Palermo - both the capital of Sicily and of street food in Italy. It's a city where the street food culture is a proud, longstanding Palermitan tradition born out of necessity and scarcity.
Palermo is the world's most-conquered city - the Phoenicians, Greeks, Normans, Romans, Arabs, they've all ruled here. The island didn't, in fact, join the Kingdom of Italy until 1851 so the food culture is one of the most unique in the country - a reflection of the diverse cultures that have occupied this land.
You'll find the use of cloves, saffron, raisins, pinenuts and nutmeg in traditional Sicilian dishes. Palermitans love nose to tail eating, and there is a strong street food culture. In short, if you love to eat, you'll feel right at home. Here are a few Palermitan favourites to get you started:
1. Frittola at Ballaro Market
It's not everyone's idea of a great breakfast but there's no denying frittola has many fans. It's essentially scraps leftover from the slaughter of calves - think cartilage, tendon, offal and the like, boiled and then fried in lard. We know it doesn't sound overly appealing but the hordes of hungry locals that jostle around the stall at Ballaro Market are testament to its deliciousness.
It's a mysterious street food. Look out for a giant covered basket - the contents of which are concealed beneath a cloth to keep the heat in. The vendor will reach in, grab a handful of the hot frittola and serve it up on a plate with lemon and pepper or stuff it into a bread roll for easy eating. It's a lucky dip of texture - gelatinous tendon, slightly crunchy cartilage, tender tripe and very rich (that'd be the lard). We've never felt happier- standing by the stall, wolfing into a plate of warm frittola as the vendor shouts "mancia mancia", "eat, eat"- it's the ultimate street food experience.
Eat it at Ballaro Market, Via Ballaro, 1, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy. Open daily 7.30am to late afternoon. Arrive in the morning for frittola as it sells out quickly.
2. Granita at Caffetteria del Corso
One of Palermo's most popular sweets is granita - a semi-frozen dessert made of sugar, water and flavourings. It's said that hundreds of years ago people would ascend into the mountains to get ice, which they would bring down into the villages to make granita. It isn't as arduous a task now but it pays to know that not all granita are made equal. Make a beeline for Caffetteria del Corso, owned by Pino, a charming gentleman who makes his granita using natural ingredients.
The fruit granita are intense and vibrant - ask Pino for a combination of peach, strawberry and lemon or if you're visiting in the morning, start your day like the locals do with a coffee granita and brioche- and always order it with pana (cream). The coffee granita delivers a sharp bitter kick which is mellowed by the piles of softly whipped cream and dusting of sweet chocolate powder. It's quite simply, magic.
Eat it at Caffetteria del Corso, Via Vittorio Emanuele, 370, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy. Open Monday to Saturday 6.30am - 7.30pm and Sunday 6.30am - 12.30pm.
3. Arancine at I Cuochini
Said to have originated in the 10th century during Arab rule in Sicily, arancine are one of the island's most famous foods. Crumbed, deep fried balls of risotto rice cooked in ragu - they make a great snack, or meal even, as some are about the size of a small orange (it's where their name comes from - they are said to resemble little arancia or oranges). We love the ones at I Cuochini - a hole-in-the-wall joint that's been churning out mini arancine since 1826. The classic ragu version features tender grains of rice cooked in a robust, tangy, tomato-based meat sauce.
Eat it at I Cuochini, Via Ruggero Settimo, 68, 90139 Palermo PA, Italy. Open Monday to Saturday 8.30am - 2.30pm.
4. Sfincione at Panificio Graziano
Some might call the sfincione a Sicilian pizza or Sicilian focaccia: natives of the island would vehemently argue that it is its own distinct dish. What we know for certain is that you can't leave Palermo without eating it. The name sfincione is derived from the Latin and Greek words for sponge because the dough absorbs the tomato, anchovy, onion, oregano, breadcrumbs and caciocavallo cheese topping as it bakes.
You'll see sfincione vendors on the streets of Palermo and in the markets but the best version we ate was from Panificio Graziano. This local bakery produces a sfincione which you'll be thinking about, weeks, months, even years after you've eaten it. The sfinicione is soft and pillowy, the tomato topping tangy and sweet with a hit of umami from the anchovy and caciocavallo. We guarantee you'll devour a slab and immediately order a second one.
Eat it at Panificio Graziano, Via del Granatiere, 11/13, 90143 Palermo PA, Italy. Open Monday to Saturday 7am - 3.15pm and 4.30pm - 9.30pm.