Welcome to Siciliamo blog, the liveliest weblog on Europe's most fascinating island. Browse though amazing pictures or explore our videos. And don't forget to check our website out!

Friday, 31 August 2007

Recipe of the month : Pasta alla Norma

This pasta was named to honour the opera "Norma" written by the Sicilian composer, Vincenzo Bellini.

There are two stories to explain this name : The first is that a Sicilian chef was so excited by Bellini’s Norma that as soon as he got back to his kitchen he concocted this sauce where the sliced eggplant, tomato sauce and ricotta salata (typical cheese for the region) blend with the spaghetti. The second (and more likely) is that some of Bellini’s compatriots, delighted by the beauty of his opera, started using the new superlative una vera Norma (A real Norma), which was used to praise the merits of a product or a deed.

Whatever the story is, you will love this simple yet delicious Sicilian classic , that requires no special knowledge in the kitchen :

Ingredients (serves 4)
450–500 grams of pasta, it can be either spaghetti or maccheroni (possibly Barilla or De Cecco brand)

3 eggplants

1 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic

tomato sauce (your own recipe, or see below)

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup basil, coarsely chopped

200 grams of crumbled ricotta salata (salted ricotta) which is what makes this recipe authentic, ricotta salata should be available in the best Italian groceries.

Cut the eggplants into fine slices (or dices) after cutting off the stems Spread the slices in layers on a cutting board and cover each layer with salt. Place the board at an angle in the dish rack to allow the liquid to run directly into the sink. Cover the eggplants with a weight (for instance a pot filled with water) and leave standing for two hours. Meanwhile prepare the tomato sauce. Fry an onion and two cloves of garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add a large can of tomatoes (preferably imported from Italy) or 700 grams of diced fresh tomatoes, a pinch of sugar, salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for approximately 20 minutes stirring occasionally. Once the sauce has thickened, pass it through a grinder (or a blender if you’re not Italian). Pour the sauce back into the pan and reduce for another 5 minutes. After the required time, rinse and dry the eggplant slices. Cover them lightly in flour to prevent the vegetable from soaking up oil. Boil the water for your pasta and warm up the tomato sauce if necessary. Meanwhile fry the eggplant slices in hot olive oil (about 400°F/205°C) a few at a time, about two minutes on each side. Wipe off the excess oil from the slices and keep them warm.When the pasta is ready (al dente!), place it in a large serving bowl. First add the cheese; mix well before adding the tomato sauce, the basil and the eggplant. Mix and serve right away. Buon appetito!

B&B with a flair

Palermo offers a lot in terms of great accommodation. From modern, new-concept structures to sumptuous four stars hotel. But I am still of the idea that the best way to discover this fascinating city is to save your money for the endless variety of restaurants, entertainment and excursions around the island.
A good compromise between quality and value for money is b&b Cluverio.

Cluverio is a boutique b&b in a 1900 building that features tastefully furnished, comfortable bedrooms, with or without en-suite bathroom. Here you will enjoy the warm Italian hospitality from your hostess Marilia, a longtime Siciliamo friend, who will make you feel welcome and at home.
Rich and delicious Italian breakfast will be served in the stylish living room, between tasteful furniture and domed fresco painted ceilings, typical of the turn of the century's elegance.
An ADSL Internet point is at your disposal, as well as a stylish reading room.
Cluverio also enjoys a strategic position : Located in the heart of Palermo, all the major points of interest are just a stroll away.
Pricing :
double room: from euro 45 to max 70
single room : from euro 25 to max 35
Airport transfers available on arrangement

B&B Cluverio
Via Cluverio 7
90100 - Palermo
Tel. +39 091 584755

Please note :
Marilia's English is not so good!
If you need assistance for a reservation, you can book through Siciliamo by sending an email to : info.siciliamo@gmail.com

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Seafood? Yes please

If you are after the freshest seafood you ever tasted, the small towns of Mondello and Sferracavallo found on the outskirts of Palermo are for you.

These picturesque villages offer a number of excellent seafood restaurants; I encourage you to try the 'Ricci' (Sea Urchins) and see why it is a popular Sicilian delicacy.

Sicilian seafood is simply superb. Here seafood recipes truly sparkle with freshness and imagination, all buoyed by centuries of seafaring tradition.

The best-known Sicilian seafood dish is spaghetti con sarde, tossed with sardines, wild fennel, pine nuts and raisins, or the pennette with menta e pescespada (swordfish, fresh mint and tomato sauce). But apart from the endless choices of pastas I would encourage you to indulge with a seafood solo!

Try "zuppa di cozze" (mussels soup in light spicy tomato sauce), soutée di vongole (clam in white wine sauce and chopped parsley) and the famous "insalata di polipo" (octopus salad) with a simple dressing of olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon, salt and pepper. Delicious.

There are several restaurants to satisfy your seafood cravings, but if you allow me to give you some tips from a native Palermitana you won't be disappointed : If you are around Palermo, the best choice is to head toward Mondello to restaurant "Da Calogero", via Torre Mondello, 22 tel. (091) 6841333 (booking is recommended), and try to get a table in the terrace overlooking the beautiful bay.

A more upmarket alternative is "Villa Antigone", via Antigone 40 - Partanna Mondello tel (091) 454306 (booking essential). Owner Lucio converted his villa into a restaurant located in the residential area of Mondello and today they serve the best pasta con i ricci (spaghetti with sea urchins) so far ! A must try.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Spa Heaven

Imagine pampering yourself with a Sicilian high salt energizer : a total body exfoliation followed by a gentle massage with local olive oil and Sicilian citrus fruits extracts.

Enjoy the soothing effects of warm volcanic clay followed by a dip into the natural hot springs situated inside grottos, lakes and at the slopes of a massive volcano : Sicily is a real spa heaven.

Hot springs and natural beauty treatment tradition in Sicily lies in volcanic subterranean activity, recorded from Roman times. A spa itinerary reveals an aspect of Sicily that is perhaps less known but not for this, less fascinating. The starting point is Acireale, north of Catania. Situated in the Santa Venera al Pozzo district where the Hot Springs Park is today. Sourced from volcano Etna, these amazing spas literally warmly welcome visitors providing a relaxing and rejuvenating holiday. Richard Wagner was also a Sicilian hot springs assiduous visitor.

Driving towards Messina you will reach Ali Terme spa, just after Taormina : its facilities – Marino and Granata Cassibile were even “”promoted” by Descartes during his trip to Italy (1623-1625).

The next stop along the Tyrrhenian coast is Terme Vigliatore: it relies on the Source of Venus, one of the few sulphurous waters that can be drunk normally.

Termini Imerese (Palermo) is ancient Thermae Himerensis: vestiges of the old facilities remain in the 19th century Grand Hotel delle Terme , where you can chose between several thermal treatments. (bath towels are not included, therefore bring your own if you don't want to pay an extra fee!)

But if you are in Palermo, why not indulging in a purifying Turkish bath at the Hammam Centre.

Leaving Palermo behind you, you will reach Castellamare del Golfo (Trapani) with its fine Aragonese Castle. Terme Segestane spa in the Ponte Bagni district is located near the springs the nymphs forced to flow in order to refresh Hercules. Calatafimi is just a few kilometres away: from Monte Barbaro, the Greek theatre of Segesta dominates the plain, while the hot spring facilities are near the Gorga stream in an old renovated watermill.

