Sicily is the largest Island of Italy and part of the southern zone of Italy. Every year millions of tourists visit Sicily to discover it and enjoy the taste of the food that Sicily offers. Sicily is famous for its great cities rich in culture and history, like Palermo, Catania, Messina, and Siracusa. However, the cathedral, crystalline sea, and white sandy beaches are not the only reason that brings so many tourists yearly to Sicily.
One of the main reason why so many tourists, including Italians, visits Sicily is due to the unique food of Sicily. The food in Sicily has something really incredible to offer. From its most popular dishes like pasta with anchovies to Cuscus Trapanese, Sicily will surprise you in every city that you will decide to visit.
The Sicilian gastronomic tradition is among the richest and most important in Italy, being the result of the influences of the various cultures that have intermingled in Sicily over the millennia. Most popular Sicilian dishes are prepared with the addition of sea and land ingredients, with a mix that is very reminiscent of the Mediterranean.
There are so many popular and traditional dishes in Sicily that, for me will be very hard to include a complete list. But I will try my best to make you know what the most popular food is in Sicily, what to eat when you will visit Sicily, and give you a little bit of history behind the dishes that you will taste during your future stay in Sicily.
Let’s begin this complete Sicily food guide with the Origin and the Characteristics of the dishes.
Origin of Sicilian Food
The origin of the food in Sicily, as well as in most of the regions in Italy, is strictly related to the history and the populations that had lived on the Island.
Many different populations have lived in Sicily; among the most famous, we find Greek, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, and Jewish. During this guide on the most famous dishes of Sicily, we will find many ingredients used in Greek cuisine, in particular fish, olives, broad beans, and pistachios.
The influence of other populations can be observed from the uses of apricots, sugar, citrus fruits, sweet melons, rice, saffron, raisins, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper, mainly used by Muslims.
As we can see, Sicilian cuisine is vast in ingredients, and especially due to the favorite Mediterranean climate, the dishes are prepared with fresh ingredients cultivated on the Island. Some of the most popular spices used and cultivated in Sicily are oregano, mint, rosemary, and basil.
Characteristics & Style of Food in Sicily
As we will see in the next part of the article, Sicilian cuisine utilizes fresh vegetables such as eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes and fish such as tuna, swordfish, bluefish, octopus, cuttlefish, sea urchin, sea bream, and sea bass.
The most important characteristic of Sicily food is that it is based on fresh ingredients since most vegetables are cultivated on the Island. On the other side, the fish is also caught in the Mediterranean sea. In fact, Sicily has one of the most important fleets of fishermen in Italy.
If you next visit Sicily, in the majority of coastal towns, you will have the possibility to taste fresh fish.
To resume, the main Characteristics of the food in Sicily are freshness, use of vegetables, and fish. While for the style, it can be categorized as mixed style. You can taste from salty to sweet; everything in Sicily has something special.
Popular Pasta to Try in Sicily
Let me guess, it is noon, and you start feeling hungry, you are walking inside the street of some fantastic street in Sicily, and you are asking what Pasta I can try in Sicily. What is the most popular Pasta to try in Sicily?
Luckily, today I am here to let you know everything I know about the Food in Sicily. In fact, in the next section, we will take a closer look at the most popular type of Pasta to try in Sicily. Let’s take a look.
Pasta con le sarde (Pasta with Sardines)
Pasta with sardines is one of the most popular dishes in Sicily. Pasta with sardines is part of traditional Sicilian cuisine. In fact, it is assumed that it was cooked for the first time in Palermo and that has appeared in Sicily during the Arab siege of Sicily.
In some cities of Sicily, “pasta con le sarde” is prepared during St. Joseph’s Day.
If you visit Sicily and you decide to taste this type of pasta, you will notice different ways of preparing it according to the city where you are. Anyway, in whatever part of Sicily you will eat pasta with sardines, there are three ingredients that will always be present. They are sardines, wild fennel, and pasta.
The Catania version of pasta with sardines includes raisins, pine nuts, and breadcrumbs. While in Palermo, you will find saffron too.
Pasta ‘ncasciata is a type of pasta present also in my list of the Most Popular Food in Calabria. The ways of preparing are the same.
In most of the cities in Sicily, Maccherroni is used as a type of pasta. Regarding the ingredients, we can find fried eggplant, meat sauce, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, or ham to make it even richer and tastier.
In most of the cities, you will able to find this traditional Sicilian type of pasta; anyway, if you want to try the original version and the most traditional one, you have to try it in Messina.
