Anywhere you go in the world, you're going to encounter new foods, ranging from interesting to just... weird. I didn't use to think that eating is a vital part of the travel experience, but boy was I wrong! My dear husband, himself a foreigner, instilled in me a passion and interest in food that I now can't ignore—and I'm grateful to him for unlocking a whole new aspect of life! Therefore, while in Sicily, I made sure to try some of the signature unusual foods that are characteristic for Sicily, not just for Italy—so I'll obviously be skipping the pizza and the pasta in this post.
1. Gelato Con Brioche
Let's start off with dessert, because we're adults and we can do that!
Gelato means ice cream in Italian—period. In the United States when people say gelato, they mean a different kind of ice cream than, let's say, Ben&Jerry's, but in Italy it's not the case—all ice cream is gelato, that's just the translation of the word. And where in Italy does gelato originate from? You guessed it—Sicily! Many Italians will tell you that Sicilian gelato is especially delicious, and who am I to argue with them?
A very Sicilian way of eating ice cream is to stuff it inside a brioche, which is a sweet bun sliced from the top. The name is pronounced the French way, like "briosh"—I first made the mistake of trying to pronounce it as if it was an Italian word, what a faux-pas!
Gelato con brioche is surprisingly delicious and if you think about it, it's basically a more bready ice cream sandwich. Wherever I went, the portions were really generous and it's standard to put two different flavors inside one bun. Once I requested just one flavor—coffee—and the seller was bewildered: "Only one?"
As for flavors, while in Sicily you must try the pistachio. Pistachios grow abundantly on the island, as they were brought there by the Arab settlers, who were in control of the region for many centuries, exerting their influence and being the reason why it's so different from continental Italy. The locals make their ice cream out of real fresh pistachios, and they would probably commit suicide rather than use the green extract that the rest of the world uses and then calls it a day. Definitely try even if you think you don't like pistachio flavored ice cream—it tastes different than the stuff you're most likely used to!
Another flavor to try is zuppa inglese. It literally means English soup, but it refers to an English dessert called a trifle. You should try it just for the sake of being able to say you ate an English soup in ice cream form! So this gelato is actually a sweet custard ice cream flavored like sherry or madeira, with pieces of cookies. I'm not sure how Sicilian this is, probably just Italian, but it's definitely fun to try!
And the last flavor I'd recommend to try in Sicily is cioccolato con pepperoncini and cioccolato all'azteca. I think you're most likely to encounter it in Sicily, as opposed to the continental Italy, because it's a very rich chocolate flavor infused with spicy peppers, and spicy dishes are generally the Sicilian domain. Cioccolato all'azteca is the same stuff with an additional hint of cinnamon.
It's a famously Sicilian treat born in Palermo and eaten usually during Easter, but of course for the sake of tourists many cafes serve them all year round. It's rather small, as you can see, and after looking at pictures of cassatas online, I must say that mine was rather humble! This is made of a sponge cake filling layered with sweet ricotta cheese, which is often also mixed with dried fruit, and surrounded by a layer of marzipan, with candied fruit on top.
Apparently there's no consensus as to how to spell it among Italian linguists, so I wrote down both versions in case some Italian reads this and gets mad! The singular, though, is arancino, which in my opinion is important to know when you're ordering them, because they're very filling. By the way, we left the sweet stuff behind, now prepare your taste buds for some umami!
This is another typically Sicilian food item, typically consisting of peas, mozzarella and ragu—a meaty stuffing with some tomato sauce inside a ball of rice which is then deep fried with some bread crumbs to coat the outside. It's very filling and very much a street food. In fact, that's one of the foods I ate while sitting at a makeshift plastic table sprawled out in the street. Keep reading to see the second food I ate while admiring the architecture of Palermo—that one is not for the faint of heart!
4. Pane con la Milza
There is it, the final one and definitely one for only the most adventurous people—a pork spleen sandwich. Woo! Of course I'm very adventurous when it comes to food, so I made it a point to find one of those and eat it. It was... chewy, and tasted similar to livers. This is another typical street food and it's prepared by boiling and then cooking with lard for hours. It's flavored with just salt and nothing else, or at least mine was—in fact, I had to sprinkle some extra salt on top, since it tasted like chewy livers and I'm not a huge fan of that flavor! I actually didn't finish it because of how dang chewy it was, but besides that I was already full from arancini.
There you have it, my top 4 foods to try while in Sicily! Of course there's more, some more Sicilian than others, but these are in my opinion the most original and the most delicious—and easy to find, too.
Which of these foods would you like to try? Are you adventurous enough to try the spleen?