Pizza and pasta are often the first things that people visiting Italy are desperate to try, and who can blame them?
However, there is so much more to Italian food than pasta and pizza, and when it comes to Palermo, things are a whole different ball game.
Palermo street food is an amalgamation of all of the cultures that have existed on the island of Sicily over the years, including the Arabs, Romans, Normans, Greeks, Spanish, Jews, and so on.
From the Arab domination of Sicily in the 10th and 11th centuries, we see saffron, apricot, raisins, rice, nutmeg, cloves and pine nuts, with the Greeks bringing a taste for fish, pistachio, olives and fresh vegetables.
Western Sicily in particular has tonnes of Northern African influences – San Vito Lo Capo even has its very own couscous festival!
Outside influences on Sicilian cuisine are particularly strong in the local street food, and Palermo has actually been named as one of the best cities for street food in the entire world!
So, if you’re planning a trip to Palermo, or you’re simply curious about what this vibrant city has to offer in the way of culinary goodness, look no further, because I’m going to break it down.
Here’s a guide to Palermo street food.
Palermo Street Food: A Culinary Journey Through Sicily’s Vibrant Culture
What is Palermo street food like?
In Palermo, street food is an integral part of the city’s culture, and you can expect a diverse range of dishes that reflect the city’s rich culinary heritage.
Dishes are often prepared fresh and served hot from street food vendors, small eateries, and food markets.
You can expect intense flavours and rich textures, and a whole lot of offal – seriously, Palermitani love their offal!
You’ll also find lots of local ingredients, including eggplant, swordfish, and sardines.
Here are some of the most popular Palermo street foods that you simply have to try if you find yourself in the city!
12 Palermo street foods
Frittula is perhaps the most adventurous Sicilian food that there is – in fact, none of the young Sicilians that I have met have even tried it!
Another street food hailing from Palermo, frittula is made from the waste left over from a calf’s carcass including ground bone, cartilage, fat and meat scraps.
This mixture is fried with lard, seasoned with bay leaves and pepper, and served either alone or in a bun.
Dating all the way back to the 15th century, frittula is perhaps the most mysterious of all the Sicilian foods on this list, due to the fact that the vendor, or u frittularu, keeps the mixture hidden at all times, in a wicker basket covered by a cloth.
When you order a portion, the vendor will not remove the cloth, instead putting his arm underneath it and gathering together your portion out of sight!
You can get a portion of frittula for around 1 EUR!
Arancine are the most quintessential Sicilian street food there is, and it isn’t difficult to see why.
Arancine take their name from arancia, Italian for ‘oranges,’ because, well, they look like oranges!
Arancine are balls of creamy yellow risotto (the rice takes its colour from the saffron brought over by the Arabs), deep fried in breadcrumbs and filled with just about anything!
Usually though, arancine will be stuffed with a ragu meat sauce or ham and mozzarella.
Arancine are typically eaten as a hearty snack on the go, and can be found everywhere in Palermo from 2 EUR, so there really is no excuse not to try some!
Fun fact – in Catania this Sicilian street food is known as ‘arancino’ and ‘arancini’ and the two cities will fight to the death about which is the correct version!
As someone who is head over heels for Palermo, I am firmly in the arancina/e camp!
Cazzilli, or crocchè di patate to give them their proper name, are essentially little potato croquettes.
Cazzilli are simply mashed potato that has been covered with breadcrumbs, deep fried and seasoned with mint and parsley to give them their distinct Sicilian flavour.
The word cazzilli actually translates to ‘little dicks,’ so call them what you will!
Panelle, which are never usually far away from cazzilli, are flat chickpea fritters made from chickpea flour, water, salt and parsley.
They can be eaten alone or on a sandwich, sometimes with the cazzilli as well – a Palermitani chip butty, if you will!
Sfincione is a kind of pizza bread (although never say that to a Sicilian!).
Made with a bread base, this old ‘peasant food’ originated from a need to prepare dry, long-lasting products in order to nourish those working in fields far away from home.
On top of the doughy bread base, the traditional recipe includes onions, anchovies, grilled vegetables and various cold cuts, although you can pretty much use anything you want as a topping!
Sfincione differs from place to place – for example, the Palermitan version is made with tomato puree and seasoned with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil, whereas the Bagherese version skips the tomato puree altogether in favour of lashings of cheese, onions and breadcrumbs.
Very popular as a daytime snack, sfincione are also incredibly popular at the end of a night out, and the sfincione shop in La Vucciria is always jam packed with drunk Sicilians at 4am, no matter which day it is!
6. Pani ca’ Meusa
Pani ca’ Meusa is a sandwich not for the faint-hearted or those with a delicate stomach.
Made with chopped veal lung, spleen and trachea that have been boiled and fried with lard, Pani ca’ Meusa was originally brought to Palermo by the Jews in the 13th century and is about as authentic as you can get when it comes to Palermo street food.
The mixture is left to bubble away in a large pot before being slapped onto a sesame seeded bun, squirted with a dash of lemon juice and a generous helping of salted ricotta cheese.
Pani ca’ Meusa has quite a strong flavour – it’s definitely not your average beef patty!