Cuscus Alla Trapanese
If you are visiting a place near Trapani, and you are a food lover, surely it will worth your time to proceed to Trapani to taste the traditional Cuscus. These dishes have been imported from the North African culture, but there are some substantial differences.
The major difference with regard to the preparation methods popular in North Africa lies in the different choices of raw materials, such as soup fish, among which we can mention snapper and sea bream.
The traditional Cuscus all Trapanese requires the use of semolina wheat processing technique, mainly utilized to aggregate the typical grains. All the mixing ingredients, such as onion, spices, and paprika, make the Cuscus an incredible dish that will surprise you.
If you are near Trapani, you cannot miss this fantastic dish, part of one the most important and iconic food in Sicily.
Pasta alla norma (Pasta with fried eggplant)
Pasta Alla norma is a popular dish in Sicily. You can find it in every city that you will visit, and the ingredients that will be used will be the for most of the cities the same.
The ingredients utilized for the preparation are relatively simple to find and prepare: tomato, fried eggplant, ricotta Salata, and basil.
The origin of Pasta Alla Norma is attributed to Catania City; in fact, it is the main dish and symbol of Catania. If you are visiting Catania, you cannot miss this dish.
Most Popular Main Courses and Street Food in Sicily
Now that we have a good overview of what are the most popular types of pasta to try in Sicily, it is time to take a look at the most famous main courses that you cannot miss during your visit to Sicily.
Choosing what to insert in this section has been hard for me, but in the end, I decided to insert most of them, sharing with you a little bit of history and preparation of them.
The undisputed number one of all street food in Italy, the arancino o arancina (in some parts of Sicily) is one of the most traditional foods of Sicily.
They are delicious balls of rice, and they can be round or cone-tipped in shape. The strong point of Arancini is that they can be consumed at whatever time of the day you will prefer, as an appetizer, as a first course, or as a main course; they will always be very welcome at the table.
The origin of Arancino is not so clear. Anyway, some research conducted in Sicily assumed that they dated back to the era of Saracen rule. This is because the Saracen population was used to eating saffron-flavored rice in combination with vegetables and meat.
The crispy exterior part of Arancino that is present nowadays was introduced around 1200 in order to facilitate storage and transport during hunting trips and during long journeys.
Despite the fact that there are wide varieties of arancino, the best that you should try remains the classic one prepared with classic ragout, carrots, peas, cooked ham, and stringy mozzarella cheese.
Wherever you are in Sicily, you will always find some rotisserie that sells arancini. Do not hesitate and try this incredible specialty born in Sicily.
The name Cipollina is attributed to famous street food that can be tasted in all of Sicily but with major influence in the area of Catania.
They are formed from leavened dough, made with lard, and then flaked with butter. The filling of Cipollina is simply made of cooked ham, tomato puree, mozzarella or string cheese, and onion, lots of onion.
Cipollina can be easily found in every bar or diner in Catania and neighboring cities.
The name of this piece of diner, “Cipollina,” is related to its main ingredient, the “Onion,” the Italian language, “Cipolla.”
If you are lucky enough to be able to go easily to Catania, do not hesitate to enter one of the most renowned bars in the historic center or one of the many bakeries in the city of Etna and enjoy a delicious cipollina.
Pane e panelle
Pane e panelle is another popular piece of street food in Sicily. In order of importance, it can be compared to arancino. For all of you that are thinking, what is this strange name? Here is a simple explanation of what it is and how they are prepared.
Panelle is prepared with chickpea flour, water, parsley, and salt. Then the batter is cut and fried. These panelle are placed in the sesame bun along with crocché, potato croquettes, pepper, and parsley. As you can notice, it is made using a poor ingredients, and it is something that you have to taste if you are in Sicily.
The Sicilian Pidone is nothing particular; in fact, it can be found in every part of Italy without any problem. Anyway, I decided to insert it here, since in Sicily it is very popular.
The origin of Pidone is from Messina, and it has a half-moon shape, similar to the calzone. The traditional recipe is topped with escarole, tuma, salted anchovies, and pepper. If you are passing through the Messina strait and you are hungry, it is surely worth giving a try to it.
Pani câ meusa (Bread with spleen)
Proceeding with our list, we can found another popular street food of Siciliy, Pani câ meusa.
For most of you that never have had the chance to visit Palermo, I can imagine that you don’t know what I am speaking about. So let’s clear it down.
Pani câ meusa is the name of a typical street food prepared with bread and spleen. If you remember, at the beginning of the article, I mentioned that Sicilian cuisine is a mix of cultures. Well, Pani ca meusa is an example. This Sicilian dish comes from kosher cuisine that has Jewish origins.