For a luxury treatment and total bliss head toward Mazara del Vallo, at the Kempisky Hotel Giardino di Costanza where Daniela Steiner runs her splendid spa. Try the special moonlit massage to channel the lunar energies or chose between the long list of special treatments that combine Sicilian natural produce and scientific rigour.

Going south you will arrive at Montevago (Agrigento) with its Acqua Pia hot springs surrounded by a lush park. And finally there is Sciacca along the coast, the oldest spa on the island. According to the myth, it was Daedalus who made the steam vents, hollowed out of the rock, now called San Calogero.

But the natural spa heaven par excellance is to be found all over the Sicilian island of Pantelleria.

The island offers a large variety of hot springs, as well as dry natural saunas, in the grottoes and wells scattered around the island and coast. You can reach the Benikulà grotto through a fault in the rock in the Sibà district. Water vapour at around 38°C comes out of a crack in the ground providing a true natural sauna. The sulphurous spring in Lake Specchio di Venere is very popular, while the baths in the natural basins along the coast are a must: Gadir Cove, Sataría Grotto and Niká Cove. The great thing is that all this comes for free!

Useful information
Sulphurous iodic bromine salt waters gush out at Acireale (at 22°C), at Alì Terme (at Marino at 39.5°C and at Granata Cassibile at 46.5°C), at Termini Imerese (at 43°C) and at Sciacca (at 55.4°C); alkaline at Calatafimi-Segesta (at 52°C); muddy alkaline phosphate salty at Castellamare del Golfo (at 44.1°C): therapeutic recommendations include treatment for diseases of the skin, locomotive and respiratory system. At Montevago, the magnesium calcium sulphate water (at 39°C) is recommended for diseases of the locomotive and respiratory system. At Terme Vigliatore, the water of the Source of Venus at 32.6°C is also recommended for diseases of the liver, biliary ducts and digestive system. The acid radioactive waters of Vulcano are also recommended to treat articular rheumatism and arthritis while the baths in Pantelleria have an extraordinary energising effect. All the hot spring facilities also offer other wellness and beauty cures and treatments (including cosmetic massages, kinesi and hydrokinesitherapy, fitness and anti-stress programmes), and are equipped with hot spring pools and playgrounds for children. At Acireale, the Santa Venera Hot Springs holds classical music and jazz concerts, theatre and dance shows in the summer.

Sunday, 26 August 2007


Siciliamo2See is a collection of media files about Sicily, to enhance your Sicilian browsing experience on Siciliamo.blog and Siciliamo.web.
While words can make up almost everything, images cannot lie : There's nothing better than checking out your future Sicilian destination by browsing on our media session on your brand new YouTube channel Siciliamo2See.
You can also contribute to the growing of our Siciliamo2See media collection by sending your videos to : info.siciliamo@gmail.com

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Mamma Andrea's small sins

Peccatucci, "small sins", are delicious candies made from almond paste, sugar and liqueur.

Among the vaste range of sins are our favourites, the Agrumelli : soft and exquisite almond morsels flavoured of strong Sicilian citrus fruits.

Mamma Andrea small-scale boutique contains one of the most diverse collections of gastronomic abundance in Palermo. It sells a plethora of mouthwatering original creations, including jams, preserves, candies, liqueurs and honey.

While Peccatucci's taste is a feast of the senses, its packaging is a masterpiece itself : Each item artfully wrapped into the kind of gift that will delight yourself or recipients back home.

Elegant bottles contain liqueurs distilled from herbs or fruits you might never have thought suitable, such as almonds, basil, myrtle, fennel, figs, and rose petals. Jams and honeys showcase the agrarian bounty and aromas of Sicily.
Andrea and her staff are very gracious and helpful, and will ship any item anywhere.
I peccatucci di Mamma Andrea,
Via Principe di Scordia 67

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Shanghai in Palermo

Don't be put off by the back entrance, with its narrow, bordello-like staircase.
To get to The Shanghai, you have to venture up the rickety grubby stairs, in a dark alley in the heart of the Vucciría (Palermo's historic open-air market) to enjoy what Fred Plotkin described in his Italy for the Gourmet Traveller as “a very raffish, rough-and-tumble place with good food at low prices”.
Despite its name this is not a Chinese restaurant. The place in fact took its name from the owner's grandfather, whom returning from a trip in China realised the Palermo's Vucciría reminded him of old Shanghai, with its narrow lanes and crowded fish stalls. Just like in China, stall-holders will try to entice you to buy their wares - from freshly caught fish to luscious vegetables and aromatic spices.

Back at the Shanghai, order an oh-so-fresh mixed grilled fish, sip a glass of local wine and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the market below, as the upper floor opens out onto an enclosed balcony.

From the novel "Cane di terracotta" (The Terracotta Dog) by Andrea Camilleri

"They went to Vucciria. Livia was dazed and dismayed by all the voices, the invitations, the cries of the hawkers, the talking, the contradictions, the sudden brawls all surrounded by colours so vivid they seemed artificial, as if they had just been painted. The smell of fresh fish mingled with mandarin, sweetbreads of lamb, boiled then sprinkled with cheese, traditionally cooked spleen, fried vegetables, coming together in an inimitable, almost magical, blend."

Trattoria Shanghai, Vicolo dei Mezzani 34 (Mercato della Vucciria) - Palermo

City SightSeeing Palermo

It's easy, it's convenient, it's fun.

It's also the best way to give you a quick overview of the city, before defining an itinerary for the rest of your stay, deciding which area of the city you want to visit again on your own and which sites you would like to see in more details.

With the Hop on Hop off tour of Palermo, you will enjoy an exciting visit to the city.

You can purchase tickets on board for 20 euros per person, departing from the terminal nearby the Teatro Politeama, but you can also join the tour at every stop.

Line A bus will drive in front of the Teatro Massimo, one of the most famous opera houses in Europe, continuing towards Piazza Quattro Canti and the nearby Vucciria Market.
The tour continues towards the Botanical Gardens, passing near Palazzo Steri.

After a quick glimpse of the Central Station, you will find yourselves in the vicinity of the Royal Palace, following the Flea Market and the Cathedral, before stopping at the port and then returning to the terminal.

Line B has a different itinerary including the Castle of La Zisa, the colorful open-air market Mercato del Capo, the Massimo Theatre and other interesting stops.

Commentary on both lines is multi-lingual (including English) and you will each be given individual earphones.


January to March
Line A - 10:00am to 1:00pm, every 60 minutes
Line B - 2:00pm to 5:00pm, every 60 minutes
April to October
Line A - 9:30am to 6:30pm, every 30 minutes
Line B - 1:00pm to 6:00pm, every 60 minutes
November to December
Line A - 10:00am to 1:00pm, every 30 minutes
Line B - 2:00pm to 5:00pm, every 60 minutes

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Top 50 things every FOODIE should do

The Guardian Unlimited asked some of their favourite bon viveurs what they considered most essential to do before they died.
Between treading grapes in a Portuguese laga, sipping a bellini cocktail at Harry's bar in Venice and poach a snail in France, Sicily and its ice creams are number 17 out of 50 of the best foodies wish-list!
"So much to eat, so little time. But there are some things we simply must make time for, if not immediately, certainly before we leave this earth. But what is really worth doing, and what can be happily left on the side of the plate? To answer this quandry we asked our guests Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay, Tom Aikens, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Terence Conran, restaurant critics Terry Durack, Fay Maschler and Jay Rayner, and many, many more to give us their list of things they feel passionately that everyone should do..."

