Our next stop was Polermo on the island of Sicily. Sicily is the largest of more than 400 islands under Italy’s administration and sits near the toe of the boot. The other primary island is Sardinia, which sits northwest of Sicily.
Our tour guide met 32 of us on the pier and we walked towards the city center. There was a lot of trash everywhere. We hoped that once we left the port area it would get better, but improvement was marginal. (Randy said India was worse, but I’ve never seen worse.)
Our guide told us the city of Palermo goes back about 3000 years. There have been 14 separate dominations. All are still evident within the city in the architecture and food. These blocks are from the Roman era.
The Teatro Politeama Garibaldi is the performing home of the the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana.
The premiere theater in Palermo is the Teatra Massamo. Opera is performed there.
Our primary activity of the day was a food tour – something we look for where-ever we travel. This tour specialized in Palermo Street Food. Although similar to Italian cuisine, Sicilian food has Greek, Spanish, French and Arab influences.
Our first food stop was in the Capo Mercato. The sign and the food were very colorful!
An array of fresh seafood – expected on an island.
Our tour guide told us “Sicily loves fried food, we fry everything.” She also said food in Sicily is simple, having just a few ingredients. The population was generally poor so food was made with inexpensive, local, fresh ingredients and lots of olive oil.
We went to Da Ariana, a food stand within the Capo market. It recently won a televised Sicily Food Challenge.
First we were served arancini. Arancini are rice balls that are stuffed with whatever is available, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried. They are a staple of Sicilian cuisine. These were delicious. The second item is caponata, an eggplant dish very famous in Sicily and also very good.
Our second course was fritters made from chick pea flour and crocché – breaded and fried mashed potato segments.
We walked on and saw the Cathedral of Palermo, built in 1184 by the Normans. It was a Christian church on the site of a Muslim mosque, built over a Christian basilica.
The cathedral was also a fortress. Normans, Arabs and Jews all lived cooperatively together in the city of Palermo.
The walk brought us through this intersection. The carvings and ornamentation on each of the four corners represents one of the four seasons.
Our second food stop was typical in that we stood, or sat, outside the establishment to enjoy our street food.
We had a second version of arancini – good, but not as good as our first. These were baseball size!
Then we were instructed about cannoli, a dessert originating in Sicily. (Cannoli is plural and cannolo is singular.) We were told that the only way to eat a cannolo is to pick a shell, pick a filling and pick one or more toppings. We were told we should NEVER accept a pre-filled cannolo as the bottom would be soggy.
As we were a food tour and they were trying to assist 32 of us quickly, we were allowed to pick our shell and toppings but we all received the same sweet cream filling. Oh wait, it wasn’t sweet cream – it was ricotta cheese – amazing, light, fluffy and sweet ricotta.
The cannoli were delicious – among the best things we ate on our entire trip. It was also our one and only experience with cannoli because we never again saw them when they weren’t pre-filled. We learned to be Cannoli Snobs to our own detriment! (We’re eating the next authentic cannoli we see – even if it is pre-filled.)
On the move once again, we saw the Church of San Cataldo. It was built in 1160, during the Norman occupation of Palermo.
It was a Christian church but with an acknowledgement to the Islamic population, evident in the red domes.
This is a typical Palermo building where people have lived for centuries.
Our last stop was a restaurant awarded the title of Sicily’s Best Street Food. They specialize in fried fish.
Imagine sardines breaded, fried and eaten like we would eat french fries.
Now imagine a large cone with generous portions of sardine fries, calamari and shrimp. We tried to decline but ended up accepting one so as not to seem ungrateful. I almost never eat fish or seafood and Randy did not eat very much because imagine having fish after a sweet cannolo!
We did manage to eat another dessert originating in Sicily – gelato! Although we never again had cannoli, we enjoyed gelato many times!
We very much enjoyed our tour and learning about the history of Palermo and the street food of Sicily. We walked a lot on this tour – about 14,000 steps. That was good because we ate a lot!
We got back to the ship just before the rains came. As we sat on our balcony watching the storm, we also watched the Regal Princess leave port, tooting the love boat theme as a goodbye!
Next up: Another food tour – this time in Napoli. Napoli is one of Randy’s two favorite places in Italy.