Fav 5 Travel Guides are a short list of the best things I've found to do, see, eat, or drink in a particular location. This guide is for Palermo, the city located on the Italian island of Sicily.
Look no further for more posts about International Travel and guides for Rome and Naples, Italy.
In 2014 my husband and I took our honeymoon trip to Italy and Ireland. We started in Rome, journeyed through Naples, then took a ferry boat to Sicily. This Travel Guide will take you to the Sicilian city of Palermo.
My family originated from a nearby town which we didn't visit on this trip. Being in Sicily was amazing and so special for me. It was hotter than hell when we visited in August and we loved the vibe of the island of Sicily. The rumors that Sicily is not like mainland Italy are totally true, from what we saw! We loved the food, the sweets, and the adventure best.
Join me for a little tour of Sicily!
1. Cannoli and Sicilian Sweets
My favorite dessert has always been cannoli. It's what I was most looking forward to eating in Sicily. You will find cannoli on every restaurant dessert menu and in all of the coffee shops in Palermo. Every cannoli is a bit different, of course, although in Sicily they all came with both chocolate chips and candied orange peel. Sicily is true cannoli heaven.
Almost immediately upon arrival in Palermo we found Open Bar h24 where we found our first cannoli. BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE. We quickly met and fell in love with some other popular Sicilian sweets. I wish I could relive my first time in this little shop over and over again, it's such an exploration of Sicilian sugary goodness.
We'd heard about Sicilian marzipan in advance yet we were still blown away by the creativity and artistry surrounding the almond paste based confections. The colorful and whimsical fruit-shaped treats are so gorgeous, a true feast for the eyes. Throughout our time in Sicily we saw so many colorful, creative, and gorgeous types of marzipan.
Of all of the places I've traveled to, Sicily was where English was the least popular. On that very first day I awkwardly tried to order just ONE piece of Sicilian marzipan, a green fig, and I confused the hell out of the person working with me. It seems that you order a large amount of them together and getting just one was a hassle so they handed me just one piece and didn't charge me a cent! After all of that American awkwardness and confusion I didn't even like the taste of the almond-y marzipan! It was thick and crumb-y. While marzipan is beautiful to look at, it's just OK to eat.
All in the same visit to Open Bar h24 we spotted gelato con brioche for the first time! Take your Italian gelato, stuff a sweet brioche roll with it, and call it BREAKFAST. I'd thought that gelato was already perfect but even perfection can be improved upon, I guess. Stay tuned for our second visit to Sicily where Bryce survives almost totally on gelato con brioche.
2. Il Mirto e La Rosa Restaurant
Our very first night in Sicily brought us to Il Mirto a La Rosa for dinner. My dream of street-side dining in Italy would come true in Palermo, this time at a restaurant serving typical Sicilian food.
We sat outside on the hot Sicilian night and marveled at the passers by and fellow restaurant guests. Most notably were the couple next to us. The woman was tiny, impeccably dressed, and devouring the slices of bread and crunchy breadsticks from the basket over and over again. She took down a few bread baskets herself! The man with her was large and chain smoking cigarettes, one after another. They hardly spoke and stayed hard at work, crushing their own brand of pleasure at the dinner table. It was wild!
We ordered many courses, as you do in Italy. We drank red wine, of course. The first dish was unforgettable, eggplant caponatina with pistachio cous cous and olives (in Italian it's caponatina di melanzane con cous cous al pistacchio). So many of my favorite things delicately piled onto my plate. It was unique and delicious. We shared the gran caprese next, that's prosciutto with fresh mozzarella and tomato slices (and before I quit meat!). We rounded out the starters with some killer fried calamari before diving head first into our entrees seperately.
Everything was so good and mealtimes in Italy really are a whole event, unlike our rushed meals here in the USA. We spent what felt like hours at the adorable restaurant, eating slowly and feeling like the only Americans on the island. I'd do this same meal over and over and over again if I could!
The funniest part of our time in Sicily was on the walk home from this restaurant where we heard the ONLY ENGLISH being spoken, actually sung, for our time on Sicily. It was an Italian woman who was speaking and singing in Italian or Sicilian except for perfect English sung word for word to Beyonce tunes!
