Sicily’s ancient markets have a special atmosphere: they’re places of animated, almost theatrical arguments and agreements.
Created by the Arabs, the typical souk markets are located in various island cities. They fully preserve Sicily’s Arab roots in the way that the dried and fresh fruit, especially oranges, are arranged, and also in the great variety of exotic spices from the near or far East, and in the incredible variety of olives.
The air around them smells of garlic, oregano and chilli. The fish stalls of the Pescheria, the famous fish market of Catania, or the stalls of Marsala and Syracuse are fantastic.
The highlights are whole swordfish, sea bass, bream, seabream, mussels, clams, octopuses and other crustaceans. There’s also plenty of oily fish, including sardines, mackerel, long paddlefish and silver-coloured mahi-mahi. In addition, there are all types of shrimps, from the large red ones of Mazara del Vallo to the smaller ones, often already cleaned and shelled. In the historic centre of Caltanissetta, you can explore the timeless charm of Via Consultore Benintende: this colourful, fragrant street has been the site of the historic Mercato Strata ‘a foglia since the end of the 18th century.
From Piazza Mercato Grazia to Via Berengario Gaetani, the entire street is a succession of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, cheeses, legumes and a whole variety of other things. The market also features bakeries, fishmongers, butchers and shops selling exotic foods.
The characteristic open-air markets, where you can eat a bit of everything, such as the street food of Palermo, are today more than ever widespread, all over the city, especially in the working-class districts around the edges of the large historic markets: Vucciria, Capo, Ballarò , perhaps the most multi-ethnic corner of the city, and Borgo Vecchio.
You can find them by following the strong smell of fried food: arranged on large trays, the typical panelle (chickpea fritters) are displayed with pride on the market stalls. They’re usually served in large sesame-coated flatbreads, and often accompanied by crocché (potato and parsley croquettes) fried in oil, also known as cazzilli.
The fried aubergines or cicireddu, small freshly-fried flour-covered fish, are no less tasty. You might come across the words pani cà meusa (bread with spleen) at the entrance to a fried-food shop. This means that the establishment really respects the traditions. It’s tasty, but only for strong palates! Boiled in lard, ox entrails, its spleen and lungs, are served with bread and seasoned with lemon, or in some cases with ricotta or grated cheese.
In Palermo a popular item is stigghiole, skewers of lamb or veal roasted on the grill. You” find them easily thanks to the dense, aromatic smoke of the street barbecues.