Under the Sicilian Sun
National Geographic Traveller India|May - June 2021
Roaming through street markets and country vineyards, a writer is smitten by the sweet, salty and greasy headiness of Sicily’s tastes
VARUD GUPTA

We first got acquainted as grease dribbled down my chin. My first bite of the island of Sicily was a whopping pani câ meusa, a street food go-to in the region. I tucked into that harmonious smattering of veal offal bits braised in lard, salted, and then sandwiched between two sesame-topped buns. After a lengthy walk through the stone streets, exploring chapels, churches, plazas, and palaces across Palermo, Sicily’s capital, the sandwich was a perfect fuel.

It also had the right mix of oily guilt to inspire me to continue walking for the day in hope of making a dent into those newly acquired calories.

A goal short-lived as I ventured deeper into the market of Vucciria, the arguable pulse of this city. A symphony of sights and smells beckoned me at every turn of the narrow lanes. Fresh produce lined crates as I lingered on lime green gourds stretching taller than me. The air thick with briny salted capers and musk from fennel and saffron paired well with the crackling of arancini, yet another Sicilian fried delicacy of rice balls stuffed with meat stewed in tomato sauce.

I tried my best to resist, to not think about all the food in the market as I distracted myself by staring in awe at the gold and navy blue mosaics of the Church of Martorana; or touring the formidable opera house, Massimo Theatre, towering over the orange rust slated buildings on Piazza Verdi; or head strained upwards taking in the splendour of Palermo Cathedral, a building of hodgepodge architectural styles and aesthetics built and amended over countless centuries.

I lost that battle. Like this cathedral, every corner in Sicily is filled with the temptation of treats brought from varying cultures. The island traded hands between Byzantine, Islamic, Roman, Norman, and Greek empires.

Sicilian cuisine is rich in as many fried items as meaty dishes often prepped from what would qualify as discards in other cuisines: stigghiola, grilled sheep intestines wrapped around spring onions; sfincione, a thick but spongy pizza bread lathered with tomato sauce and anchovies; thinly crusted chickpea fritters or panella and frittola, a crisp cone of paper wrapped around veal scrapings like a prized Christmas stocking. The food of Palermo is one born of sustenance to fill the bellies of working classes and has since grown to embody the love of eating, cooking and sharing.

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