17) Lick an ice cream in Sicily : So overrun are we by the choc-chip-fudge-crunch-style American ice creams that it is easy to forget what the real stuff tastes like. The ices at Corrado Costanzo in Noto, Sicily, are arguably the best you can find anywhere in the world. Mandarin, made with Sicilian oranges, is probably the most in-demand flavour at this ice-cream and pastry shop but try also mulberry and the jasmin sorbet that's made with flowers picked in the evening when they are at their most fragrant. Chunky Monkey eat your heart out. · Corrado Costanzo, Via Spaventa 7, Noto, Sicily (00 39 931 835 243)

Naomi in Sicily

This hot Sicilian August has brought the usual wave of holiday-goers, sun burns, sarong parties and a heavy dose of paparazzi, due to the regular summer visit of black venus (La Venere Nera as they called her here) Naomi Campbell.

Naomi is been spotted together with her close friends designers Dolce & Gabbana, who own a villa in the island of Stromboli, partying on a super yacht and waving a funny Brazilian style feathered wig. She is well-known for her extravagant personality and Sicilian islanders still gossip about Naomi's roof-top dancing antics here last summer.

The real prima donna of the islands, however, is still the volcano of Stromboli, whose last full-blown tantrum back in 2002 scooped away a chunk of the (uninhabited) north-western shoreline and sent a tsunami as far as the mainland 100km away...

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Size matters for Sicilians

Caffe Turrisi is perhaps one of the most extravagant, original places in the whole world and deserves to be seen.

It stands on a lovely piazza in Castelmola, the highest peak on top of Taormina, huddled against a mountain overlooking two beautiful bays.

The owner Peppino, together with his wife Rosa refurbished the bar as it stands today, particularly concentrating on enhancing the interior. They recognised that their era was particularly happy and prolific. Having had three sons within five years, there was one particular symbol that could represent it all: the penis, vulgarly referred to in Sicilian as:
La Minchia.

The idea of the penis has definitely had a big impact on the population, especially on the priests from the neighbouring church. However, in the following years the symbol was accepted by everyone and became a important part of the bar. In fact, it is represented in different shapes, lengths and materials; in wood, ceramics, terracotta, worked iron, pasta and marzipan. The Minchia sets the tempo of the bar and the moods of all those within it. The penis is not a vulgar symbol and finds its roots in Greek culture, where the god Priapous represented fertility, freedom, fortune, life and beauty. Greek culture has had a strong influence our Sicilian culture for centuries.

Specialising in phallo-eccentric decors, even the restroom tap features "two balls and more!"

The Cafe develops vertically in a three storey building, dividing into smaller and smaller lounge rooms, balconies and alcoves, where, surrounded by handcrafted penises the visitor can relax, enjoying the local dishes and sipping the unique almond wine found only in this area.

How to get there:

This extraordinary place is definitely a hidden gem.

Coming from Taormina, you need to follow the road climbing up to the mountain. Castelmola is the highest peak so you cannot get it wrong.

Alternatively you can catch one of the frequent buses.

The starting place is for sure the parking piazza, because either if you come with the car or with the bus the stop is at the same place. Take the nearest stairs that lead you to Saint Anthony's square (Piazza di Sant'Antonio) where you'll see the arch that once ago was the old entrance of the town. The piazza offers the first taste of the gorgeous panorama you can find in this place. Carry on into the narrow street of the town following Pio IX street that leads you directly to the heart of Castelmola, Duomo's square (Piazza Duomo), where the Bar Turrisi is located.

Sicilian Item of the day : Tocca Candles

The fresh aroma of watermelon in this Isabella candle from Tocca hits you unexpectedly. Mysterious and intriguing, like a young Sicilian beauty, Isabella evokes legends of lost sailors in the Southern Mediterranean seas.

Small indulgences can go a long way.
If there is one accessory with which to adorn your home, let it be a Tocca candle. Nothing is more powerful than the way a scent makes you feel. Synonymous with simplicity, refinement and sensibility, Tocca Beauty's candle collection evokes specific moods and emotions linked by an exotic romanticism and old-world sentiment.

Tocca Beauty's aromatic candle scents are based on simple accords of fragrance notes. Each candle inspires distinct moods, rich in meaning and memories.

The aromas further evolve in meaning as they are named after classic film icons with unique character traits. While each candle embodies a different personality, they all convey the romantic connotations synonymous with the Tocca name.

The full-size glass-filled aromatic candle contains 10.6 oz of premium highly scented wax with a burn time of 60 hours and is made with a lead-free cotton paper-core wick.

You can purchase you Tocca Candle here

Shot in Sicily!

Vanity Fair 'fashion & style' director Michael Roberts' new book, "Shot in Sicily," is set to release next month. The book is to be 186 pages, "traces the stylist and photographer’s shifting vision of a sensual and ambiguous country." It will feature over 175 of Roberts' photographs of Sicily. The book even features an epilogue by Manolo Blahnik and text by Amanda Harlech.

With an occasional nod to Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden's late nineteenth-century images of the Sicilian town of Taormina, and the films of Visconti and Bolognini, Roberts' sense of Sicily moves beyond conventional and touristic aesthetic categories. His camera captures the beauty of youth, crumbling temples, traditional Easter parades and the theatre of daily life, and genuinely recreates the allure of Sicily.

To celebrate the book's launch, Giorgio Armani is hosting an exhibition and cocktail party on June 26, during Milan Men's Fashion Week, right after Armani's Spring 2008 Fashion Show. The book will go on sale on June 27 at Armani stores. It looks like it will be a wonderful "coffee table book." A must-buy for every Sicily lover.

This glamorous book is already available on Amazon

Armani embraces Sicily in summer 2008 collection

The International Herald Tribune recently published on its chic Style column an exclusive interview with Giorgio Armani, another enamoured victim of our Mediterranean island.

MILAN, Italy: The return to elegance by Italian designers previewing their summer 2008 collections on the Milan catwalk this week is right down Giorgio Armani's alley.
The designer, whom men turn to for that perfect suit, calls the current trend a "restored discipline of form" and looks to Sicily for inspiration.
"Sicily is part of a world I've always loved," Armani, who has a summer home on the island of Pantelleria, told reporters.
Armani highlights, in his collection presented Tuesday, Mediterranean mystery, from the salty sexiness of a fisherman to the genteel sophistication of Sicilian nobility. Symbols such as volcanoes, temples and mosaics were projected on a screen at the end of the runway.
Armani is also hosting an exhibit at his headquarters of photos from a coffee table book "Shot in Sicily" by Vanity Fair fashion director Michael Roberts, published in conjunction with the designer.

The show opened with 15 clean-cut fellows in perfectly tailored suits, and had a feeling of calm throughout: from the incredibly soft fabrics and leather to the muted palette drawn from sun-faded colors.
Jackets with a classic cut and a thin lapel are often paired with Armani's new shirt-vest, sleeveless but with a generous cowl collar. Most trousers have a casual cut. There were few shorts.
Many of the models sported tussled hair styles, like hair blown by the wind during a fishing expedition.
The only sharp note of the collection was the pointy-toed soft loafer in showy python leather. The same snakeskin was also used for traditional sneakers.
Until Armani's dip into that part of the Mediterranean, Dolce & Gabbana seemed to have the exclusive on Sicilian style, particularly with Domenico Dolce drawing inspiration from his years growing up as a child near Palermo.
This time round the designing duo set aside Sicilian lore to concentrate on prosaic heavy metal — as in nuts and bolts, bought in a hardware store and stitched on to bleached denim by the hundreds.

