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So the Sicilians say, you’re either a Palermo-girl or a Catania-girl, there’s no in between. Since I am a “Palermo girl” through and through, I didn’t really explore Catania right away. Over the last year, I’ve spent more time there whether I was touring my parents around Sicily, catching the monumental celebration of Sant’Agata, or chasing handsome Catanese guys up and down the volcano. Catania’s finally made her mark on me. Nowadays, my little Palermitan heart completely flutters whenever I get a chance to take a trip to Catania. Maybe it’s the city’s food specialties that are very different than what we find on the west side of the island, or that brave entrepreneurial spirit that the young locals have. Any way you look at it, I just can’t get enough of that view of Mount Etna and it keeps me coming back.
Sicily has so much to offer to travelers but there is too much to conquer on one trip. We suggest to our guests to pick a few sites and make their plans from there. Trying to hit Palermo, Trapani, Valley of the Temples, Ragusa, Modica, Noto, Etna, Catania, Siracusa and maybe Taormina or Cefalu, is just too much for a first-timer. Anytime I fly into Catania’s airport or even on the bus from Palermo, there’s that one moment when you can see the wide white snow-capped volcano and she immediately takes your breath away. If you can visit Catania on a sunny day, the best view in town is from the rooftop of the Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata, just across the street from the Duomo in the main piazza. The perk of traveling to Catania is that it’s much easier to reach nearby towns. You can enjoy the city life and also getaway to the mountains, to the sea or to small Baroque villages in no time. It’s a simple drive up to Mount Etna, or down to Siracusa for the day.
The true highlight of Catania is “A’ Piscaria” the outdoor fish market. It’s the city’s open-air theatre with daily performances by pescivendoli, fishmongers hollering and joking with each other as they sell fresh fish like large red Mediterranean tuna, bright blue mackerel, iridescent sardines and skinny mascolini, bright silver spatola or neonata, fat seppia and a variety of shellfish like cannolicchi, brown fasolari clams, teeny tiny telline, vongole veraci, mussels and sea urchin. The men (I’ve never seen a female fishmonger there yet) fill the piazza early in the morning and by lunchtime they are all cleared out––so make sure to visit before noon to buy the best products and catch them in action. Fishmongers sell freshly shucked sea urchin in tiny plastic take-away coffee cups. They open clams, oysters, plump bright peach-colored mussels, and patelle on the half-shell to enjoy on the fly with just a squeeze of lemon on top. The fishmongers will peel raw red shrimp and put them directly into your mouth (if you’re into that kind of thing). It’s a wild celebration of the sea, right in the middle of the black rock city.
Just through the old city gates at the back of the fish market you’ll find barbecue grills set up with some of the most delicious street food. Follow the clouds of smoke to find something to eat. Depending on the season, the vendors will be grilling bell peppers, horse meatballs, whole artichokes dripping with parsley and garlic oil, or meaty oyster mushrooms. There are new cafes and street food kiosks popping up all around the market, where you can taste local specialties and freshly fried seafood.
After an afternoon of touring the city, it’ll be time for a coffee break and a little something sweet. As I walk through the city, Sant’Agata, the patron saint of Catania is represented everywhere. Not only in churches and the architecture of the city, she is also highly celebrated in many famous desserts like the breasts of Sant’Agata. In this mini version of the island’s famous cassata cake, the minne and minnuzze are made with marzipan almond paste, sweet ricotta cream, white sugar icing, and a candied cherry on top.
Read more on the Casa Mia website, and come see us in Catania!
The Cheeky Chef, Linda Sarris was raised in a big Greek-American family with a Chef grandfather, a fisherman Dad and a kitchen full of women who loved to cook. After a career in book publishing and a secret night-school culinary degree, she ran away to Sicily with a scholarship to work for a farm-to-table cooking school. She has worked as a fishmonger at Eataly, consulted for a restaurant in Romania, cooked for a Tuscan winery and underground supper clubs in New York. With a home base in Brooklyn, Linda works as a private chef and often travels to Italy for freelance jobs like her new project SNACK, a chef’s guide to Sicilian food/wine.