The Best Foods in Sicily That You Need to Try

Written by Rem Malloy, since 1995 Rem has been guiding and designing trips to Italy and all of Western Europe and is considered an expert in his field for over 30 years.

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One of the best reasons to visit Italy is to indulge in the delectable cuisine. There are a variety of different foods and wines in Italy which are famous worldwide, but there are some distinct regional differences. This is very noticeable in Sicily, where various influences and diverse climates have produced some of the best food in Italy. 

In this guide, we showcase some of the best foods in Sicily that you must try. We begin by explaining the history and influences that have contributed to Sicilian cuisine. We then go on to highlight the best dishes in Sicily, the best street food and the best desserts which are guaranteed to get your mouth watering. 

So if you’re a foodie with plans to visit Sicily, this is the guide for you. 

The History of Sicilian Cuisine 

Sicily has an extensive history of occupation and invasion from various cultures like Arabs, Normans, the Spanish and more. Arab influences from the 9th to 11th centuries brought spices like cinnamon and cloves to Sicilian dishes as well as the use of vinegar as a preservation technique. Likewise, under Norman and Spanish rule, ingredients like tomatoes and peppers were introduced and have become staples of traditional Sicilian food. 

This has made the culinary tradition of Sicily much more diverse than mainland Italy and offers a journey of flavors. Its proximity to Tunisia has also resulted in North African influences on Sicilian food. This can be seen in the use of couscous in dishes throughout Sicily, especially in the western regions. 

Italy was unified in the 19th Century which incorporated Sicilian food into the wider Italian culinary tradition. However, Sicilian food remained distinct from other regions of mainland Italy and it has retained many of its traditional flavors and ingredients.

Sicilian Food Tours

If you want to try as much Sicilian food as possible on your vacation to Italy, then a food tour is an excellent choice. There are so many incredible things to do in Sicily but diving into the rich culinary offering of the island should be atop any Sicily itinerary.

At Italy4Real, we offer custom tours of Italy that can be tailored to your preferences. If you’re keen to explore the delicious offerings of Sicily, why not book our Sicily Culture and Cuisine Tour

On this incredible 8 day tour you will be taken to some of the best places in Sicily, where you can soak up the fascinating history and spirited culture. Plus, we will treat your tastebuds to some of the best foods in Sicily, from piping hot street food to charming wine tastings.

The Best Dishes in Sicily 

Traditional Sicilian food can be found in pretty much every restaurant on the island, but Palermo is where you will find the most authentic eateries. To help you navigate the rich culinary traditions, we’ve collected a list of some of the best dishes in Sicily that you’re certain to love. 

Caponata

This sweet and sour eggplant dish is typically served as a starter in restaurants in Sicily. It usually includes other hearty vegetables like celery, tomatoes and capers. The dish is then seasoned with a sauce made from vinegar and sugar, resulting in a sensational mix of flavors. It’s one of the best dishes in Sicily for vegetarians as it isn’t prepared with meat. 

The main ingredients of caponata remain the same across Sicily, but there are some regional differences. This is usually the inclusion of pine nuts and fragrant herbs which add to the delightful flavor profile. It can be served as an antipasto or a side dish and is sometimes used as a topping for bruschetta.

Parmigiana

While not originally Sicilian, parmigiana has become a widely beloved dish on the island. The Sicilian version is known as ‘Melanzane alla Parmigiana’ and differs from other variations found in Italy. It’s commonly served as an entrée alongside a simple salad. 

Parmigiana consists of thin layers of fried eggplant, rich tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese, and is topped with Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. The layers are alternated like lasagne and create a delicious blend of tastes and textures. The tomato sauce used is normally infused with garlic and other aromatics as is typical in Sicilian cooking. 

For the most authentic experience, order parmigiana in a local Sicilian trattoria. These family-run restaurants take pride in their cooking, using the freshest ingredients and traditional recipes. The seasonal availability of ingredients may result in subtle variations, but this staple of Sicilian cuisine can be enjoyed any time of the year.

