Top Siclian Street Food
Unlike Italian food, Sicilian food has elements of Greek, Arabic, French, Catalan and Spanish. The sicilian cooking style is heavily influenced by its unique geographical location and deep-rooted history.
When you get a chance to discover Sicily, you will easily spot street food vendors all around. Here are some of the top Sicilian Street food that Chef Giovanni recommends!
1. Panelle (Chickpea Fritters)
Panelle represents one of the most famous street foods in Palermo, a fried variant of chickpea farinata. A type of flatbread that represents the history of the Mediterranean people. Since the Arabs ruled Sicily at the turn of the ninth and eleventh centuries, they brought in Arabic style street food on the streets of Sicily. Panelle is one of the remains they left behind, Sicilian fritters made of chickpea flour and water and fried in small pieces.
The Sicilian saying "pari 'na paniella" (you look like a panella) refers to objects that have had the bad luck of being crushed under excessive weight.
Panelle is the typical snack from Palermo often accompanied by bread and cazzilli (potato croquettes). They can be found everywhere, in fixed or roaming fry shops, on busy streets, in popular districts or in the historic centre. It is rumoured that until a few years ago, to ascertain the temperature of the oil, the panellaro adopted the system of "spitting" 😊 into the liquid to support the ideal frying temperature. Thankfully they no longer practise the "spitting" cooking method!
2. Panino Con Le Panelle (Panelle Sandwich)
Panino con le panelle are crisp (vegan) fried chickpea fritters on soft sesame-seeded buns. Perhaps this is the most popular street food in Palermo. Vendors in open-air markets are ideal to get one of the most authentic Panino Con Panelle.
Arancini (rice balls) often represent the first gastronomic encounter with Sicilian cuisine, where street food is offered at all hours from fryers, ovens, and stalls. Arancini is inspired by citrus fruits in appearance and name. This bite-size rice ball is a very happy union of the diverse historical influences present in the area. Rice and saffron came from the Arabic influence, while ragù came from the French influence, the tomato came from the Spanish influence and the cheese came from the Greek influence. According to some locals, Arancini was born in some convent, for others within the baronial houses, while some would make them derive from the tradition of popular cuisine, where the leftovers from lunch were recycled in an imaginative and tasty way. There are many versions of arancini; in Catania arancini is a male, while in Palermo it's a female - arancine. To help everyone and to put an end to this comical tirade, the Associations of the Two Sicilies intervened, citing a Sicilian-Italian dictionary as a source: "After so many years of struggle with etymology - writes the association - history seems to prove the people of Catania right: even in Palermo, in fact, during the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, it was called" arancinu ". It is likely that in western Sicily the term has been distorted over the years, something that would not have happened in the Catania area. This is in fact the result of the discovery of a Sicilian dictionary of 1857, the work of Giuseppe Biundi from Palermo”.
Today you can find fried, baked or even pastry layered arancini. They also vary in shape and size. In Palermo they are of considerable size and rounded, in the Catania area they change shape because of the volcano Etna and are more contained with shapes that identify the filling:
- flat base and pointed tip with meat sauce.
- round with butter.
- or spinach.
Often in the Catania area, the rice is not treated with saffron but is white or takes on a light pink colour from the meat sauce.
The “cannolo” originated in Caltanissetta, a city of the Sicilian hinterland.. The name Caltanissetta in Arabic, Kalt El Nissa, means "Women's Castle";
According to the legend, Saracen emirs were keeping their harems in this area and probably the concubine of the Women’s Castle Harem were the inventors of the recipe, perhaps as a vaguely phallic homage to their men. During the long absences of their spouses, they dedicated themselves to the preparation of elaborated foods and desserts; always according to the tradition handed down, these women modified an existing Arabic dessert, made of ricotta, almonds and honey, reworking it with a Roman recipe mentioned by Cicero which described it as a farinaceous tube stuffed with a very sweet milk-based cream. In those days they gave life to a speciality that would later become universally known as “Cannoli”.
Later, with the end of Arab rule and the arrival of the Normans in Sicily, the harems disappeared and it is not excluded that some of the favourites, converted to the Christian faith, withdrew to the monasteries, bringing with them the recipes they had elaborated for the courts of the emirs.
So according to tradition, Sicilian cannoli is one of the recipes transferred by Muslim women to Christian sisters. It was initially prepared only during the carnival time, but due to its popularity, it became in production throughout the year.
5. Panino Con La Milza (Spleen Sandwich)
In Sicilian this delicious stuffed spleen of veal is called pani ca meusa. When you get this tasty sandwich from the street vendor, often it's mixed with lung and liver and other mysterious ingredients. It's been slow-cooked for a long period over low heat in a copper pan. Many locals in Palermo eat this as breakfast before they start the day.
6. Crocche’ o Cazzilli (Potato Croquettes)
Another Sicily island street food classic is crocché, called cazzilli. Palermo's style Potato croquettes, mouthwatering little potato bites! You'll start salivating with one look!
Cazzili is made of a mixture of mashed potatoes seasoned with minced garlic and parsley, grated pecorino cheese and whole eggs. Unlike common potato croquettes, cazzilli is not coated with eggs and breadcrumbs, but only floured and fried. Potato cazzilli balls are served as a snack and as a side dish too!
You cannot say that you have been to Palermo if you have not tasted crocché at least once. They can be enjoyed alone or with bread, perhaps accompanied by the equally famous cousin, panelle. You can find Cazzili on roaming fry shops, small street stalls, scattered around different areas of the city and in historic markets.
Chef Giovanni has prepared a quick recipe for you to try make these delicious Palermo-style Potato Croquettes at home. View the recipe here.