I lived in Sicily for three months during my summer breaks from University working as an au pair (English teacher and nanny). Living with my host family opened my eyes to an interesting and unique culture I have never quite understood. I knew I always loved and connected with Italy (Rome is my favourite city in the world!), but until I was immersed into the family’s daily routine, I didn’t realize how much of an impact being one of the “locals” had on me. It was a turning point in my life and it provided a new perspective in terms of the way I travel and see things. You can certainly say I caught the darned travel bug!
It’s almost two years later, and I still bring up fond memories from my dolce vita (sweet life), to my sister’s annoyance. I believe the island has been overlooked and underrated far too long, so now I share my wisdom, views, and adventures with you in La Vita Sicilia (The Sicilian Life)!
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For the Love of Food!
Marzipan. Connoli. Pasta and fresh-baked bread every single day.
All of these are well-known flavours in the Sicilian culture. But here is my delicious – and not so delicious – list of things you must check out and experience when you travel to the tip of the toe.
Whether searching for a perfect fish for cena (dinner) or simply checking out the hype, visiting the local seafood market is a must-do for every adventure seeker!
I was lucky enough to wander the pungent stalls of Catania’s market in Piazza Carlo Alberto on a sweltering day. Not only did I have to hold my breath for the majority of the time, I also had to look away from some of the sights of fish eyes staring straight into my soul. Walking up and down the gallery felt like I was observing a war zone, fish head stakes included. You can probably tell I’m not a huge fan of seafood, but don’t get me wrong! I was curious and I quite enjoyed my few minutes running around from booth to booth squirming at the catches of the day. I noticed fishermen sell everything from anchovies to large eels, from shrimp to snails. Most of the selections, though, were types of seafood I have never heard of or seen before! I also couldn’t help but notice a group of Nonnos (grandfathers) gathered along the fence of the market (adorable, actually). I like to think they meet up everyday by the market to gossip!
It’s an incredible getaway discovering the Italian countryside as well as experience local produce and farming in homemade cooking. And don’t forget wine! It’s very much like a bed and breakfast and I was fortunate to visit an agriturismo run by cousins of my host family.
I explored the vast amounts of farmland they owned with the kids. We ran along the large rocks on the river with a very playful dog and chased pigs around the farmhouse. I was surrounded by probably the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever saw.
As much as I had fun on my countryside adventure, the highlight of this trip was pranzo (lunch) we ate the next afternoon. Homemade pasta and tomato sauce with fresh pecrino cheese (made at the farm), fresh polenta, and fried zucchini flowers made with a lot of love since sunrise by Nonna (grandmother). But, the main fare was pig: pork chop, pancetta, prosciutto, you name it (I really hope I didn’t run around with the pig I devoured…RIP). I recommend this experience to anyone who has a passion for good food and want to help local farmers. It truly was an Italian experience.
You’re probably skeptical about the island’s breakfast menu (as was I). You’re also thinking this is a “cool” and a fantastic excuse to indulge your sweet tooth before noon! But which should you choose for a morning munchie? On one hand there’s the popular gelato. A richer, creamier, and denser version of American ice cream served in the middle of a brioche eaten like a sandwich! However, if you want a lighter fare, go for shaved ice infused with fresh fruit named granita, respectively.
An interesting fact you should know about this cold delight is it originates from the snowy peaks of Mt. Etna. Not surprising, this makes granita an important part of the proud Sicilian food scene. This breakfast option is not complete without whipped cream and a sugary brioche bun. Tear off some brioche, dip, and enjoy. If you are lucky like myself, you’ll be able to experience fresh, homemade gelato and granita your hosts make!
The – almost – unlimited selection of flavours in gelaterias will also tickle your taste buds. Deciding which flavour I wanted was the single most important choice I made on a regular basis! If I ever get stuck, I have my go-to flavours: cioccolato (chocolate), melone (cantaloupe), fragola (strawberry), limone (lemon), or pistacchio (pistachio). I can’t help but become giddy when I think of having such an unusual breakfast!
If you’re looking for something tasty, small, and filling on a Sicilian road trip, or want a grab and go snack, look no further than arancini (plural for arancino). It’s a deep-fried ball packed with rice, tomato (or meat) sauce, cheese, and peas. It’s shaped like a large, golden brown egg that fits right in the palm of your hand. And I promise you, the taste is as mouth-watering as its aroma! My first time trying this compact dinner was at a dance recital in the park and it was heavenly. As I closed my eyes (cue: slo-mo food commercial), I felt the explosion of harmonious flavours indulging my taste buds. I feel guilty, but I think I enjoyed the food more than the dancing. It was that delicious. You can find these in any bar, but sometimes you have to wait for fresh ones because they sell out fast! Just be careful not to bite into it too quickly to avoid the dreaded burnt tongue or roof of your mouth.
Whoever invented “black pasta” did not want to waste any part of the main ingredient: squid. Along with its flesh, squid ink is also used to add black colouring to the sauce. Although seafood is not my favourite, I didn’t mind the mix of ink and tomato sauce. The colour threw me off a bit, but hey, I was on the little island of Marettimo where the seafood is as fresh as anything. How could I not try this delicacy? When in doubt, throw a bit of parmesan on top to cut some of the taste!
So, there you have it — be it savoury or sweet, seafood or pasta there are so many delicious flavours and foods to explore when you are enjoying La Vita Sicilia. Buon Appetito!