Find out about our highly acclaimed expert-led food tour of Sicily that explores the island’s rich history and cuisine.
Sicilian food derives most of its magic from the great abundance, quality and freshness of its locally sourced ingredients. The waters off the island teem with fish and seafood; the coastal plains and river valleys are filled with orchards, groves and fields of vegetables, pulses, cereals and nuts; the mountains and hillsides are covered in vines and forests; and large flocks and herds are pastured throughout. There are also considerable amounts of game and, in the more remote regions, wild boar still roam free.
This bounty is mixed together with some of the most famous culinary traditions in the Mediterranean (Byzantine, Arabic, French, Spanish, South Italian), all of which were absorbed during the periods when these peoples controlled Sicily, and together they produce a vibrant and colourful cuisine that can by turns be delicate, fiery, hearty and refined.
Sicilian wines are finally finding their rightful place in the world of oenophilia. For many years they were exported in bulk and used to strengthen vintages from other parts of Europe, but a new generation of wine producers has revolutionised standards of production, quality and marketing, with the result that more and more Sicilian wineries are becoming household names in Italy and abroad.
In conjunction with these developments, many wineries have opened themselves up to public inspection, and it is now possible to visit them, see the production process at first hand, sample the wines, and enjoy a wonderful meal in beautiful surroundings.
Sicilian wines are renowned for being strong, flavoursome, and full-bodied, but the great diversity in growing regions created by the endlessly varied topography of the island means that many different varieties of grapes (including some not present elsewhere) thrive here, and several different methods of production can be employed. It is, in short, a wine-lovers playground, and its full potential is still yet to be realised.
Wine is not the only alcoholic drink of note in Sicily though, and another abundant crop, lemons, provides the basis for one of the most celebrated liquors in Italy: Limoncello. When mass-produced it varies from sweet to sour (with many, many grades between) and packs a generous but palate-cleansing punch. When home-made it is invariably tart, and extremely strong, but absolutely delicious. Another after-dinner drink, Amaro, is an herbal liquor that makes for the perfect digestif after a hearty Sicilian meal. Many private dinners end with a chilled bottle of this placed on the table to aid digestion and accompany the long hours of conversation that follow.
It should be borne in mind that Sicily also produces a few locally brewed beers that are quite palatable. Most of them are pale lagers, which are generally slightly more flavoursome than the quintessential Italian beers such as Peroni or Castello.
The huge citrus crop means that it is possible to get freshly squeezed orange juice for much of the year in Sicily, but other fresh fruit juices are strangely hard to come by. There are, however, a wide variety of fruit syrups or cordials on offer, many of which are locally produced, all of them worth sampling. The best place to do so is in the pavement kiosks that dot the towns and cities, where a huge range will be on offer, served up for consumption while leaning on the bar or (occasionally) on an adjacent shaded table). A good option for someone who has been strolling through the city on a hot day would be the ultimate thirst-quencher: a glass of mandarin juice, mixed with soda water and the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon. A natural revitaliser!
The almond harvest is not much smaller than the citrus crop, and one local soft drink that really must be tried is Latte di Mandorla (almond milk): a nice cool alternative to coffee or tea, and served all over the island in Summer (and throughout the year in some parts). It is often mass-produced, but some bars still make their own.
In terms of sodas, all the normal western drinks are widely available in Sicily, but there are a few local companies (Tomarchio in eastern Sicily being the largest) that produce local variants of the ubiquitous colas and lemonades, alongside some local favourites, such as Chinotto (similar to cola, but with a bittersweet taste).
Everything in Sicily is a local speciality. Each province, city, town, village and household proudly claims that its cuisine is the best, and that its recipes are the definitive version of the Sicilian classic. Caponata (an absolutely delicious cooked vegetable salad) is the quintessential example: everyone has their own favourite recipe for it, and although the word is present on menus throughout the island, the dish that will be served varies tremendously from place to place (and is always worth trying!).
This variety extends from complicated and involved dishes that take many hours of preparation right down to the water and bread that accompanies a meal, and makes a trip across even a small part of Sicily an ever-changing gastronomic delight.
No single item on a menu ever deserves to be ignored, but restaurant menus can be discussed at length with the waiter, who will often be eager to explain the cooking process and resulting texture and flavour of the individual items (as well as which wine would best accompany it).
Some of the greatest visual treats in Sicilian gastronomy revolve around the selections of biscuits, cakes, ices, ice-creams and “tavola calda” which are on display in countless delicatessens, bakeries, bars and cafes the length and breadth of Sicily. This latter category, “tavola calda”, is a catch-all term for the savoury pastries and snacks that eastern Sicily in particular specialises in. They are often filled with a mixture of meats, cheese, olives, tomatoes and rice, in a bewildering variety of forms and flavours, and make a great snack at any time of day. As with any food in Sicily, all of it deserves to be sampled.
Although there is a great profusion of meat and animal-products in Sicilian cookery, even the most dedicated vegetarian will always find something delicious to tuck into, but it is always wise to clearly specify in advance that you cannot eat cold, sliced meats (e.g. ham), otherwise you might be in for a surprise: Sicilians understand “meat” to be large hunks of red-meat, and are often quite genuinely surprised to discover that someone can take offence to the presence of a little ham in a dish, when it is only intended to add flavour and texture.
As well as our food tour of Sicily you can also join us on our Exploring Sicily tour which provides an unforgettable encounter with the island’s long history and culture.