, capers, beans, carrots, and peas when in season.
How is Sicilian food different from Italian?
Sicily is an island in the Southern region of Italy, so food tends to be seafood based and extremely seasonally driven.
What is a typical Sicilian dinner?
Sicilians usually eat a large meal as family with “antipasti”, a traditional style pasta first, then a fish based main with wine. A meal is never complete with out Sicilian dessert either.
What is a typical breakfast in Sicily?
Breakfast in Sicily is typically a macchiato and choice of pastry. In the summer, a popular breakfast is almond granita with brioche.
If you’re looking to experience Sicilian food culture, the best way to is to visit Sicily. Aside from the food and wine, Sicilians are a welcoming bunch. If you are able to make your way out of the major cities and into smaller towns and rural areas, you will be made to feel like family at the table.
Hopefully this list of foods inspires you to see the world, taste the world, and experience a new culture.