Aside from these gimmicky jeans sure to be a hit with fans of "do it yourself," D&G, the duo's second line presented Tuesday, offered T-shirts embroidered with cozy teddy-bears, sweat shirts covered in tulle, cotton tuxedo jackets and sandals wrought in metal.
Far from hard feelings, Domenico welcomed Armani's fascination with his homeland. "Sicily belongs to everybody," Domenico said after the show.
If Armani stayed away from the tough guys, Frida Giannini for Gucci resurrected the Hollywood versions: John Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon and Italian favorite Marcello Mastroianni. Her Monday evening show spoke of a 1950's bad boy lover from his checkered suit to his sporty cap and super pointy-toed shoes.
As is usual with Giannini (who also does Gucci's womenswear) the core of the collection was a class act — couture-cut suits, with a close fitting jacket and slim trouser, and a series of luxurious tuxedo jackets with glittering embroidery. For those looking for something farther out, there were snakeskin bomber jackets and footwear dipped in silver.
Fendi, and its second-generation designer Sylvia Venturini Fendi, courted a latter-day dandy on Tuesday. This gent likes his wardrobe to fit with pajama-like softness in styles ranging from cotton Bermudas to a see-through nylon pullover or an embroidered leather jacket — all in pastel shades.

Wherever he goes the Fendi boy takes his new bag with him. Simply called "shopping bag" fashioned in leather, cotton or straw intertwined to create a myriad of Fendi logos, the bag is sure to be coveted by the ladies as well.
Later Tuesday, Calvin Klein, designed by Italian Italo Zucchelli, presented a collection based on sportswear, a department virtually ignored in this round of preview showings which have been bent on a return to dressing up.

The jumpsuit — sure to be a popular item next summer judging by the many versions presented this week — played heavily in this show geared to American style. While the work pants were raised to fashion heights in black leather or fancy pearl gray — the symbol of sophistication — the tuxedo was brought down to earth in plain old khaki cotton.
The male sandal, dubbed by some the 'mandal' is the favorite footwear for next summer. Thonged or strapped, in leather or metal, it showed up almost everywhere during the five-day preview showings which ended Wednesday.
As if summing it all up, Byblos on Wednesday morning offered up a sandal so complicated it should come with instructions. Made up of shin guards, leather straps, thongs and open toed knee socks it combines to look like footwear for a latter-day centurion.

Their House Is Your Trattoria

At-home trattorias are increasingly popular in Sicily. From the winding narrow street of the inner-Palermo suburb formerly know as Kalsa spreading throughout the historical centre, where you can wine and dine right in the middle of the street or in somebody's backyard. What counts is home-cooking.

Danielle Pergament from New York Times, guided by her Sicilian friend, discovers a brand new concept of dining.

IT was lunchtime in Palermo, and in the old quarter, a small trattoria was filling up with burly construction workers and fishermen in sodden boots — all crowded around rickety tables watching a soccer match on a staticky television set. The place was noisy with clanking glasses and men talking over one another. Platters of sautéed vegetables and grilled calamari lined the countertop, and the perfume of sizzling garlic drifted through the room. I scanned the other tables and ordered what everyone else was having: spaghetti, drizzled with olive oil and laden with fresh clams, mussels and tomatoes.

But when the pasta arrived, drenched in a briny, spicy tomato broth, there was no fork and no waiter in sight. There was just the owner, known simply as Pina, shuffling in threadbare slippers, a lighted cigarette precariously perched on the edge of her mouth. “You need a fork?” Pina barked. Her gravelly voice was so intimidating that I was ready to eat with my hands. “Get it yourself. Top drawer, next to the stove.”

If eating in Palermo's rustic trattorias seems like visiting someone's home, that's because it often is. Pina, a gruff Sicilian mother, keeps a bedroom behind the kitchen and five days a week opens her canteen-sized dining room for lunch, serving some of the most authentic food in this port city.

At Zia Pina (Via Argenteria, 67), four blocks from the Tyrrhenian Sea, you won't find a sign welcoming diners, written menus, a reservation book or even a telephone. Instead, there are half a dozen tables, biblical paintings and dented pots and pans gurgling and steaming on a beat-up stove.

But you can't simply walk in. If Pina doesn't like the look of you, she'll tell you the trattoria is closed — and she'll do it as she's serving platters of stuffed mushrooms and grilled swordfish to a table of hungry fishermen. Luckily, I arrived with my Sicilian friend Emanuele, a photojournalist who has been eating at places like Zia Pina since he was a child.

The food of Palermo, like its rocky shoreline and weathered faces, is a bit rough. Vegetables are crudely chopped; fish is served with head and tail; everything comes under a veil of coarse sea salt. Pina's cooking was no exception. She was partial to pasta tossed with fresh shrimp, calamari or sea bass, as well as hearty salads of potatoes, capers and onions. If you're still hungry, you're welcome to seconds, but don't expect Pina to bring them. You can help yourself from the caldron on the stove.

At-home trattorias are not the insular tradition they used to be in Sicily. What began decades ago as lunch counters for blue-collar workers, usually started by their wives at home, are spreading to garages and empty houses — and they are becoming increasingly popular with young Sicilians and businessmen, who come for the laid-back atmosphere, low prices and arguably the best food in Sicily.

The amateur chefs are cautiously opening their doors to the public, and their menus are expanding, too, though not by much. They are still open only for lunch (about 12:30 to 2 p.m.), prices are remarkably cheap (pasta is usually under 3 euros, about $4 at $1.38 to the euro), and the recipes were handed down from the chef's grandmother. A click more relaxed than standard trattorias, these places have the air of an old-fashioned speakeasy — the proprietor might sleep in the back room, and the entrance is purposely hard to find, with unmarked doors, few signs and no advertising.

And because the places are not entirely legal, the would-be restaurateurs don't have to worry about things like workplace insurance, smoking laws, liquor licenses or even taxes. “Most of these places pay protection money to the Mafia,” Emanuele said. “They just want to serve good food to their regulars and keep their heads down.”
Well, that and watch soccer. A few days later, Emanuele and I walked into La Rosa Nero, or the Pink Black — a small, free-standing concrete hut in the middle of the quiet, dusty Piazzetta della Api. On a Saturday afternoon last January, the scene inside was another story. Two small rooms, painted pink and black, were crammed with flimsy plastic tables and crowded with groups of men hunched over bowls of steaming pasta, plates of fried calamari and small cups of red wine. Their eyes were fixed on the television — Palermo versus Lazio, and Palermo was losing. Shouts and jeers filled the small trattoria. There wasn't an empty seat in the house.

Rosa Nero is run by a young man named Benedetto. He wouldn't reveal his last name because his trattoria is not licensed and he preferred not to call attention to himself. Benedetto explained that this used to be his mother's house. Friends would come over to watch soccer, and his mother would whip up bowls of spaghetti with sardines. Before he knew it, the dining room had grown into a neighborhood soccer club and, as more friends came, a trattoria was born.

Emanuele and I sat down next to a group of teenagers and ordered the house special: angiova, or pasta with sardines. It arrived like an untossed salad — whole sardines (heads on), chunks of tomato and a splatter of pine nuts and sweet raisins, all piled atop a small mountain of pasta. I grabbed the fork and spoon, and mixed it up until it turned into a hearty sauce — sweet, salty and a little nutty.

