Any mention of Sicily immediately brings to mind blue seas, huge cactus plants, a leisurely Mediterranean pace and freshly fried arancini rice balls - all of which has to be accompanied by brightly painted Sicilian carts and men wearing traditional coppola caps: the perfect postcard of Sicily as it is pictured in films, straight out of The Godfather or a Dolce&Gabbana commercial. Pure folklore.
Sorry to disappoint you, but modern-day Sicily is different. If authenticity is what you seek, you will find plenty of innovation in the island in southern Italy, especially on the food scene. Tired of stereotypes, Sicilians declare they are fed up with being tagged and having to play the part of the trattoria serving up granny's courses - just to please the tourists. There is a new side to Sicilian cuisine which is just as genuine and well worth tasting.
To find out more, we have engaged the help of an authentic Sicilian, a representative of the new entrepreneurial class and a new cuisine. Andrea Graziano is the driving force of Fud, a Sicilian fast-food chain which, following Catania and Palermo, has even opened up in Milan “to enable the public to familiarize with another side of Sicily, one which is fresh, dynamic and beyond clichés".
Andrea explains "Anyone working in the Sicilian catering business today is spoilt for choice: we have a culinary tradition that is boundless, deeply rooted and variegated. If you know the origin of a recipe or a product or the story behind a certain foodstuff, you will also find a respectful way to make it more contemporary, up-to-date or simply fresher”.
In the company of such a tireless researcher of ingredients and special suppliers, we have compiled a map of the new Sicilian food scene.
Arancini and pizzette, so long as they are gourmet
Sicilian street food delicacies are an unmissable foodie experience in themselves, so long as you have nothing against carbohydrates. They are open all through the day, from morning breakfast to evening aperitifs, comprising lunchtime. Their offering comprises arancini, small pizzas and panzerotti… The recipes are always very traditional and tomato, mozzarella and cooked ham, along with the odd vegetable, are ubiquitous ingredients. The quality varies from one deli to another but - at the risk of appearing sacrilegious! – some have even chosen to change the rules.
At Enna, Umbriaco Tavola Calda e Bottega has become the Mecca for gourmet arancini. Rosario Umbriaco, who has inherited the business of “rustici” from his family, not only specializes in the classical arancino of Enna, filled with hand-cut braised beef, but has also invented an innovative version, an arancino with two layers of rice, a patented brand he prepares in various recipes such as the one with wild mint and saffron from Enna, or with fresh Assoro ricotta, parsley and black pepper and a core of Piacentinu, a cheese variety produced in Enna.
Umbriaco Tavola Calda e Bottega
Viale IV Novembre, 11, Enna
Cannata – La boutique del pane in Messina works exclusively with local ingredients, stone ground grains, mother dough and natural leavening processes. This takes the great classics of tradition to a new level with an added dash of innovation: marvellous bread (filled with Sicilian mortadella and local cold cuts), Messina-style focaccia, filled cunzato bread and a Sicilian brioche containing caponata.
Cannata - La boutique del pane
via XXVII LUGLIO 83/85, Messina
Fud speaks a new language which mixes street food with speciality products. It serves AmBurgher made of horsemeat (a meat that is particularly popular with the inhabitants of Catania), Sicilian buffalo and fine donkey meat from Chiaramonte Gulfi (RG), and presents platters of cheese varieties made from the milk of a local goat breed called girgentana, and locally produced raw “pata negra” ham from the black pig of the Nebrodi. These traditional products have been turned into sandwich and burger ingredients, providing work to local producers who would otherwise have gone out of business.
Via Santa Filomena, 35, Catania
Fish bar and fish lab: fish has never looked like this before
Scirocco is a latest generation 'fish&chips' shop looking out onto Catania's noisy and picturesque fish market known as ‘a pescaria. Its charm lies in the contrast between Sicily as it used to be and the takeaway paper cones of fried fish, arancini with squid ink, salt cod balls with mint and stuffed beccafico sardines, all for eating as you walk through the streets or lean against the tables outside, washed down with natural wines and beers.
