What I've Been Eating, Sicilian Style
In my days in Sicily I've been guiding, exploring, sunbathing and eating. And eating. And, God help me, eating. I cannot stop eating when I'm in Sicily. And the reason is pretty simple. The food here is amazing.When you think about Italian food, most people think lasagna and spaghetti with meatballs. We have lasagna here, but probably not what you think of as lasagna. Spaghetti and meatballs doesn't exist here, it's a mythical food invented in the U.S. Italian food is surprising to most people visiting for the first time because it tends to be unexpected. Examples I can think of- pasta with walnut sauce, porchetta, risotto with seafood, minestrone with pesto. These are familiar to Italy experts, but if you're new to Italian travel it may not be. The thing about that list I just recited is that this isn't Italian food per se. It's regional food- Tuscan, Umbrian, Venetian and Ligurian, respectively.Italy has only been a country for a little over 150 years. Prior to the 1860's it was many little countries. So there's an obvious reason we have many dialects and unique kinds of food here, there never was an Italy in the past. Even today, some say Italy is a figure of speech.Sicily is the most unique of all, having been controlled by many foreign powers. Each culture that came for domination has left its mark, whether in art, architecture or in food. You'll find food here that you can't anywhere else. The soil is unusually fertile due to the volcanic nature of the island, and along with the mild climate they can really grow almost anything.Some key products on the island are oranges, dates, grapes, pistachios, olives, sheep, and in the past, sugar. Ooooooh, the sugar. Thanks to the Arabs in the 900's, the island was given great irrigation techniques and new crops like sugar. It's for this reason that the best sweets in Italy are here. Cannolo, marzipan, granita, gelato....I can keep going.....Ok, enough with the history lesson, let's see what I've been eating!Sicily was famous for street food before street food became cool. My favorite fast food is Arancini, big rice balls stuffed with yummy goodies and deep fried. In the past the flavors were pretty simple, meat sauce and peas for example. Now the rice balls can have almost anything inside, I recently ate one stuffed with Brie and walnuts. Fried rice balls. How can you go wrong?Couscous is something common in North Africa, but did you know it is eaten here too? It's a specialty of the north-western city of Trapani. I had a delicious plate with two kinds, one of veggies and the other fish. The waitress insisted on bringing a little cup of sauce and showed me how to pour a bit on top as I ate to keep it moist. Being an island, fish is usually on the menu here. I'm no fish fan, but I will eat it here because it is so fresh and well cooked. Fish comes in all kinds of preparations, my favorite is involtini. These are fish fillets stuffed and rolled with a mousse of fish and pine nuts inside. These ones I ate in Cefalú had a lime sauce on them, which may sound weird but, let me tell you, was lovely.Cannoli. You've heard of them but do you know what they really are? A deep fried, crispy pastry shell stuffed with orange scented, chocolate chip-studded ricotta cheese. It's like an injection of sweet, fatty goodness. A tip from a professional- don't eat a cannolo unless they fill the shell the moment you order it. If you see pre-filled ones, they aren't top quality because they will probably be soggy.There are so many other dishes that I could tell you about, and I just may do that another time...vediamo, as we say here. After two weeks on the island, I have eaten well and often. It's probably a good thing I'm not there all the time, I'd probably weigh 500 pounds. There are no calories in dreams, though, are there?