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The Flavors, Scents and Sounds of Palermo Markets and Street Food

By October 12, 20235 Comments

Palermo is one of Sicily’s most vivacious cities, brimming with family-run trattorie, food stalls, and family-run forni (bakeries). A strong custom of street food exists here. Exploring the side streets, food markets, and piazzas is one of the best ways to get a feel for Italian daily life.

Palermo named Italian Capital of Culture 2018

Start in the centrally located and colorful quarter, La Kalsa, the medieval core of old Palermo. This area offers a slice of la vita Palermitana. Passing by the monumental baroque church of Santa Teresa alla Kalsa (built between 1686 and 1706), which opens onto the center square, you’ll be struck by street vendors, some intently cooking and selling babbaluci, small snails marinated with olive oil, parsley, garlic and pepper, neatly served in a cone-shaped wrapper da passeggio (for walking). From here, follow the heavenly aroma of sizzling panelle (deep-fried strips of chickpea flour), melanzane (aubergine) and crocchè di patate (potato croquettes)to Friggitoria Chiluzzo at the edge of Via Torremuzza and Piazza della Kalsa, the heart of this quarter. At lunchtime, lines of people queue at this cart to nosh on the legendary chickpea patties served on a sesame seed roll. A popular combination is panino layered with all three. Just around the corner, cooks throw fish on outdoor barbecues and crack open glistening ricci di mare (sea urchin). Pull up a seat at one of Trattoria da Salvo’s street side tables for spaghetti ai ricci di mare (spaghetti tossed with velvety orange sea urchin when it’s the season) and a platter of the grilled catch of the day.

grilled catch of the day Kalsa market, Palermo

Zigzagging through the heart of the historic center, there is no shortage of markets to experience and people watching to be done. The picturesque Vucciria (derived from the French word “boucherie,” which means butcher shop) is a favorite with tourists. The market begins at Piazza San Domenico and runs parallel to Via Roma along Via Maccheronai toward Corso Vittorio Emanuele, branching off along Via Argenteria. The Capo market, located behind the Teatro Massimo, extends from Via Porta Carini off Via Volturno near the old city wall toward Piazza Beati Paoli. It can also be reached from Via Sant’Agostino, which runs off Via Maqueda. The Ballarò market is located in the Albergheria district, near the church of San Nicolò. Only a few steps from the Martorana Church and Quattro Canti, it extends from Piazza Ballarò along Via Ballarò past Piazza Carmine toward Corso Tukory. The Borgo Vecchio market is located next to the Politeama Theater and reaches the Port. Markets are usually open Monday through Saturday, morning to early afternoon.

market in Palermo

Strolling through the Vucciria, Capo and Ballarò markets, you can’t help but be mesmerized by the banter of the vendors who breathe life into this setting, the colored tarps suspended to shelter food from the elements, and the red aprons worn to ward off the evil eye.

wild fennel in Palermo

Wild fennel, capers and olives mixed together are displayed alongside fresh ricotta, meat, and offal, which Palermitans adore. Pungent fragrances float through the streets of Ballarò and Capo. Cloth-covered wicker baskets contain steaming frittola (veal offal and pieces of cartilage, boiled, fried and sprinkled with dried bay leaf, saffron and pepper). Frittola sellers scoop pieces of the chewy concoction into wax paper. Stigghiole (skewers of sheep, goat, or veal intestines) are grilled and topped with parsley, salt and lemon juice. At Ballarò and Capo, quarami (veal offal and tripe) is boiled with onion, celery, carrot, and parsley and enjoyed hot with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. Another famous local specialty is pane ca’ meusa (veal or beef spleen with an optional dusting of grated pecorino or dollop of ricotta cheese on a sesame bun). One of the most authentic dishes of true Palermitan cuisine, this shockingly flavorful sandwich is savored on the street, in the markets, and at snack shops like ‘nni franco u’ vastiddaru at Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 102.

olive harvest in Palermo, Italy

Seafood is important and abundant in Sicily and in Palermo markets. A plethora of fresh fish is spread over banks of ice. Glistening slabs of swordfish, tuna, cuttlefish, squid, bright-red shrimp, and sardines are some of the foundations of la cucina Siciliana (Sicilian cuisine) and a feast for the eyes. Throughout the Capo, there are little home-style osterie serving seasonal produce, pasta combinations, and seafood.

It is no surprise that the Capo market is jam-packed with seemingly never-ending stalls of octopus, sardines and gilthead. Fishermen shovel heaps of anchovies into funnel-shaped newspaper sleeves for customers to take away. Barrels of green and black olives mixed with rosemary and hot red pepper flakes stand next to crates of asparagus, aubergines, and broccoli. Family-run food shop windows are loaded with pecorino studded with black pepper, primosale (young sheep’s milk cheese) and loaves of sesame coated golden bread. Panelle purveyors toss rectangular-shaped chickpea fritters into sizzling frying oil as shoppers shuffle by grabbing a sandwich to go.

sfincione Palermo

The Ballarò market overflows with luscious fish, tarocchi (blood oranges), and long-stemmed artichokes. Looming above the bustle is the brilliant majolica-tiled dome of the seventeenth-century Sicilian Baroque-style church of Carmine Maggiore. The origins of this market date back to the tenth century, at the time of Arab rule of the island. Distinct Arab influences are transmitted through the food itself and the markets’ souk-like appearance. Next to sacks of cinnamon, cloves, and chickpeas are pistachios, ripe tomatoes, and mounds of caciocavallo (a type of dried, mature mozzarella-like) cheese. Chefs at the friggitorie (fry stands) quickly dip aubergine slices, vegetables, and panelle in sputtering oil. Sidle shoulder to shoulder with the locals and dig into sliced-open sea urchins, fried artichokes, and beer. You will not be disappointed.

panelle, crocchette and pizzette

Besides the never-ending variations of offal, panelle and fish to be consumed, hand-held snacks like arancine (fried saffron-colored rice balls filled with meat ragu and peas or spinach and mozzarella), sfincione (thick pizza blanketed with a sweet sauce of tomatoes, onions and a dusting of caciocavallo), and calzoni are satiating. Venture along the tiny streets surrounding the markets where mom and pop pastry shops and forni (bakeries) offer these delectable treats; or head to the well-known Borgo Vecchio market located next to the Politeama theater to feast on these delicacies.

Where to eat sfincione and drink in Palermo ·

The repertoire of street food would not be complete without a stop at a glorious gelateria (ice-cream shop)Follow the local custom and venture with a morning brioche con gelato (ice-cream heaped inside a sweet and soft brioche bun). Brioche is credited to the French influence on Sicilian food. Although gelato can be found on every corner, Palermo is home to well noted shops which are well worth tracking down. Venture north of the city to Al Gelatone at Via Autonomia Siciliana, 98 or delight on a granita at Caffetteria del Corso at Via Vittorio Emanuele, 370.

brioche with gelato in Palermo

Weaving through the streets, markets and back alleys of Palermo breathing in the scents, sounds and culture gives insight into the spirit of the city and its people. It gives a glimpse into a rich culinary history, a melting pot of food brought by the populations who occupied the island over past centuries. There is no better way to taste Palermo than to immerse yourself in this multilayered city. From fried tidbits, delicious fish and meat to vibrant citrus and exotic spices, food is the heart and soul of Sicily.

Come take a Street Food & Market Walk with Casa Mia in Palermo. We look forward to meeting you!

flavors, scents and sounds of palermo markets and street food

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