It’s surprisingly rare to find a place that ignites all of your senses, and always a wonderful surprise when you unknowingly stumble into one. With its magnificent street art, bustling labyrinthine streets, orange sun bouncing off the sapphire waves and burning the skin, and life-changinglyndelicious food, Sicily is one of those.
Four cities in six days – the university student-saturated Catania (which also doubles as the aptly named cat capital); the wealthy boutique-lined Taormina; the sun-drenched coastal Syracuse; and, the Island’s energetic and crowded capital Palermo. Despite being clustered into a relatively small island, the cities of Sicily retain distinct characters. Indeed, the only thing that links them seems to be their people’s genuine love for and pride in their food.
Sicily is known for its food, so I was expecting tasty. I wasn’t expecting to leave questioning everything I ever thought I knew about food, taste, and cooking. The standard was set on the second night with a three-course meal at a local trattoria single-handedly run by a woman who makes her pasta from scratch, hand-sources all local ingredients, and can cook them to perfection. As an aside, I’m pretty sure she also makes her own limoncello.
At a Syracusan market a few days later, a man with a sandwich stall took great delight in allowing us to sample each of his 10+ cheeses as he made what was, quite honestly, the most magnificent sandwich of my life. Fresh crusty bread, olive pate, cheese, olives, cheese, chilli flakes, a smoked cheese, oh and some more cheese. The market itself was a cornucopia of giant fruit and vegetables and the wafting scent of Mediterranean and North African herbs and spices.
But it wasn’t all stuffing and gorging. There was also drinking to be done. Spritzers, dry white wine, and grappa drunk in some of the cosiest wine bars I’ve ever been in. NB Sicilian standard pours are very generous which lends itself to long slow evenings feasting and snacking, but can also flow to your head pretty quick if you’re not used to it.
Sicilian cities are also host to some of the most amazing ancient archeological and heritage sites. My personal favourites were a Teatro in Catania and a cliff-top castle in Syracuse.
But the thing I found most fascinating about Sicily was how seemingly similar it was to the Australian Italian community. In the mass wave of post-WWII immigration to Australia from Italy, many of the emigrants came from the south and specifically Sicily. And they brought their food and culture with them – two things which have adapted well to the Australian climate. Arancini balls, pepper and aubergine-based antipasto, and even pasta sauces found in Australia and Sicily but not elsewhere in Italy made for a very curious fish-out-of-water familiarity.
And on that note – photos!