Scirocco Sicilian Fish Lab
Piazza Alonzo di Benedetto 7, Catania
In Palermo, there is a newly opened venue called Fud Bocs, a fish bar on the promenade of the Foro Italico at the Nautoscopio, which has just restored a stretch of beach to the city's inhabitants in the old town centre. On board of a food truck, those of Fud are having fun interpreting a new ingredient - fish - in line with their consolidated philosophy: short supply chain, small-scale production, a passion for excellence, an attentive yet smart service and delicious recipes. When they first opened, they served 2000 people in just two days, and this has become their regular pace.
Piazzale Capitaneria di Porto, Palermo
On browsing through the Michelin Guide, it is easy to identify the main players of new Sicilian cuisine who are collecting accolades: they are Martina Caruso at the Hotel Signum on the island of Salina, the two chefs of the Coria restaurant in the centre of Caltagirone, Accursio Craparo at Modica (apart from his restaurant, Accursio also runs a traditional Sicilian street food venue characterized by his own signature style, Accursio Radici), and Giuseppe Costa owner-chef of Il Bavaglino, on the promenade of Terrasini looking out onto the Gulf of Castellamare.
On top of which there are some newly emerging chefs who are innovating the local fine dining scene in some interesting and noteworthy ways. Lorenzo Ruta at the Taverna Migliore of Modica and Marco Baglieri at the Crocefisso restaurant in Noto. At Marina di Ragusa the two chefs Giuseppe Causarano and Antonio Colombo combine their efforts and divide their time between the kitchens of two restaurants, the Votavota which opens during the tourist season at Sampieri and the Votavota of Marina di Ragusa, fully operative throughout the year.
Via Miramare, Sampieri (RG)
Votavota Marina di Ragusa
Lungomare Andrea Doria 48, Marina di Ragusa (RG)
Via Modica Ispica, Modica RG
Via Principe Umberto 48, Noto
The new Sicilian art of pastry-making
Before your departure, watch the episode of Chef’s Table dedicated to Corrado Assenza of the Cafè Sicilia in Noto: it will certainly prompt you to go there and try his classical-contemporary Sicilian pastries.
Looking like a modern-day French patisserie but Sicilian through and through, Dolcemente Piccante is a pastry shop not far from the centre of Avola and the homeland of the celebrated almonds. Enjoy their almond granita, a slice of Marchesina cake or, if it happens to be the right season, their panettone!
Via Manin 25 - Avola (SR)
Buffalo milk is generally associated with the region of Campania, but in Sicily, they also use it to make sweet and creamy ice-creams, as well as cheese: Bubalus is a dairy on the Iblei hills, with two shops in Ragusa and Marina di Ragusa, one for buying cheese and the other for enjoying buffalo as a sandwich and deli ingredient, not to mention some memorable desserts such as ice-cream, yogurt and ricotta-filled cannoli (traditionally these are made using ewe's milk ricotta).
Piazza Ducadegli Abruzzi, Marina di Ragusa
Finally, a special mention goes to the Antica Dolceria Bonaiuto at Modica, where six generations have been engaged in producing this fine chocolate and other typical sweets, such as fruit jellies, cassata, orange juices containing orange peel cooked in honey and other century-old recipes. Neither is there any shortage of novelties, such as nori seaweed and salt chocolates.
L’Antica Dolceria Bonajuto
Corso Umberto I, 159, 97015 Modica RG
Sicily in a glass
There are so many names to choose from, but this short guide would not be complete without a few labels of natural wines worth trying or seeking out in their respective cellars.
Be sure to uncork at least one bottle by wine craftsman Nino Barraco from Marsala, a Nero d’Avola by Arianna Occhipinti, and a wine made from the grapes grown on the slopes of the volcano Etna: a Barone di Villagrande white or a red wine from Frank Cornellisen.
Are you more of a beer person? Even if you see many people drinking Forst (a South Tyrol beer which, strange to say, is widely sold there and in Sicily), be sure to try a Tarì, a craft beer with a Sicilian character.