10 Sicilian Dishes you should try at least once

    Una serie di arancini siciliani esposti in una rosticceria

    What’s good to eat in Sicily? If you are planning your first trip to this fantastic island, sooner or later, the moment comes when you ask yourself this question. Which Sicilian dishes are not to be missed? To help you out, we have prepared a list of ten things you absolutely must try in Sicily. However, one thing is essential first.   

    What to eat in Sicily and the different cuisines

    Sicilian cuisine is very rich and varied, ranging from seafood to meat dishes, from rotisserie to desserts. Each province, city and area of Sicily has its own distinctive features and highlights. Many are part of the heritage of a particular locality and can only be found there. “Scacce” (a kind of flatbread) can only be found in Ragusa and Modica, for example, and “panino con la milza” (spleen sandwich) is only served in Palermo. Catania is famous for its horse meat and onion recipes while you can only eat pidoni (pork scratchings), focaccia (Messina-style, of course) and San Daniele prosciutto in the city of Messina. Couscous is a staple of Trapani cuisine and you will find it in Trapani, Marsala and on the island of Pantelleria. The list we have prepared of the ten Sicilian dishes to try when you’re in Sicily takes this into account. We have, therefore, chosen dishes that you will find everywhere on the island, regardless of the destination you choose.

    1) Arancino/a: the king of Sicilian fried food

    If you ask a Sicilian what you absolutely must try in Sicily, chances are the answer will be an arancino or, If you ask a Sicilian what Sicilian dishes you absolutely must try, chances are the answer will be an arancino or, alternatively, an arancina. In case you didn’t know, this top Sicilian street food is referred to as masculine in some areas of Sicily and feminine in others. There are also differences in appearance, with those in the eastern part of the island usually having a pointed shape and those in the western part a round shape. What doesn’t change, however, is the incredible taste that you get after the first bite. The classic version is the one with meat sauce, which is prepared by cooking the rice and adding saffron. Rice balls are then prepared, stuffed with meat sauce, pieces of cheese and peas. Once sealed, they are coated in batter and then fried.

    2) Pane Cunzato: just a few ingredients to make a unique sandwich

    Pane cunzatu una delle cose tipiche da mangiare in Sicilia

    Another Sicilian dish you must not miss on a trip to Sicily is pane cunzato, or seasoned bread. Let’s start with the most important thing, the bread. The most traditional version of pane cunzato involves bread made from semolina flour and topped with sesame seeds. The filling, on the other hand, is left to the imagination of the chef at the restaurant in which you choose to enjoy it. There is usually no shortage of salted anchovies, primo sale cheese, tomatoes, oil, salt and oregano. You will also find plenty of variations featuring all the best products that the generous land of Sicily has to offer. These include olives, dried tomatoes and various vegetables in oil, including aubergines, artichokes and peppers. A very simple Sicilian dish, but one that always generates strong emotions. It can be the perfect lunch to take with you if you decide to spend a whole day at the beach. 

    3) Pasta alla Norma: the ultimate embodiment of deep-fried aubergine

    Pasta alla norma uno dei piatti tipici da mangiare in Sicilia

    Pasta alla Norma is a Sicilian dish that can now be found in every restaurant in Sicily and at all times of the year, although it is best eaten in the summer. Its origin, however, can be traced to one city in particular on the slopes of Mount Etna, Catania. It seems that a Sicilian cook prepared it for the Catania-born composer, Vincenzo Bellini, the author of the opera Norma. It is a very simple recipe, but it tastes amazing, especially when prepared with local ingredients. The starting point for this recipe is the preparation of a tomato sauce. To this is added fried aubergines and, to finish, grated salted ricotta, although in some parts of Sicily, you may find a variation with ricotta infornata (baked ricotta). A basil leaf for garnish is a must. When you try it, it is likely that you, too, will experience a whole symphony of flavours in your mouth.

    4) Pasta con le Sarde (with sardines): the taste of the sea in a dish

    La pasta con le sarde uno dei piatti tipici da mangiare in Sicilia

    Who knows what the Arabian cook must have thought when General Euphemius of Messina gave him the task of preparing a dish that could feed his entire army. The only thing that is certain is that his instinct of combining sardines with the few ingredients available from the land proved successful. There are several variations of this Sicilian dish around Sicily, but there are three things that are always present: wild fennel, sultanas and pine nuts. The seasonal availability of sardines and fennel makes this recipe a dish that is served from March to September. So if you go to Sicily in winter, you’ll have to opt for other Sicilian dishes. One thing is certain, pasta with sardines is definitely one of the dishes you should try, at least once, while in Sicily.