Pasta alla Norma

One of the most famous pasta dishes in Sicily is Pasta alla Norma, named after the opera by Vincenzo Bellini. This fragrant pasta dish is the perfect way to sample the island’s fresh ingredients and get a real taste of Sicily. 

Pasta alla Norma is typically made using rigatoni or spaghetti and the sauce includes eggplant, tomato, basil and salted ricotta. These simple ingredients combine together perfectly, resulting in a dish that is filling and flavorful. The eggplant is usually fried or roasted which adds a crisp bite to the meal.

This traditional Sicilian dish is served hot which helps the ingredients meld together. It pairs well with Sicilian wines, especially ones made from Nero d’Avola or Frappato grapes as this compliments the richness of the pasta sauce.

Sarde a Beccafico

Seafood is a staple in Sicilian cuisine and it is incorporated into a range of recipes. One of the best seafood dishes in Sicily is Sarde a Beccafico, which features butterflied sardines. Sardines are common in Sicilian cuisine as they were a staple for fishermen and offered a reliable but inexpensive food source. 

Sarde a Beccafico is made by stuffing the sardines with a filling of breadcrumbs, pinenuts, raisins and herbs. After stuffing, the sardines are rolled and secured before baking until crispy. The sweetness of the raisins balances the savory notes of pine nuts and garlic for the perfect mix of flavors. 

This dish gets its name from the beccafico bird which is native to Sicily and was considered a delicacy by the nobility. Sarde a Beccafico pays homage to this culinary tradition and highlights the creativity of Sicilian cooking.

The Best Street Food in Sicily 

Some of the best Sicilian food is actually found on the streets, at food stalls and markets. These Sicilian dishes are the perfect snack to enjoy while sightseeing and exploring the historic towns. Below you will find some of our top recommendations for street food in Sicily. 

Arancini

One of the most famous dishes from Sicily is arancini, a delightful deep-fried rice ball that is a popular street food snack. The name arancini comes from the Italian ‘arance’ meaning oranges, as they resemble smaller versions of the citrus fruit. Arancini is deeply buried in the street food culture of Sicily so you can find them at most markets and bakeries. 

It is one of the best dishes in Sicily as there is a range of fillings to choose from. Typically it is filled with ragu, peas and mozzarella cheese, but you will find variations like ham and mushrooms. There are also some regional differences in the shape of arancini as they tend to be more conical in the west of the island. 

Arancini is one of the best dishes to try in Sicily and stands as a symbol of the various influences that have shaped Sicilian food. Be sure to try as many as you can and pair them with a crisp Sicilian wine.

Crocchè

It seems that every culture has its own take on potato croquettes and Sicily is no exception. Crocchè is a popular Sicilian street food and antipasto that is both creamy and crispy. You can find them at food festivals, markets and street corners where they are enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. 

Crocchè are prepared using mashed potatoes which are then seasoned with salt, pepper and other spices such as nutmeg. Some variations may include cheese, ham or chopped parsley. The mixture is then shaped and breaded before being deep-fried till golden brown. 

While crocchè are delicious on their own, they are best paired with a tasty dipping sauce. Aioli, tomato sauce and garlic mayonnaise are a great way to enhance the tasting experience. As it is a very simple dish, crocchè is a great snack to try while visiting Sicily with young children.

Panelle

Our next Sicilian street food that you have to try has been enjoyed on the island for generations. Panelle are delightful chickpea fritters that are a great snack while you’re on the go. They are an intrinsic aspect of Sicilian street food culture and you’ll often find vendors that specialize in this delicious delicacy. 

Panelle are made using chickpea flour (also known as gram flour), water and various seasonings. The mixture is then cooked until it thickens before being shaped and fried. They are typically seasoned with salt, pepper and parsley, but some vendors may include additional herbs. 

Panelle can be enjoyed on their own or as a filling in a sandwich. You will often find panelle served in a soft roll or sesame bun which makes the dish much more filling. The use of chickpeas is a result of Arab influences on Sicily and showcases its significance as a major trading center in the past.