The origin of pani ca meausa can be dated back to 1100 years ago when butchers of Jewish origin settled in Palermo.
These, unable to receive money for their work because of their religious faith, retained as a reward the calf’s innards: guts, lung, spleen, and heart.
Among this offal, there was liver,it had a higher economic value and was sold separately.
Jewish butchers consequently found a way to monetize this interior part of animals, as they observed that most of the Sicilian population was consuming the interior, and they liked cheese.
By observing this, Jewish butches introduced a bread made with: lung, spleen, and or pieces of cartilage from the ox’s trachea. That is more or less the version that you can taste in the street of Palermo nowadays.
As you can imagine, this type of street food is not for everyone. Anyway, if you are strong enough and you like to taste the strong flavor of food, you can taste this traditional Sicilian food in the most famous market and the street of Palermo.
Purpu vigghiuto ( Boiled Octopus)
Another popular street food that can be found in most of Sicily is purpu vigghiuto, which is the name for boiled octopus.
Also, in this case, we are referring to a type of street food mainly foundable in the street of Palermo.
The octopus is cooked in huge pots after being pounded vigorously on the rocks by the fisherman. Once taken out of the pot, it is cut into pieces and flavored with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
If you are walking on the promenade of Palermo, you will notice some fishermen that will offer it to you. Depending on the season that you will visit Palermo, you might find it or not. Anyway, in most cases, if you want to try the boiled octopus with a high chance, you will find it in the most famous street in Palermo.
Stocco alla Messinese (Messina Style Stockfish)
All Sicilian cities have something special to share. With the next dish of the Sicilian tradition, we will bring our attention to another tourist city to visit in Sicily; its name is Messina.
As you may have noticed, in this article dedicated to food in Sicily, Messina has been mentioned several times, and it is not an exception for the Stocco Alla messinese. What is that? Why should you try it if you are in Messina? Let’s take a look.
Called also with the name: stoccafisso alla ghiotta, it is a traditional recipe of Messina cuisine prepared with potatoes, tomato, olives, stockfish, scallions, caper, celery, and pine nuts.
It is a particular dish part of the immense traditional cuisine of Sicily that we are discovering. If you are visiting Messina, you can find any restaurant that offers you this famous dish.
Sarde a Beccafico (Sardines)
Proceeding with my list of the most popular main courses of Sicily, we can find other famous dishes prepared in different cities of Sicily.
“Sarde alla beccafico” is a type of preparation for the sardines. In particular, these dishes are prepared in the cities of Palermo, Messina, and Catania.
The recipe for preparing this traditional fish dish of Sicily includes the use of breadcrumbs, minced garlic, chopped parsley, raisins, pine nuts, salt, pepper, and olive oil. This mixture is put into the sardines by rolling them inside.
The version of this dish may be slightly different depending on the city you try it in, but in general, it is definitely worth it, especially if you are looking for something new to savor.
Caponata is one of the most popular dishes in Sicilian cuisine.
The main ingredient used to prepare Caponata is eggplant, tomatoes, onion, green olives, capers, and celery. Anyway, also if the origin is from Sicily, only in the southern regions of Italy are there more than 30 varieties, but which nevertheless all share one thing in common: namely vegetables.
Since Sicily is a big region, you may visit the different main cities of it, and take a look at the main differences in the preparation of Caponata that you might find in the main cities of Sicily.
For example inPalermo, we find tomato sauce, In Catania, the predominance is eggplant and tomato combined with pine nuts and fresh basil. In Agrigento, they use black olives, honey, almonds, and dried raisins, while in Trapani is prepared with peppers and toasted almonds. In Messina, instead of sauce, there are fresh, cooked tomatoes.
Whether you decide to taste it as an appetizer or main course, you cannot leave Sicily without tasting Caponata. Take note of this dish and give it a try to it.
Stiggiola is the name that refers to a typical street food of Palermo. It is also a typical Sicilian cuisine dish widespread in the major cities of Sicily. The main ingredient of it is gutting (especially lamb guts).
If you are walking in the streets of Palermo, you will find it being prepared with salt, seasoned with parsley, with or without onion, skewered, or rolled around a spring onion, and cooked directly over the coals.
If you smell something strong while you are walking in the street of Palermo, with a high chance that it is this typical Sicilian food.
Involtini di pesce spada ( Swordfish rolls)
If you are visiting Sicily during the summer period, you will love eating the swordfish.