Full and happy, we got up to leave and I started to leave a tip. “This isn't done,” said Emanuele. “These places don't pay taxes; all the money goes in their pockets.” Do they ever get in trouble with the law? “See those two men in the corner?” he pointed. “They're police, and they like the food as much as the rest of us.”

On my last afternoon in Palermo, Emanuele and I walked down to the waterfront, to an area known as Piazza Kalsa. Our destination was Padre Aldo (again, no address, no phone). The trattoria could easily be mistaken for someone's home — a tidy house on a residential block with a little garden on one side and a paved driveway on the other. “I was born next door,” said Aldo Balestreri, a lively 77-year-old with a stubbly white beard. “My specialty is grilled fish.” He paused for dramatic effect. “And Camilla Parker Bowles ate here once.”
Mr. Balestreri added that this used to be a taverna — a hall where men drank grappa until sunrise. Then, one summer about 40 years ago, he rolled a barbecue grill onto the driveway and started cooking meat. Next thing he knew, he had a trattoria.

Despite the chilly weather, most patrons were sitting at plastic tables on the driveway, now a patio. We sat down and listened to the menu. Moments later, an antipasto of olives, sardines, tomatoes and capers, drizzled in olive oil and coarse grains of salt, arrived on a worn block of wood. For pasta, we had spaghetti with baby shrimp, mussels, rough-cut garlic and spicy red pepper flakes. We washed it down with chilled red wine and watched the lunch crowd ramble in — young suntanned couples, gray-haired men with callused hands, and teenage boys with greasy hair and baggy jeans.

Then Padre Aldo re-emerged, holding two swordfish steaks. He slapped them on the grill and started calling out the day's menu over the hiss of the barbecue. A few moments later, he brought us two plates of spada alla palermitana, or swordfish Palermo-style — lightly breaded with a few drops of olive oil and a fat lemon wedge.
The three courses and a bottle of wine came out to 20 euros. As we walked away, Aldo called out from the searing iron grill: “You never asked why they call me Padre Aldo. It's because they think I'm Jesus — my food is that good.”

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Lava's burning passion

Lorenzo Starace Nastase writing for http://www.luxuryfiles.com/luxury/mooffanka/?$lang=EN&$version=port&doc=784, has described the emotional connection that Sicily and Sicilians have with their volcanoes.

He writes ...

Throughout the centuries Stromboli has taken on connotations of evil, and has been likened by historic nautical correlations to a lighthouse. From the dawns of time it lit up the way for sailors of the Tyrrhenian Sea, including myself. Its charm survives despite a variety of events that in recent times have brought it under the spotlight again. The same fascination that it exuded in remote 1949, set off the “war of volcanoes”: a conflict of pure passion, one that had nothing to do with geological issues – only exquisitely human ones.

The “spark” was a letter written by Ingrid Bergman to Roberto Rossellini. In 1949 he was working, with Anna Magnani, his partner of the time, on the movie “Vulcano”. In the letter, written in English, Ms Bergman articulated her desire to work with the greatest name in Italian Neo-realism, concluding the missive with the only words in Italian that she knew: “ti amo”. Rossellini was deeply affected by this peculiarly expressed request, and rushed to America to meet the actress. At the time, she was one of America’s most beloved stars.When they returned to Italy it was perfectly clear to everyone involved that Rossellini and Magnani were history.

At the time the latter was in London receiving a prize but on her return, an indirect clash from the shores of two volcanoes was ignited: Rossellini was about to make “Stromboli, terra di Dio”, with his new flame Ingrid, while Magnani continued to work on “Vulcano”.

It was a ruthless battle, complete with acts of espionage and sabotage from both productions, both of which were working without respite to beat the other in wrapping the movie first.

The arm wrestle finally came to a halt with the première of “Vulcano”, directed by William Mieterle, which took place at the Fiamma cinema in Rome. However, during the showing the news of the birth of Rossellini and Bergman’s daughter began to circulate. Every press agent present at the première left the room to verify the news. This was an indirect declaration of defeat to Magnani’s movie, relegating it to a spectacle of lesser relevance. Even today, Stromboli is a reminder of one of the greatest love stories that has ever blossomed at its feet, with a plaque commemorating the Swedish actress’s stay in full view on the façade of the house known as “la casina rossa” (“the little red house”), which once hosted her here.

Many tales were spun in Stromboli and it’s easy to fall in love in a place that maintains intact a sense of “leaping back in time”. This is enhanced by its tranquillity, the absence of cars, and peculiar lighting in the streets: all elements that heighten one’s anticipation of a shiver of emotion, when listening out for iddu (“him”, as the inhabitants of Stromboli call the volcano), he who is always active and present.

Don’t be under any illusions, then.

If you’ve never been to Stromboli you will never know whether it’ll inspire love or hate in you. But if you end up loving iddu, remember that after your departure, sooner or later the volcano will beckon you back here without you even realizing it. You will find yourself admiring its fireworks in the sky above the Aeolian Islands once again, just like someone else who decided to make Stromboli their home and workplace.

Celebrity Island

An unexpected Hollywood hangout on the way to the blissfully peaceful islands off Sicily.

From the Guardian Isabel Choat writes :

I've slept in Brad Pitt's bed. Nothing for Angelina to worry about, because he wasn't in it at the time. Even so, I was pretty taken aback when I found out.
You see we weren't staying in five-star luxury in Taormina, Sicily's celebrity mecca, but in a simple agriturismo in the sleepy north-west. It was lovely, with stunning views across the bay, and fantastic food, but it wasn't glitzy or glamorous by any stretch.

Brad Pitt had stayed at the Agriturismo Tenute Plaia while filming Ocean's Twelve at the Tonnara di Scopello, a disused tuna fishery set in a ridiculously picturesque cove a mile or two up the road. The rest of the cast, including Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney, had dinner at the hotel, but only Brad had spent the night. Perhaps the lack of spa, butlers, helicopter pad and marble-clad interiors had put the other stars off. But we thought it was near perfect.
On our first night we had sat on the terrace working our way through dish after dish of anti-pasti - rissotto balls, octopus salad, slivers of rare beef and tiny squares of bread with melted mozzarella. Next came pasta with olive oil, pine nuts and mackerel, then grilled fish with lemon and garlic. Later Ignacio, our waiter, offered to drive us in to Scopello, a hillside village with a fountain and 13th-century walled square where we sat under a vast eucalyptus drinking grappa.
We were on the edge of the Zingaro Nature Reserve, which covers seven kilometres of spectacular coastline, so could walk off our dinner the next day. The path follows the coast, giving tantalising views of sandy coves and bays, the sea so clear you can make out individual rocks on the sea bed. Hot and sweaty after a three-hour walk, we tired of just looking at the beach and veered off the path to dip our feet in the deliciously cool water.

Scopello was just the starting point of our holiday, a brief taste of Sicily, before we moved on to Marettimo, the most remote and mountainous of the Egadi, a trio of islands an hour's boat ride from Trapani. Though the Egadi are just as beautiful as the north-west, they lack the necessary polish to attract Hollywood's elite. Favignana, the largest of the Egadi, has one chichi hotel (Albergo Egadi), but on Levanzo and Marettimo the choice is between fishermen's houses, pensiones or basic apartments.