3. Pasta con le Sarde
The dish of all dishes in Sicily is pasta con le sarde. That's pasta with fresh sardines, plus pine nuts, wild fennel, and raisins. Sometimes there are also anchovies thrown in, too. Sicily is an island so the fish is typically fresh. They've got wild fennel that is unique to the area, as well.
I enjoyed pasta con le sarde for the first time at Il Mirto a La Rosa. The next day I'd learn to MAKE it during our cooking class. I missed the part where the woman teaching the class beheaded and deboned the fresh sardines herself!
The dish is hearty, delicious, and surprising. There are so many things thrown into the pasta that each bite can be different. The seafood is mild and brings a nice overall flavor. The wild fennel and pine nuts keep things interesting and bring a lot of texture while the raisins are a nice sweet and chewy bite.
Since our visit to Sicily I've made the recipe for pasta con le sarde again but it's just not the same. We don't have anything like Sicilian wild fennel and our canned sardines and anchovies don't compare to Sicily's fresh island seafood.
Just last week I found a tasty pasta con le sarde in Seattle at La Fontana Siciliana! Their sauce is more red than what we had in Sicily but the flavor was even better.
4. The Market - Mercato Ballaro
I wrote another blog before I created Figs and Flights. It's called Aloha Yinz Mangia and I'd detailed our trip to Italy and Ireland along with our wish list for spots to visit in Sicily before we left. We didn't do most of those things but we did make it to one of Sicily's great outdoor markets, the Mercato Ballaro.
The market is AMAZING. I think they're open all day, every day! There are people on foot moseying through the walkways and mopeds speeding through all at the same time. You can find everything at these markets: fresh produce, cooked foods, butchered meats, shampoo, cigarettes, and more. The vendors solicit your attention by SHOUTING at you across the market. The market is wild and unlike anything we've got here in the USA.
Lucikly we had a tour guide with us to guide us through the market and to help translate and barter for us. We saw so many odd shaped vegetables and unique items. I could spend hours just floating through the market from stall to stall, store to store.
5. Our Cooking Class
Finally, the BIG ONE. I was most excited to take a cooking class in Sicily.
Someday I'll find a way to capture and re-tell the Sicilian Blunder story where we missed the ferry boat from Naples to Sicily. It was awful and dramatic and expensive but we eventually made it to Sicily, hours late, having missed our originally scheduled cooking class. It was my fault and I was LIVID… and crying a lot. Luckily our hotel was most helpful in finding a scheduling a new cooking class for us.
We didn't know a thing about what to expect in the cooking class. We were asked only if we wanted to go to the market with the guide and the woman who'd teach the glass beforehand and we said YES to that, of course. When we were picked up we realized that we were the only students and that the cooking class was in the woman's home. It was such a great surprise and experience, especially after the Sicilian Blunder that almost ruined my dream of cooking in Sicily!
Our teacher didn't speak a word of English yet she casually brought us into her home and her kitchen as if we were family. She cooked and cooked and cooked and hardly let me help! I sliced some bread and helped assemble a thing or two while she did all of the work.
We watched as she made the most simple sauce of fresh tomatoes, assembled the best eggplant parmesan we've ever had, whipped up pasta con le sarde with fresh sardines, and threw together a fresh batch of cannoli filling.
We gathered around her dining table, ready to dig in after a few hours of shopping and cooking. The bottles of wine kept multiplying and, when she found we were on our honeymoon, so did shots of vodka! We ate, we drank, we stumbled back to our hotel to drunk-nap in the heat of Sicily in August and woke up drunk/hungover later that afternoon. It was a RIOT and a day I'll never ever forget for as long as I live!
I wish I had a link for you to take this same class but it doesn't exist, from what I can tell.
Going all the way to Italy and then taking it a step further with a trip to the small island of Sicily felt absolutely CRAZY when we did it. It was crazy! I've never felt so far away from home and other English speakers. It is a feeling that cannot be forced or forged anywhere else.
Just GO - book the trip you've always wanted to take. Start with a hotel reservation or plane ticket and piece together the details along the way. Our highly anticipated trip to Sicily was almost ruined yet it still turned out to be one of the best visits/places we've ever been to.
Hello, I'm Angela.
Figs and Flights is all about traveling near and far & eating great food both at home and away.
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