I recently travelled to Sicily for almost three weeks. Returning home it took less than 24 hours to miss what I had left behind. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate my own country, far from it. Britain has a tremendous amount to offer and I would never want to be anything other than British. However, there are a few things Sicily offers that make me want to go back there… often.
Here are some of the essentially Sicilian things I miss
The intensity of the flavours
Food grown in the soils of Sicily seem to take on an intensity of flavours that few places can match. This is particularly noticeable in citrus fruits such as lemons and blood oranges, garlic and onions and of course the ubiquitous pomadoro or tomato. Sicilian lemons are well-known in culinary circles for their intensity of flavour and are used in every Sicilian kitchen be it a humble home or a Michelin star restaurant.
Simple honest cuisine
It is perhaps the intensity of the flavours that has encouraged Sicilians to cook simply and let the flavours do their job. Tomatoes, basil a little olive oil and spaghetti never tasted so good as when I ate the simple honest cuisine at Fontes Episcopi in Aragona or a little trattoria I discovered in Corleone.
Waking up to a warm Nutella filled croissant
In Sicily I discovered the delights of a pastry and espresso for breakfast. Especially delightful when the croissant is warm and filled with Nutella (an Italian invention). If Nutella is not to your taste then a pastry filled with custard cream or apricot conserve is just as good.
While on the subject of sweet foods the Sicilians are particularly good at producing the most wonderful pastries. Whether it is for breakfast or mid-morning or the afternoon they are a delight to the taste buds. Arab invaders introduced almonds, pistachio and sugar to the island which were then combined with the ingredients the Sicilians were already using.
Breakfast usually features pastries accompanied by an espresso. Every bar has pastries to eat with their coffee and every town has its pasticerie or pastry shop.
Granite was another Sicilian/Arab invention. Ice from Etna’s slopes was combined with fruit and perhaps a little sugar to us the flavoured ice shavings known as granite. Mostly it is fruit flavours but the coffee granite, served with lashings of cream is among my favourites on a hot sunny afternoon.
This brings us nicely to gelato. Some say this is Italian ice-cream but I maintain it is in a class of its own as it uses eggs to produce that creamy texture that so delights us. The Sicilians claim they invented gelato by the simple expedient of substituting the fruit syrups used in granite with milk and cream. Other places in Italy also lay claim to inventing it but there is no definitive evidence to support anyone’s claim. Sicilians in my opinion do make the best gelato in Italy.
There are so many different flavours from the ubiquitous mandorla (almonds), pistachio, and chocolate through fruits in season to more unusual flavours. Sicilians take gelato seriously; there is a high percentage (55%+) of gelaterie serving gelato artigianale (hand-crafted) than those serving massed produced gelato. Many Sicilians will eat their gelato in a brioche but you can have it in a cone or a cup.
Sicilian style pizza
In Sicily, rather than the flat thin base we commonly associate with pizza, the same topping is served on a base more like bread or focaccia. Using the fresh flavours of garlic, tomato, oregano, onion and shavings of parmesan or pecorino as the starting point they will add the likes of anchovies or cold meats.
So far the things I miss are all food related. That’s no surprise as the food of Sicily is influenced by its many invaders and the Sicilians have kept the best of each and made it their own. There are plenty more foods that I could add to the list but that will have to wait for another post. Here then, are the non-culinary things that I miss.
Exploring narrow streets
Those who follow my Twitter (@lethers) or Instagram (@travelunpacked) accounts will know I ended up unintentionally driving down the narrow streets of a Sicilian town and discovering why Italians make small cars very well. Normally I am on foot when I explore the narrow streets of Sicilian towns. In tourist centres like Cefalu I will leave the main tourist drag and explore the narrow side streets. There are so many little gems hidden in the narrow lanes and squares and you never know what is around the next corner; a little trattoria perhaps, a diminutive church maybe or a tiny piazza with a bar that has yet to be discovered.
Away from the towns and inland there is dramatic scenery to take your breath away. If you can stomach the twisting breathtaking roads head into the central regions of Sicily where the mountains soar over pleasant valleys. Alternatively you can enjoy some dramatic coastlines with quiet little coves such as those in Reserva del Zingara or Scopello.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There is a plethora of ancient archaeological sites in Sicily from Roman ruins in Syracuse to ancient Greek temples along Sicily’s southern coast. You don’t have to travel far to find a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I have not yet visited all of them but currently my favourite is the Valley of Temples at Agrigento. It is exactly what it says it is, a valley full of Greek temples.
The warm Mediterranean Sea lapping on beautiful beaches
Sicily has some delightful little coves with beaches to be discovered. These can be sand covered or pebbles but are almost always secluded. There are also sweeping bays of sand like those at Cefalu and San Vito lo Capo where the warm Mediterranean laps on the gently shelving sand.
I know that Sicily will be a place I will return to to discover and rediscover, to experience as yet undiscovered culinary experiences and revisit the places that I I only brushed the surface of.
Have you travelled to Sicily? What experiences do you miss? Use the comments section below to let us know.