Fausto, the owner of the Marettimo Residence, met us off the boat, loaded our gear on to a golf buggy and pointed us in the right direction. "We're the last building in the village. See you there." Among the cluster of flat-roofed houses, more Greek in style than Italian, we spotted La Scaletta - a bar-cum-ice cream parlour - a deli, a couple of restaurants and a bakery selling slices of focaccia pizza. The other passengers had disappeared into the narrow, shady lanes and aside from the old men who sat in a row outside the harbourside Museo del Mare - a tiny room with black and white photos of men sitting in exactly the same spot 50 years ago - we saw no one. We seemed to have the place to ourselves and began to wonder whether five days was four days too long.

But worrying about what to do is sort of missing the point. You don't come to Marettimo to race round the sights (there aren't any) or try a dozen different watersports, as there are none of those either, unless you count exploring the island's many caves by fishing boat or kayak. You come to enjoy breathtaking views of the craggy coastline, pine-covered peaks and to swim in crystal-clear sea. As we learned pretty quickly, the real joy of Marettimo is shifting down several gears and slipping into its gentle, soporific pace.
After breakfast among the olive and lavender trees at the Residence, we'd amble down to the harbour to see what the fishermen had brought in. Their cute blue and white boats looked like they'd been planted there to blend artfully with their blue and white houses, but they were working boats. One look at the catch in the morning told you what you'd be eating that night. Snapper, John Dory or calamari came grilled or fried and served with salad or, north African style, with cous cous, pine nuts, raisins and saffron. The fish that weren't sold straight from the boat were packed on to carts and wheeled round the village to cries of "pesce fresco".

In the afternoons we'd pack our beach bags and saunter down to the rocks near the Residence to soak up the sun and cool off in the sea. We nearly always had the beach to ourselves.
Come evening the empty village would start to fill up: women emerged from their homes to catch up on the day's gossip, kids raced round the shiny cobbled streets on bikes, and teenagers loitered outside La Scaletta eating brioche stuffed with ice-cream. After dinner we'd hit the bar in the romantic little square for an espresso or glass of Marsala. And then head back to the Residence under a starry sky, knowing that with no sights to see or activities to try, we'd be doing it all again tomorrow.

On other nights Fausto insisted on us joining him for dinner at the Residence. Our first al fresco meal was a giant pan of fish stew -a delicious feast of scarfolo, a spiny, red fish, cooked in onions, wine and tomatoes. Our host spoke no English but he'd roped in a friend to translate. As he guffawed at his own stories, his friend fussed around us grumbling that Fausto spoke too fast.
A few days into the holiday we decided we really ought to venture beyond the village. We had, after all, booked our trip through a walking specialist who had supplied us with a stack of idiot-proof maps. You can hike for hours across Marettimo but there's no need to feel guilty if you take a shorter route, as the views are just as spectacular. While other, older, guests at the Residence set off early for a full day's tramping, we took the easy - OK, lazy - option and followed the trail to El Castello, a ruined castle perched dramatically on a rock jutting out into the sea. On either side of the path were clumps of yellow and purple heather, so neat they looked like they'd been planted there by an expert gardener, and rosemary bushes that filled the warm air with their scent.

On another day we set out, accompanied by one of the village dogs, to Punta Campana, at 630m the second highest peak. In four hours we didn't see a soul. As we climbed, the path got narrower and rockier and at one point I was convinced we'd veered off it completely. Still, the dog knew exactly where he was going so we gave up on the map and followed him. On the way up, the air had been alive with the sounds of bees and birds, but up here there was silence. In the distance Favignano and Levanzo were swathed in mist, their peaks poking out of a blanket of white. The sea and sky were exactly the same shade of blue, making it impossible to find the horizon. We could just about make out the wash of the fishing boats. It was utterly peaceful.

The hydrofoil zips between Trapani on the main island and the Egadi trio four times a day, so it's easy to pop over to a neighbouring island. We passed a pleasant enough day on Levanzo on a tour to the Grotto del Genovese, reached by yet another stunning stretch of coast where seagull chicks were nesting among the wild flowers. Inside the grotto are drawings, thought to be around 10,000 years old, of bison and deer and men fishing for tuna.

The waters around the Egadi still teem with blue fin tuna , and the Mattanza, an ancient ritual where schools of tuna are rounded into increasingly smaller nets before being killed with spears, is still practised. It's a bloody spectacle and one we decided we could do without. We did eat tuna one night, though, when Fausto invited us back for dinner. Having taught himself how to prepare sushi, he was keen to show off his skill and served up melt-in-the-mouth tuna sushi, sashimi and sticky rice, all washed down with a hearty Sicilian red.

Fausto told us how long it had taken him to get used to life on Marettimo. After five years of running the Residence, he was only just beginning to be accepted into the community. I told him my Brad Pitt story, but he didn't seem very interested. I got the impression that, like the rest of the islanders, Fausto couldn't give a fig about celebrity gossip.

New York Times cravings

Other foodies get their hands on Sicilian produce...

From the New York Times Gael Green writes :

Imagine a gourmand paradise where miniature cherry-topped pastries are marketed as Virgin’s Breasts and a gorgeous layering of pudding, pastry dough, and preserves created by cloistered nuns is the coveted Triumph of Gluttony.
Of course, I’d come to Sicily hungry (how else?), alerted by traveling foodies to a new generation of inspired chefs tweaking the traditional, and obsessed with digesting the island’s history through its food.
I was eager to taste high-risk improvisations like the smoked lavender-cod pyramids of Ciccio Sultano, “Italy’s Best Young Chef,” in the estimation of the magazine Gambero Rosso. I’d heard that Corrado Assenza’s cutting-edge bravado and exotic flavorings in honey, chocolates, and marmellatas at Caffé Sicilia would startle my sensibilities. And everyone was talking about the fantasy tasting menu at Il Mulinazzo, not far from Palermo. I was especially excited to try the powerful Sicilian wines that were winning prizes and showing up on menus across New York. And so I arrived, ready to immerse myself in the island’s rich tradition now punctuated by the shock of the new, carrying a list of must-eat addresses that would have had us eating a zigzag across Sicily.

My guy’s must-sees included the island’s usual wonders: Greek temples, Roman mosaics, Baroque cathedrals. I hungered to taste the mythic lemons, the capers of Pantelleria, the eggplant (in caponata and in spicy pasta alla Norma), the famous rolled-and-stuffed sardines a beccafico, Trapani’s seafood couscous, and, yes, I was primed to dare the spleen panini of Palermo.
It was an ideal moment to arrive: the week before Easter, when the country vibrates with pagan and religious rituals in every town and it’s still cool and green, fields wild with flowers before searing summer turns everything brown. Marzipan lambs grazed in every pasticceria window. By the time I’d tasted almond-paste goodies (an Arabic legacy) from every shop on Taormina’s main street, with a stop at the Greek theater, we’d had enough of the town’s tourist clots.

We headed toward Catania to meet friends at Sicilia in Bocca, hangout of actors and politicians, where at midnight on Palm Sunday a fisherman was just delivering a giant basslike spigola—still in rigor mortis, it was so fresh out of the sea. We ate crudi—raw gamberetti and neonata (baby anchovies)—and what the house does best, pasta, surprised to discover the Sicilian habit of grating pecorino on seafood pasta. (Toasted bread crumbs were the traditional and deliciously nutty sprinkle for our pasta con sarde—with sardines and wild fennel—in a region once too poor to even think of importing Parmigiano-Reggiano.) Next morning we lingered long enough to explore Catania’s rowdy fish market, stopping at Caffé Europa for a typical Sicilian breakfast: hazelnut gelato in a doughnutlike brioche.