    5) Caponata di Melanzane (Aubergine): the triumph of sweet-and-sour

    Caponata di melanzane contorno tipico da mangiare in Sicilia

    If you love sweet and sour, then you absolutely must try Caponata in Sicily. It is one of the many Sicilian dishes created by the ingenious inhabitants of the island who sought to imitate the dishes of the aristocracy, but using different and cheaper raw ingredients. In fact, it seems that Caponata was originally a dish eaten exclusively by Sicilian nobles and prepared using lampuga fish, which is also called “capone” in Sicily. Given the high cost of fish, the star of the dish became the aubergine, which was easily accessible to the majority of the population. For the Sicilian dish, Caponata, diced aubergines are fried and then added to a sauce made with onion, tomato, celery, capers, olives and pine nuts. Halfway through the cooking process, the sweet-and-sour touch is added by blending in vinegar and sugar. Depending on which part of Sicily you visit, you may encounter very interesting variations of this recipe, such as swordfish or tuna caponata.

    6) Cannoli

    Il cannolo siciliano un dei dolci tipici siciliani

    If you had to choose just one dessert to try in Sicily, then there’s no doubt about it, you should choose Cannoli. According to one legend, cannoli were invented by the concubines in the Caltanissetta harem for their Emir. The unique shape of this dessert is also thought to be an obvious phallic symbol. As well as being one of the gastronomic icons of Sicily, it is also a dessert that, in its simplicity, can appeal to everyone. When you sink your teeth into the crisp wafer and immediately afterwards taste the ricotta, you experience a feeling approaching pure joy. The town of Piana degli Albanesi, near Palermo, is particularly famous for its cannoli. Here they can be very large and it seems that the ricotta produced in this town is without equal. If your first encounter with Sicilian cannoli goes well, you’ll certainly be one of those taking a whole box of this Sicilian dish on the plane home with you.

    7) Cassata, the ultimate Baroque dessert

    La cassata siciliana uno dei dolci tipici da mangiare in Sicilia

    Another must-try dessert found throughout Sicily is Cassata. The version you find on display in all bakeries today is actually a “baroque” version of the traditional Sicilian dish, Cassata al Forno. The current version is a sponge cake filled with ricotta cheese mixed with sugar and chocolate chips. The edge is entirely coated with marzipan and then a glaze of icing sugar and water is poured over the cake. To finish, it is decorated with zuccata (a local candied pumpkin) and candied fruit. The creator of this new version was a confectioner from Palermo, Salvatore Gulì, who specialised in the production of candied fruit and needed to use up his surplus. The Florio family contributed greatly to the enormous success of this new cake, which became their signature dessert at all their parties and receptions.

    8) Brioche (not to be confused with a Cornetto)

    Un tavolo con due coppe di gelato e due brioche siciliane

    If you ask for a Brioche in an Italian bar, you will be given a Cornetto (croissant). In Sicily, Brioche, or more precisely Brioscia, is something different. It is a leavened bread with a characteristic hat-like shape that the Sicilians call “tuppo” or “coppola”. It must be said, however, that it does not look like this in all parts of Sicily, so you may find some without a “tuppo”. The main thing, however, is the taste. By the end of your trip, you will be able to immediately spot a well-made “brioscia” and will probably want to try making this Sicilian dish at home. The perfect accompaniment to a Brioche is, of course, a Granita (Slushy), but other combinations are also possible. The bread is usually cut in half and filled with ice cream and, if you wish, cream. This too, needless to say, is one of the Sicilian dishes you absolutely must try when you’re in Sicily.

    9) Granita: one a day is enough

    Tavolo con una granita di gelsi con la panna e una brioche

    Let’s face it, chances are you’ll be averaging one granita a day during your trip to Sicily. There’s no problem though, in fact, that’s how it should be. The important thing is to bear a few basic rules in mind. The first is that there is a granita to suit every occasion. For breakfast, coffee with cream is the usual choice or, alternatively, you can opt for a fruit flavour such as blackberry and cream, or pistachio and cream. These same flavours can also work if you decide to have a granita lunch, in which case you might want to order two brioches. If, on the other hand, you need a bit of cooling down and relief from the summer heat, then the lemon flavour is the perfect solution and also works well after dinner. The second important thing to know is that it should always be accompanied by a brioche and it is traditional to start with the so-called “tuppo”, that is, the one with the hat.

    10) Paste di mandorla (Almond pastries): the perfect end to a meal

    Alcune paste di mandorle, uno dei dolci tipici Siciliani

    Sweet treats made with almond paste are widespread throughout Sicily. They probably originate from the expertise of nuns in Sicilian convents. From the 15th century, when sugar began to replace honey in the preparation of sweetmeats, new opportunities opened up for nuns to unleash their imaginations. These desserts are made by combining almond flour, sugar and flavourings and should not be confused with what is known as “frutta martorana“. These are special sweets that resemble various types of fruit and were invented in Palermo by the cloistered nuns of the Church of Martorana. For the preparation of these desserts, a kind of almond paste, also called marzipan, is always used, but the process is different, as is the consistency. Almond pastries are a perfect end to a meal, especially when accompanied by a Sicilian passito (dessert wine).


    Sergio Campolo

    I graduated in Economics and Management in Rome, I worked for 6 years in Milan especially in Web Marketing and now I live in Trento. In 2021 I founded The World of Sicily with the aim of making the beauties of this region known to the whole world.

    Leave a Reply