To me, Pani ca’ Meusa is reminiscent of kidneys, if kidneys were piping hot, drenched in lemon juice and sitting on a fluffy bun.
Although granita can now be found all over Italy, the birthplace of this refreshing summer dessert is actually Sicily!
Granita is simply shaved ice with sugar and fruit flavouring, and it is essentially a sorbet, but with a slightly coarser texture, perfect for a light refreshment on a hot summer’s day – my favourite is the lemon version.
In the summertime, many Italians will order a coffee flavoured granita for breakfast with a brioche, and dip their brioche into the granita – yum!
If you go to any street market in Palermo, you will likely see billowing smoke emanating from grills, where middle-aged Sicilian men grill cipollata, or spring onions wrapped with thinly sliced streaky bacon and dripping with fat – yum!
A Palermo staple, cipollata is hot greasy goodness, and is the real essence of working-class Palermo.
Another one for the brave, stigghiole are another Palermo speciality.
Stigghiola is lamb or veal intestines, grilled until they are crispy and lightly seasoned with a squirt of lemon juice, parsley and chopped onions (sometimes the stigghiola is wrapped around a leek or spring onion).
When they are done, they are sliced into bite-sized pieces and served alone as a tasty snack (they go perfectly with beer!).
Selz is a refreshing summertime drink comprised of freshly squeezed lemon juice, sparkling water (seltzer) and a pinch of salt.
Kiosks all over Sicily sell selz for around 1 EUR, and one of the first questions I was asked when I arrived was ‘have you tried our drink yet?’ the drink, of course, being selz.
Cannoli are perhaps the most quintessential Sicilian dessert.
Cannoli are crispy tube-shaped shells made of fried pastry dough which are then filled with creamy ricotta and sprinkled with a variety of toppings.
Although the classic cannolo is a plain shell filled with plain ricotta and topped with candied fruits, you can customise your cannolo to become basically anything you want, adding pistachio, chocolate, orange, peanut butter, caramel and even Limoncello!
Specialist cannoli shops also have different flavours of ricotta and different flavoured shells.
Not only do cannoli look pretty, but they also taste delicious, and if you’re like me and don’t have much of a sweet tooth then you can buy a mini cannolo to enjoy with your cappuccino.
Pro-tip – if you see cannoli in a shop window and the tubes have already been filled with ricotta then steer clear – the best cannoli will be injected with ricotta right there in front of you to prevent the tubes from going soft and losing their crunch!
12. Fried seafood
While you can get fried seafood in many parts of the world, as an island, Sicily is home to more fresh seafood than you can shake a stick at, and true to form, they love dunking it in hot oil and deep frying it.
Prawns, calamari, codfish, tuna, swordfish, anchovies, sardines, and much more can all be found on the streets of Palermo.
Where to find the best street food in Palermo
Palermo’s street food scene is spread throughout the city, but some areas are known for their exceptional food.
Palermo’s historic street markets are the best place to start.
At Mercato del Capo, you can find arancine, panelle, and cazzilli.
For selz and granita, there are tonnes of cafes around town offering up these refreshing delights, as well as colourful mobile kiosks like the one below.
La Vucciria is a melting pot of all the Sicilian street foods you can imagine.
Stigghiole, pani ca’ meusa (Rocky Basile has a stall here and it is the place to go for spleen sandwiches!), huge plates of fried seafood, and sfincione are just some of the things that can be found in La Vucciria market.
Ballaro market is also home to stalls selling the best of Palermo’s street food.
For a sit down experience, head to Nni Franco U Vastiddaru on Via Vittorio Emanuele. They have great spleen sandwiches, chickpea fritters, arancine, and most other Palermo street food specialities in a no frills outdoor seating area.
You can get a more sanitised version of all of the above, as well as piping hot cones of fried seafood, at Passami ù coppu, at the other end of Via Vittorio Emanuele.
If you want to try Palermo’s street foods while sitting down, Palermo Store Cafe is one of Palermo’s best cafes, and does aperitivo platters filled with traditional street food.
Taking a Palermo street food tour
Another way of getting to sample the best of Palermo’s street food is by taking a Palermo food tour.
Contrary to what many people think, food tours are a great way to avoid getting ripped off or going to the wrong places.
The food tour that I took in Palermo went through the Capo and Vucciria markets, and introduced us to most of the main players in the Palermo street food scene.
You can read my full review of the Palermo food tour I took here.
Palermo Street Food | Final Thoughts
Palermo’s street food scene is a true reflection of the city’s rich cultural and culinary heritage.
The vibrant streets are filled with food markets, street stalls, and small eateries that offer a diverse range of mouth-watering dishes.
From deep-fried chickpea fritters to grilled skewers made from sheep intestines, you’ll certainly never get bored when looking for a bite to eat in Palermo.
Exploring Palermo’s street food scene is not just about the food, but also about the experience of immersing yourself in the city’s lively culture, meeting the locals, and discovering the authentic flavours of Sicily.
So, whether you’re a hardcore foodie or simply looking for a taste of the local culture, Palermo’s street food is sure to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds and your memories.
Got any questions?
Don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you!
Until next time,
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