Sicily is small, swiftly crisscrossed on the autostrada, letting you swing easily from the Greek-influenced eastern coast to the ancient ruins of Siracusa before settling into Palermo, as we did, using it as a home base for day trips and an occasional overnighter in our determination to feast and photograph.
Perhaps less-food-obsessed travelers would have skipped driving in torrential rain to the triangle of the towns Noto, Modica, and Ragusa. But then they would have missed Baroque architectural marvels built after the area was ravaged by earthquakes in 1693. And each town is also a food-lover’s imperative. Modica harbors Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, a chocolate shop dating from 1880 with a small museum. Easter celebrants had cleaned out the bakery, so we didn’t get to taste the eggplant-and-chocolate-filled half-moons (lucumie) or the beef-and-almond-paste-stuffed impanatigghe.
I was lucky to find a cinnamon bar of the house’s grainy and starkly bitter chocolate, still made from Ivory Coast cocoa beans using a secret Aztec recipe brought to the city centuries ago by wealthy Spaniards.

The daring and passion of Corrado Assenza at the surprisingly plain Caffé Sicilia made it worth a soaking mad-dash from the car park in nearby Noto. We sat for hours tasting cakes, puddings, flowery custards, candied fruits, Sichuan-pepper-spiked cookies, and exotic honeys (chocolate, basil, saffron). There was only time to sleep it off before hitting the road to the Ibla half of Ragusa and a tasting dinner, best of our stay, at Michelin-starred Il Duomo. Daring and obsessed as are all the best contemporary chefs, Ciccio Sultano plays with odd combinations of classic Sicilian ingredients in a tiny house with cherub sconces aimed at the vaulted ceiling, casting soft light on us below. A puddle of wild-apple purée comes with a warm tortino of the local cacciocavallo cheese. The stunning pungency of lemon salad cuts through the richness of lightly smoked pork from black pigs.

Settled into Palermo for a week, we spent mornings wandering through the legendary Vucciria market as well as our favorite, Ballaró, full of fussy shoppers. I bought peppered pecorino to take home for breakfast and stood in line at a cart for delicious innards stuffed into a crusty roll. When we’d walked enough to justify it, I’d buy a medium-size cup of bacia plus cioccolato under a drift of whipped cream at Stancampiano. At Antica Focacceria San Francesco, pani ca’ meusa, beef spleen stuffed into bread (plus an optional plop of ricotta), is dished up from a giant vat all day for local fans (I loved it, too). At Bye Bye Blues on a side street in nearby Mondello, we were surprised by the creativity in the kitchen and marveled at the delicious simplicity of raw fish with a ginger rice cake, layered anchovies and potato in caper sauce, and spaghetti with sea-urchin-and-fava purée.

From Palermo, it’s not far to the salt flats of Trapani to watch the spring tuna hunt (if you can take the gore) and to climb the medieval winding streets of Erice, a hilltop town overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. With so many tourists lined up to buy pastries from Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, a legend of Sicilian pastry, and a hokey donkey cart parked at the Norman castle above waiting to be photographed, it’s easy to dismiss Erice as slightly theme-park. So we were amazed at the good-natured welcome and smartly al dente ruffled ribbons of pasta in a meaty ragù at Ristorante Monte San Giuliano. Another evening, a new friend in Palermo, fourth generation of the Barbera olive-oil family, took us to Il Cortile, a small mom-and-pop trattoria in Custonaci near the sea, where we dined happily outdoors on the simplest, barely sauced pasta and boiled veal.

One morning we set out from Palermo for the 90-minute drive toward the middle of the island to sit in on the cooking class Anna Tasca Lanza gives in the charming tiled kitchen of the Casa Vecchie, overlooking her family’s sprawling Regaleali vineyard estate. A tireless champion of the island’s kitchen tradition in her many cookbooks, she shaped and fried arancine (rice balls), sautéed slivered artichoke for our pasta, and made creating individual cassatas look easy.
Tradition hits the fan at Il Mulinazzo, with its two Michelin stars, helmed by Nino Graziano, a veteran of several kitchens in France. It’s just south of Palermo in Villafrati, a quick drive for lunch. Even the tradizionale tasting menu shows off Sicilian cooking creatively rethought: elegant snapper tartare with oil and lemon on warm chickpea fritters, lasagnetta with sardines and wild fennel, almond couscous in a fish soup, rack of lamb with an asparagus zabaglione. Next day, I owed my guy a major Greek temple and an afternoon of mosaics.

Palermo : The coolest city in Italy

Recently, the national magazine Panorama described Palermo as "the coolest city in Italy.
With wide avenues lined with palm trees, stylish shops, restaurants and nightclub where everybody dresses up, Palermo transpires style from every angle.
Think of Palermo and its baroque, opulent fashion. People like Dolce & Gabbana, Marella Ferrera or Fulco di Verdura, who popularised the use of coloured stones in creations for clients like Greta Garbo and Coco Chanel.
Palermo is really "Cool". Not exactly in the Milanese way, but in that reflection of pomp and grandeur that is in the air and above all in the Palermitani themselves.

Still do not believe me?
Wander around Via Principe di Belmonte, a pedestrian area right in the commercial district. Or enjoy an aperitif at La Cuba inside Villa Sperlinga.
Tanned, graceful girls in stilettos and stylish handbags, men in dark colour suit with wide silky ties and sunglasses enjoys their aperitifs and coffee breaks at the pretty outdoor cafes.
These are not Mafiosi, they just love to dress well.
Fare bella figura, which roughly translates to "cutting a fine figure," endures as one of the highest Italian virtues, on a par with making a pilgrimage to the Pope. As the Sicilians say, L'onuri è fattu a li robbi, Honor is measured by your dress.
Yes folks, it is all about appearances here.
It wouldn't be fair to i Siciliani to say their obsession with clothing springs from narcissism. Elegance in Sicily shows civic altruism: you are prettifying the landscape for the delight of your fellow citizens. As the old Sicilian saying goes, Mancia a gustu , càusa e vesti a gustu d'àutru;
Eat to please yourself, but dress to please others....

Sicilian Item of the day: Coppola hats

Worn by Jennifer Lopez and sold by Dolce & Gabbana as well as other designers, the Coppola is the most traditional Sicilian hat.

La Coppola Storta is returning the coppola hat to its original roots as a luxury item.
This shop trades only in made in Sicily caps. You will have the chance to choose the exclusive Sicilian ‘coppola’ among a numerous variety of shapes, colors, textiles and patterns.

These fancy hats combine fine Italian fabrics, unique patterns and hand made Sicilian craftsmanship to create the ultimate offerings in headwear.

Coppola is glam. The others are just caps...

Coppola hats are distributed through their flagship stores and better boutiques throughout the world. Their flagship stores are located in Rome, Palermo, Taormina and New York.
You can order you own Coppola online here.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Driving in Palermo (Part 3)

This week we have another instalment of the essential driving companion for roads in Sicily (you will find Part One and Part Two here and here). Read carefully - this could save your life!

Rule #8. What's a Stop Sign Between Friends?
This is a very important rule for you budding students of the art of true driving, so listen carefully and pay attention. Road signs in Sicily are better considered as "advisory". When in doubt, it is better to be polite and nice to your fellow drivers and let them pass regardless of what the road sign says. In fact, upon approaching an intersection where your opposing driver has a stop sign and needs to give way to you, rather than passing him by, allowing him to drive off when the road is safe and clear, isn't it far better to suddenly hit the brakes and stop for him? Not only will your confused opposing driver be appreciative and thankful, but you will also receive the thanks from the five other drivers behind you, who will no doubt be rushing to thank you personally, right after swapping their details with all the other cars they have just crashed into. This method is far more effective when used on the busier roads.

