A Stroll through the Markets of Sicily
I’m just returned from Sicily, so you know what that means – there is soon to be a Sweet Sicily post on the blog here ! But before I get to the gelato, granita, cassata and marzipan, first a stroll through a few Sicilian markets, where I spent most of my time. (When not eating gelato, granita, cassata and marzipan. Not to mention cannoli and torrone and chocolate and…)
First up is my favorite of the two, in Siracusa’s old town, Ortigia (also a favorite of Nicky’s, as she recently shared). The freshest of produce, neat stacks of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, vendors loudly announcing their wares (in a mix between yelling and singing that only Italian can do so well), and some of the friendliest Sicilians I came across.
Fish lovers will be in heaven, especially those with a kitchen to go back to for cooking. Glistening rows of sardines, piles of calamari, tables covered in tuna and swordfish steaks, fishmongers scooping out the flesh of sea urchins for you to eat on the go… With the fishing port just a hop from the market, this is as fresh as it gets.
And for all you cheese lovers, you’ll also be grinning from ear to ear. Here is a must for your Syracuse address book: Caseificio Borderi (Via de Benedictis 6), if not just for maestro casero (master cheesemaker) Andrea Borderi’s bubbly personality. There’s an impressive display of cheeses outside, including hard cheeses from Ragusa that Andrea will have you taste with Noto almonds, funny looking pear-shaped provola, smoked mozzarella, warm rounds of ricotta, and an even more impressive cheese and salumi bar inside, run by his son Gaetano. Such fun hanging “backstage” with Gaetano and chatting in French, but I suggest you touch up on your Italian to fully understand Andrea’s original take on ricotta, his famous tricotta (cooked three times), that he will gladly explain.
Other colorful, animated and even more boisterous markets are on the other side of the island in Palermo. Lose yourselves in the streets of the Mercata di Ballarò and the Mercato del Capo, both in the city’s historical center. You’ll come upon tables overflowing with salted capers, olives and anchovies, citrus and snails, market vendors wielding enormous cleavers to tuna and swordfish or daunting meat carcasses… alongside tables with household goods and random tchotchkes. I was fascinated most of all with the long zucchini (below right), nearly as tall as I am.
It’s no coincidence if you feel like you’re navigating your way through the labyrinthine souks of Fez, as Palermo has a rich Arab history. Nonetheless, it retains a unique atmosphere with very Italian products and a personality all its own.
On my next trip to Sicily, I’ll be starting with a visit to Catania’s fish market, which I didn’t have a chance to see. What’s your favorite market in Sicily ?