Sfincione

Many regard sfincione simply as Sicilian pizza, but it is quite distinct from the traditional Neapolitan style. It is characterized by a thick, soft crust and various toppings like tomato sauce, onions and anchovies. While it is a popular street food in Sicily, sfincione is also enjoyed during celebrations with variations appearing during significant festivals and holidays. 

Sfincione is notable for its thick, spongy crust made from leavened dough which contrasts with the thinner crust of other Italian pizzas. It is prepared as a typical pizza and is often garnished with breadcrumbs, a feature unique to this Sicilian dish. 

To get the most authentic sfincione in Sicily, stop into local bakeries and pizzerias where you will find them freshly made every day. You can also find them at street food stalls and markets where they are made with fresh ingredients and the chefs take great pride in their preparation.

The Best Desserts in Sicily 

We’ve talked about some of the best dishes in Sicily that can be enjoyed in a traditional restaurant and out on the streets. But if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll be overjoyed to know that desserts in Sicily are just as tantalizing. From the iconic cannoli to indulgent cassata, Sicily has some of the best desserts in Italy. 

Cassata

Cassata is a classic Italian dessert that comes from Sicily. It is an elaborate cake that is soaked with fruit liqueur and filled with sweetened ricotta cheese. This colorful confection is often associated with special occasions and festivals, so trying it is a great way to experience the culinary traditions of Sicily. 

The cake is usually decorated with marzipan and candied fruits, which adds a burst of color to the dish. Sicily is famous for its citrus fruits and these are usually incorporated into Cassata, adding a zesty and refreshing quality to the cake. Not only is cassata delicious, but it is often molded into various shapes, giving the dessert an artistic appeal.  

Granita con Brioche

Granita is a refreshing, frozen dessert in Sicily that is made using sugar, water and flavorings. This charming treat can be combined with sweet brioche for a delectable breakfast or dessert. That said, it can be enjoyed at any time of the day and is a great way to cool off during the scorching Sicilian summers. 

You will find a range of variations of granita con brioche as it is very customizable. Common variations include coffee granita with a sweet brioche and strawberry granita with a vanilla brioche. This allows you to make the dessert as personal as you’d like and adjust it to your flavor preferences.

Cannoli

Our last Sicilian dish that you need to try is already a popular dessert worldwide, the humble cannoli. Composed of a crisp pastry shell which is filled with sweet ricotta, cannoli is the ultimate Sicilian dessert. The creamy ricotta is often elevated with additional flavors like vanilla, cinnamon and citrus which contrast perfectly with the crunchy exterior. 

These crispy treats are a quintessential part of Sicilian cuisine and are an absolute must when visiting Sicily. You will find cannoli in every pastry shop and different towns in Sicily have their own take on the treat, so try as many varieties as you can.

Summary

Sicily is one of the best places to visit in Italy and offers a myriad of attractions and activities. But what makes it so special is the unique culinary tradition that begs to be explored. Food enthusiasts will be truly taken by the delicious dishes of Sicily and will find there is a great deal of variety. 

From Sicilian staples like Pasta alla Norma to street food favorites such as arancini, there is a plethora of dishes to try that will tickle your taste buds. Those who prefer sweet treats are also catered for with decadent Cassata and crispy Cannoli. 

Whether you want to dine in traditional trattorias or sample the best street food, Sicily promises an unforgettable journey of flavors. 

Hungry for a custom trip to Sicily? Contact Italy4Real now to plan your bespoke Italian tour with our team of experts

About the Author

Rem Malloy started Italy4real back in 1995 with his mother, Deborah de Maio.

He specialises in Italian tours as well as customised tours to France, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. He was also featured in the Travel Channel show Mysteries at The Museum in 2016.

Rem has family in Italy and his mothers home town is Cava di Terrani, near the Amalfi Coast. The family has a street named after them in Sorrento, Via Luigi de Maio; a relative who was mayor of Sorrento.

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