Rule 9#. Roundabout...what the!!!!
There are probably 5,000 roundabouts within the confines of greater Palermo, in fact you will most likely find them on every second or third road corner, but the amazing thing is that very few Palermitans have actually seen one, far less have driven one. This can be the only explanation upon witnessing a Palermo driver who approaches a roundabout as if it was something that landed from out of space. At first sight they immediately slam the brakes on, fearing that the roundabout was suddenly placed on the middle of the road where there was none before. Then as they enter the roundabout you see intense confusion and concentration on their face. "What the @$#% is happening here", you can see them mouth. "Do I drive faster, slower, how do I get out of here?". Often the best method as a student of Sicilian driving is to actually stop while in the roundabout. This is best because it gives you time to think about the way out and to just generally, take a break. When you feel a little more confident you can exit the roundabout, but please do so at either a very slow, snail-like pace, or driving like a man possessed (either extreme will suffice). Make sure you repeat this behaviour during every encounter with a roundabout.

Rule #10. Responsive Emergency Services.
The sound of the Italian language is often regarded by many as being like a song with its dulcet sweet tones and melodious rhythm. It is considered to be the language of love, of passion, of art and of everything beautiful. So to, the sound of the water and of the wind on the Sicilian island of Salina was famously recorded on a tape recorder by Massimo Troisi in the touching movie, Il Postino (The Postman), because it was the most beautiful and peaceful sound he had ever experienced. Beautiful and peaceful sounds are not to be found in the main cities of Palermo. But you will find noise. The only sound that has any rhythm or melody is the ambulance siren. There is an ambulance in full siren mode, passing every hour on any given road in Palermo. It is so frequent and regular (and indeed predictable) than whenever there is a car accident, no one feels the need to call an ambulance for the injured parties, as everyone knows that there is one "right around the corner". "Just as night follows day, and ambulance will pass this road in the next few minutes" - Old Sicilian Proverb

In fact many Sicilian families with very elderly grandparents living with them, often prefer to live as close to the main roads as possible in case their nonna or nonno needs emergency assistance. This is the practical side to Sicilians.

Sicilian Item of the day : Marranzano

Marranzano is thought to be one of the oldest instruments in the world; a musician apparently playing a Marranzano has been noticed in a Chinese drawing from the 3rd century BC.

In English it is known as the Jew's Harp, but it has no particular connection with Judaism, in fact the instrument is known in many ancient cultures by at least forty different names.

Since its droning sounds have known to cause people to go into a trance, the Jew's Harp has been associated with magic and has been a common instrument in shamanic rituals.

The hypnotic sound of the Marranzano is generated by a vibrating air column, the frame is held against the performer's teeth, using the jaw and mouth as a resonator which greatly increasing the volume of the instrument. The Marranzano is in common use among vernacular Sicilian musicians on this island and recently a whole new music festival has been dedicated to it (http://www.marranzanoworldfestival.it/) bringing artists and Marranzano lovers from all over the world.
Marranzanos are available almost everywhere in Sicilian souvenir shops, and Ebay as well.

Palermo Street Food

Palermo Street Food, Cibo di Strada. If you are a foodie with more than just a passing interest in street hawkers (be very careful pronouncing that term in mixed company; just make sure the "w" in Hawker shines through when you tell someone how much you love the street hawkers of a particular place), you may very well think that the culture of delicious and authentic street food is a domain belonging to the Asian cities and towns with their bustling stalls of hawkers selling all types of food cooked in all different sorts of ways. Europe and most other places outside Asia lack the true and authentic culture of "street food". Sicily is the exception.
In many street lanes and alleys, not just in the Centro Storico but also out in the "burbs", you will find street hawkers selling freshly cooked, authentic Sicilian food, often made from secret Sicilian family recipes.

Street Food...Not Junk Food!
During Alice's first time in Sydney she asked me one night while we were out if we could go and buy some street food. While Sydney is a mecca for foodies it is not the first place that you would think of when experiencing a craving for street food. I think Alice realised that by the look on my face after she had asked me this. What I did not know at the time, but soon would upon my first trip to Sicily, is that Street Food in Sicily is another planet! Being halfway between Europe and Africa, and within sight of Asia, Sicily is the ultimate melting pot of culture and race.

The Cultural Melting Pot of Food
Multi-culturalism in Sicily is not something that is a recent phenomenon like say, USA, Australia, Canada or UK, it has been the way of Sicilian life for millenia. With this rich juxtaposition of culture and ethnicity has come an incredible variety of food, dishes, ingredients and styles. There are many food traditions that make Sicily truly great, but for the true food adventurer the most exciting and satisfying one, is that of the street, or the Street Food of Palermo. Be warned though, as those of you are familiar with Asian street food will attest to, Street Food is recommended for the adventurous "foodie" traveller only.
While the ingredients and hygiene are up to standard (the ingredients in Sicily are ALWAYS up to standard), much of this street food uses ingredients and food in quite inventive ways. Let's take Babbaluci, for example, otherwise known as the common snail. You all know how this tastes in France, quite nice usually, but the Sicilian take on this recipe has a great twist; extra virgin olive oil, a touch of garlic, grounded pepper, some wild fennel for flavour and maybe some tomato. They are one of those things that you taste once for curiosity, and before you realise it you have demolished nearly 50 of them! (a small tip: to impress a real Sicilian street hawker, ask for Babalucci and even if they do not have it they will be amazed at how a non Sicilian even knows about this closely guarded Sicilian delicacy).

The Best of the Rest
There are other delights on offer too, Pane Penelle - bite sized snacks made from chickpea flour, Crocche - special fluffy potato filled puff balls, Pollanca - boiled corn (strictly speaking Pollanca is mainly sold on the beach which makes it beach food), Scaccio - very tasty tidbits made up of dried salted pumpkin seeds, chick peas and fresh pistacchios, Cedro (or Pipittuni in Sicilian) - oversized breed of lemon/limes with an edible, sweet skin combined with a slightly sour inside balanced with with a liberal dosage of Trapani Sea Salt for taste (again, mainly found on the beach), Panino con Salsiccia - you have heard of German sausage such at Bratwurst and so on...very tasty...but wait until you try the herbaceous Sicilian sausage, an exotic balance of gentle spice, aniseed with wild fennel flavour supported by a squeeze of fresh Sicilian lemon. Add this delight to a bread roll (a panino), and there you have it, a hot dog that tastes like no other hot dog you have ever tried.

The Stigghiola
There are others too in the Pantheon of Palermo Street Food, such as sfincone (focaccia bread with an onion topping), frittola, pane con la milza, but the Lord of all "Cibo di Strada", and the most representative of the streets of Palermo is a barbecued dish called Stigghiola. Anyone who appreciates the taste of charcoal meat will savour this delight. It first hits you when your nose picks up the scent of something delicious in the air and like a blood hound your whole body points in the direction of the source. Your feet only take you one direction - To the Stigghiola Man! You stand in line (a Stigghiola BBQ stand is never a lonely place) and watch how a typical Sicilian man of the street, who can be better described as an alchemist, manages to turn a string of goat intestines into a dish served on a paper plate that combined with a cold beer makes you wonder if you will ever bother to eat in restaurants again, especially when you can find this on the Streets of Palermo.)