You have to know that during the summer, in most of the cities of Sicily, especially Messina, it is practiced catch swordfish with the traditional boat in the strait of Messina.
Swordfish rolls are prepared with thinly sliced slices of swordfish and a filling made of capers, olives, breadcrumbs, and tomatoes. In most of the maritime restaurants in Sicily, you will have the possibility to taste this incredible dish as part of the traditional cuisine of the Sicily region.
Most Popular Dessert To Try in Sicily
Now that we have completed our voyage to the most popular salty Sicilian foods, it is time for Dessert. In comparison to other Italian regions, Sicily has something more on Dessert. Most of the Desserts you will taste in other parts of Italy imitate the traditional sweets prepared in Sicily.
The Sicilian cannolo is undoubtedly one of the most well-known, beloved, and, above all, exported sweets worldwide.
The main characteristics of a Sicilian cannolo are its rind, which must be between crisp and crumbly, and its ricotta filling.
Each pastry shop you visit in different Sicily towns will have its unique recipe.
Especially pastry shops that have been present for many years will have their recipe handed down from generation to generation, tried and tested.
So as soon as you make your first step in Sicily, if there is one thing you must do, it is undoubtedly to try the Cannolo Siciliano.
Granita Con Brioche
If you come to visit Italy, and you are from a country where it is used to make breakfast with salty food, be prepared to find some issues if you visit Sicily.
As you have already heard, most Italian make breakfast with cappuccino and cornetto.
But, there is an exception, the Sicily breakfast.
If you visit Sicily, with a high chance you will notice that some Sicilian eat Granita with Brioches for breakfast. But what is it?
Granita is a cold dessert made with a mixture of water, sugar, and fruit frozen slowly but never entirely and continuously stirred to simultaneously achieve a grainy and creamy texture.
This cold dessert is accompanied by Sicilian ‘brioscia,’ made with leavened egg dough and flavored with vanilla or citrus. There are many different flavors of granite, from the coffee variety to strawberry, pistachio, etc. I
f you want to immerse yourself in the Sicilian culture at least one morning, you must try this popular dessert that accompanies the awakening of Sicilians every morning.
Another dessert that is part of the most popular dessert in Sicily is “Cassata siciliana.”
Sicilian Cassata is a traditional cake with sweetened sheep’s milk ricotta, sponge cake, and candied fruit.
Also, in this case, the taste of Cassata will be different among all the Sicily. For example, you might find the Messinese Cassata variety less sweet than the Palermo version.
One thing that I love about this dessert is the exterior aspect.
According to local traditions, there may be additional ingredients, such as pistachio, pine nuts, chocolate, cinnamon, liqueur, or orange blossom water. One thing in common all the “Cassate” in Sicily is its colorful aspect. Magnificent and shining in whatever bakery you are in.
Iris (Palermo pastries)
Irises are stuffed and fried pastries, typical of Sicilian and especially Palermo pastries.
Irises are made from slightly sweet leavened dough and fried: with a filling that can vary from the most classic filled with cream to ricotta, with chocolate added to those with different creams.
This modern dessert of Sicily has become more popular during the last period.
If you want to rest from the traditional Sicilian dessert and try something different, the Iris may be perfect for you. If you are visiting Palermo, do not think twice, and take your Iris from the first Bar visible to your eyes.
Another traditional Sicilian food I cannot miss in my list of the most famous food in Sicily is Cartocci Siciliani.
Be prepared to increase insulin levels because this dessert is very high in calories.
Although less well-known than cannoli and cassata, they are worth trying in Sicily.
Sicilian cartocci can be likened to de soft cannoli, made from leavened and fried sweet dough stuffed with different fillings. The difference is that they are fried and higher in calories.
If you don’t have a weight problem, you can consider trying this fantastic traditional Sicilian dessert.
Pasta di mandorle
If you are looking for sweets to take back home to remember your stay in Sicily, the almond paste may be the perfect dessert.
It is a sweet made with granulated sugar and almonds, typically used to make cookies and small pastries. There is nothing incredible about them, but bringing them back to your country will remind you of the atmosphere of Sicily.
We have come to the end of this huge list of foods in Sicily.
I hope this article has helped you to better understand the most popular foods to try in Sicily and to better understand the origin of each food. Thank you again for your reading.
Hey, I’m Giovanni, an Italian that lives in Italy and the author of this website! I started this website because I like to travel, discover new places and share my knowledge about Italy with more people worldwide. I love writing about everything regarding Italy, its culture, history, and lifestyle. I hope you found value in whatever article you read, and if you have any remaining questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!