Palermo, Sicily -- Trip planning advice
We are considering a trip to Sicily in mid-February. We have never been there before. Palermo seems a good place to start for a trip of 5-8 days to Sicily.
Would be grateful for suggestions for lodging as well as dining.
Would also be grateful for suggestions for day trips from Palermo, or for other places we might want to stay other than Palermo.
I don't think I posted this on Chowhound, so here is my trip report from 2011:
Palermo is famous for its street food. Since we arrived on a Saturday night, this was out in full force as the young Palermitan University population was out to have a few beers and relax with friends. We went towards the old Vucciria market area, which makes you feel like you’re walking into an abandoned city – many old apartment buildings and palazzo are uninhabited and uninhabitable – it seems like some of the falling down ones haven’t been touched since WWII bombs passed through. And yet, amongst all the ruins, everyday life goes on and the piazzas were filled with hundreds of students and Palermitani enjoying the evening. I noticed two different food stalls and went to check them out. One was serving only mussels and squid (calamari). Since I am a calamari lover, I ordered one. What an experience. A man pulled a whole squid out of a boiling cauldron – cut it up into pieces and served it to us on a plate. We gobbled it up with our hands. It was dressed with only lemon and salt, from what I could tell, but fresh caught that very day, it was delicious and not chewy at all. Total cost – 1 euro!
I must warn you that Palermo street food is not for the squeamish. Everything is touched and cut without gloves, and I advise you to not look too closely at the stall owner’s hands. I said a little anti-food poisoning prayer and dug into a sandwich from the next stall, grilled scallion wrapped in pancetta.
The classic Palermitano sandwich is called “pane con panelle”, fried chickpea flour fritters stuffed (often with potato and parsley croquettes) into a roll. We found the best ones on the recommendation of a Palermitan friend at a stall in Piazza della Kalsa, but there’s also stalls in the Ballaro’ market and all over town. I ordered these without the roll as well.
For the more adventurous, there’s also the traditional pane ca’ meusa, which is a fried spleen sandwich. Don’t be afraid – I’m not always very adventurous and I tried it. It looked like regular sliced beef but was a bit greasy for my taste, honestly.
We had a great lunch at Trattoria Zia Pina (on Via Argenteria between the Vucciria market and the La Cala) is a must do. You sit outside at this unpretentious casual family restaurant focusing on seafood. Inside there’s an appetizer buffet, then you pick your fish from the fresh catch of the day and have it either grilled, fried, or made into a pasta dish. Delicious in its simplicity, dressed with lemon, salt and pepper, freshness reigns here. 35 euro for a two course lunch for two with water and beer.
Pastries, pastries, pastries – I would wager a bet that no other city in Italy can compete. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place for you. You’ll see lots of ricotta, marzipan/almond paste and pistachio based desserts, all local, traditional Sicilian products. We found – after truly extensive “research” – the best cassata (famous Sicilian cake with layers of sponge cake, ricotta with chocolate chips, marzipan and frosting) was at Massaro, on Via Ernesto Basile 26 near the University. Also worth a visit is Spinnato, via P. Belmonte 107/115, a historic bar and café that makes for great people watching and has every dessert under the sun. I tried their pistachio mousse cake. If you like cannoli, you will find them everywhere, but make sure to stop in at Rosciglione, Via G. Barbieri 5, a cannoli factory at the Ballaro’ market area. You can peek in to see the magic behind making cannoli, and order one made fresh for you.
Gelato – We were so distracted with Sicilian pastries we only made one stop for gelato, but it was so worth it. I don’t want to make any rash, scandalous statements, but I think I may have found the best gelato I’ve had in Italy so far at Le Cremolose, in a little kiosk with outdoor seating in Piazza Gentili, above the English Gardens. Here they make not only to die for gelato (try the pistachio and almond flavors), but also what they call “Cremolose”, which is a kind of mix between sorbet, gelato and granita – they blend the main ingredient with a bit of milk and no added sugar, then freeze it. You’re left with a light product that isn’t overly sweet and is true to the main ingredient. Here are the pistachio, almond and blood orange Cremolose (in their convenient tasting portion):
Palermo is a really great place for food and everything else and I am hoping that in a few days I will put up a post about the food experiences I had in Palermo in January -- there were a lot of them, since we rented an apartment in the Capo market for a week and ate in about a dozen different places in the city. But I have to figure out a way to make my posts shorter. But check back in if you are interested in more than street food and sweets.