12 Foods to Try in Sicily

Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea and influenced by mainland Italy, Greece, North Africa, the Middle East, Spain, and Normandy, Sicily has one of the most interesting histories of any part of Italy. This is equally true for its cuisine, which takes the best of every culture that's conquered or just passed through the island, and makes uniquely Sicilian dishes, You may not be brave enough to try pani ca' meusa—basically a spleen sandwich—in Palermo, but across the island, there are distinct dishes that you shouldn't miss when you visit Sicily.

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arancini - saffron rice balls stuffed with cheese
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There's no softer introduction to Sicilian street food than delicious arancini. These breaded, deep-fried rice balls are sold all over the island (and the rest of Italy) and may be filled with ragu, peas, mozzarella and ham, seafood, spicy 'nduja sausage, or other savory stuffings. They're handheld and typically eaten on the go, though they're a popular snack for aperitivo—Italian happy hour. Try them everywhere, and especially at La Grotta in Ragusa or Pasticerria Savia in Catania.

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Portion Sfincione Siciliano
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Based on the Latin word for sponge, sfincione is a lofty, deep-dish style pizza made on focaccia bread and topped with tomatoes, onions, grated cheese, and just a whiff of anchovies. With a consistency that’s more like bread than pizza, sfincione is typically
a mid-morning or afternoon snack and, like arancini, intended to be eaten on the
go. Sfincione is associated with western Sicily, so try it in Palermo, at Antico Caffè Spinnato or Antica Focacciaria San Francesco, both historic spots.

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Sicilian Caponata
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A quintessential Sicilian side dish or antipasto, caponata is made first and foremost with eggplant and tomatoes, capers, onions, vinegar, and often, raisins and pine nuts. The result is a sweet and sour dish that's served on its own or with toasted bread. While you might find it with fish or seafood added, it's most often a vegetarian dish and can be eaten as a main course. Caponata is also sold jarred, so if you really love it, you can take some home. Try the real thing at Sicilia in Tavola in Siracusa.

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Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma
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This hearty dish originated in Catania and still appears on menus everywhere, especially in eastern Sicily. It's made from short pasta, typically penne, eggplants, tomatoes, basil, and salted ricotta cheese. This is another dish that's a safe bet for vegetarians. Try it close to the source, at Nuova Trattoria del Forestiero or La Pentolaccia, both in Catania.

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Couscous alla Trapanese

Sicilan fish couscous
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A specialty of Trapani, on Sicily's west coast, couscous was probably introduced to the island's palate from fishermen and traders who ventured to and from nearby Tunisia. While it was once a poor person's dish, Couscous alla Trapanese is now a rich dish of fish and shellfish served with granular couscous pasta. On San Vito lo Capo, a beach town near Trapani, a September couscous festival celebrates the local dish. Otherwise, try it at Osteria La Bettolaccia in Trapani.

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Parmigiana di Melanzane

teglia di melanzane
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Eggplants were introduced to Sicily during the island's Arab period, the 260 years, from 831 to 1091, when it formed the Emirate of Sicily under Islamic rule. Today, eggplant (aubergine), called melanzane in Italian, is still a major food crop on the island. Parmigiana di Melanzane, eggplant parmesan, is made by frying slices of eggplant, then baking them with tomato sauce, parmesan, and mozzarella cheese. Try it at Trattoria Tiramisu in Taormina.

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Pasta con le Sarde

Pasta con le Sarde
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Some people call flavor-packed pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines) the most Sicilian of Sicilian dishes. The pasta dish is traditionally made with bucatini, a thick, hollow spaghetti. The sauce is a piquant mix of olive oil and chopped sardines, anchovies, and onion, and then the dish is topped with seasoned breadcrumbs. Often, fennel, raisins, and pine nuts are added, and a few whole sardines may be laid on top of the pasta for dramatic effect. Sample memorable versions at Ciccio in Pentola in Palermo or at La Tavernetta da Piero in Siracusa.

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Pani ca'Meusa

Pani ca' meusa, typical fast food dish from Palermo, Sicily.
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Eventually, you're going to have a decision to make in Sicily: to try pani ca'meusa or give it a hard pass. An ubiquitous Sicilian street food, especially in Palermo, pani ca'meusa translates to "bread with spleen." It's a sandwich made of veal lung and spleen that chopped and boiled, then fried in lard. Connoisseurs of this unique delicacy will tell you that the best places to sample it are in Palermo, at Ninu u Ballerino Street Food or at Pani ca'Muesa Porta Carbone.

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Sicilian granita with prickly pears
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Granita has many names and variations all over the world, but the story goes that the sweet, icy treat originated in Sicily. Granita is made from a mix of ice, sugar, and fruit juice and served as a sort of slushie. Depending on the time of year and what fruits are in season, it may be flavored with citrus, almonds, pistachios, strawberries, or prickly pear fruit (called fichi d'India). Taste a few different flavors at Gelateria Graniteria Eden in Messina, or at GelAntico in Cefalu.

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Brioche con Gelato

Traditional Sicilian ice cream in brioche bun
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What's better than gelato on a hot day in Sicily? Gelato tucked into a brioche bun. The Sicilian version of an ice cream sandwich, brioche con gelato is a quasi-official dessert of summertime. And when in Sicily, do as the Sicilians, and eat it for breakfast! Who said you can't have ice cream in the morning? Dig in at Brioscia in Palermo or Gelati Di Vini in Ragusa.

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Cassata Siciliana for sale in Palermo
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You'll find brightly colored cassata pastries all over Sicily, though the sweet, layered dessert is thought to have originated in Palermo when Sicily was under Arab rule. It's made with liqueur-soaked sponge cake, candied fruit, and sweetened ricotta housed in an even sweeter marzipan shell. Sometimes cassata are crafted into works of art that are almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Give into temptation at Irrera 1910 in Messina, or at La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico in Erice.

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Food and pastry. Cannoli from Sicily
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Perhaps the most universally recognized and loved of all Sicilian desserts, cannoli (singular cannolo) are fried pastry tubes filled with sweetened, creamy ricotta cheese and often topped with nuts, candied fruit, or other sweet bits. You'll see cannoli everywhere, but much of it is mediocre at best—so be sure to follow the locals to the best pastry shops and bars. Caffè Battaglia in Nicosia is supposed to be the best in Sicily, and that's saying a lot.