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Sicily has a millennial history that has integrated many different cultures, and Palermo’s culinary scene is the highest expression of this. Here, each dish is not only a simple assemblage of different ingredients, but a living story that wants to be told and savored. Traditional Sicilian cuisine was born from the food of the poor, made from the scraps that the nobles threw away. From this, necessity has been made a virtue; from poverty, the richness of gastronomic creativity has blossomed. This can still be seen today, in the home-style cooking of the old downtown eateries, the sizzling grills of the city’s street food, the sugary assortment of Sicilian pastries.
By publishing the stories of our local heroes, visiting them on culinary tours, or directly fundraising for them when they are in need, we attempt to honor their work and their essential role in maintaining the fabric of the city. Our purpose is twofold. Yes, we want to get travelers to some good places to eat. But we also want to make sure that some of these spots and the artisans making food there find a new audience and get the recognition and support they deserve. They are holding back the tide of globalized sameness, which is not easy work – even if it’s done unknowingly. But we believe that every meal counts and, with the help of our audience, they will add up. We are committed to their perseverance and hope that our modest efforts encourage them to keep at it. Our work is also guided by a belief in: Honest Tourism: The places where we eat and craftsmen that we feature on our culinary tours are all selected with this purpose in mind. We’d never accept a free lunch or consider a discount for our tour groups, because that would contradict our central goal, to support them. Nor do our guides receive any commissions from shopkeepers. Honest Journalism: The same principal is applied to the publishing of stories. There are no sponsored posts or even advertising on CB. The writers and photographers are paid fairly for their work on stories that we all believe in.
The cities we are drawn to all have a culinary tradition of untold richness as well as a certain tension, be it political instability, the tug between East and West, the clash between modern and ancient identities, migration, rapid gentrification, bankruptcy, or a post-colonial hangover. Our decision to get started in a city is always the result of a trip filled with many meals where we are given in intimate view of that tension, right there on the table. By getting lost in this warren of independent food purveyors struggling to preserve or adapt tradition in fast-paced urban life, we start to discover the deep complexity and true flavor of the city. At present, you’ll find our regular dispatches from Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Marseille, Mexico City, Naples, Porto, Queens (NY), Shanghai, Tbilisi and Tokyo.
As travel to most of the cities where we work has resumed, Culinary Backstreets is working with a new set of safety guidelines designed for the physical well-being of our guests, guides and members of the local community that we encounter. These guidelines have been developed in line with the best practices published by governments and health officials in the countries where CB works with regard to restaurant and tour and trip operation. With these procedures in place, our guests — led by our team of professional guides, who are being trained accordingly — can explore with peace of mind. The new procedures we are instituting include:
Culinary Backstreets’ mission has always been to preserve, protect and celebrate local culinary traditions and the unsung heroes of the kitchen. Now, more than ever, we remain focused on this goal. These days, we are paying close attention to the physical, economic and psychological well-being of the local communities and the people who keep them fed. We view this as an opportunity for cities to develop a tourism model that makes sense for them and that avoids the mistakes of the past, and for companies like Culinary Backstreets to be part of that process by renewing our commitment to a more sustainable way of traveling and working. By joining our tours and trips, you are contributing to this effort, which includes:
Culinary Backstreets is offering maximum flexibility for our guests, as we realize that travel this summer and fall might involve unexpected cancellations or postponements. So that our guests can book with confidence, we are putting in place the following cancelation policies:
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Tour the Backstreets of Palermo With Us
Beyond Gelato: Neighborhood by Neighborhood, Bite by Bite
Our Backstreets Envoys, Always Searching for the Next Hidden Gem
Enrica, Palermo Walk Leader
Enrica is a professional guide and an art historian by training, with a deep interest in the work of self-taught artists outside of the mainstream. In Palermo, she has her eye on street art and other unconventional creative spaces, but also on the everyday masterpieces created in the city’s kitchens. And in her kitchen it’s all about dough. She loves to make bread, brioche, pizza and pasta as her grandmother taught her, passing down family recipes – orally, never written. A proud Palermitana, Enrica became a guide to show curious travelers the hidden beauty of her island, from lesser-known works of art to market stalls.
Maria Luisa, Palermo Walk Leader
Maria Luisa, a native Sicilian and a professional culinary guide, has been an awestruck student of her enchanting island since she can first remember. She grew up touching the carvings on baroque facades, gazing up at Byzantine mosaics and traveling to the far corners of Sicily where, of course, there was much to learn around the dinner table. In the kitchen, her grandmother was her mentor, teaching her how to knead dough to make bread, how to forage for wild plants and how to appreciate a good glass of wine. When not in her own kitchen, Maria Luisa is happiest seated in front of a plate of pasta with sardines in a simple family-style restaurant in Palermo with friends and family or sharing the experience with visitors to the city.
Francesco, Palermo Correspondent and Photographer
Francesco is a writer and photographer born in New York to a family of Sicilian immigrants who then moved to Switzerland until finally returning to Sicily, which has since – despite several attempts to escape – been that place that feels like home. Writing about this land, its people and its history serves for him both as a way to escape and to stay.
Ségolène, Palermo Correspondent
Born in France, Ségolène has developed a taste for travel combined with a curiosity for new and exquisite flavors. Having moved several times around the globe, with stints in Cyprus, Italy, Germany and India, she offers a unique point of view through her in-depth analysis of territories and space, thanks to her background in sociology and anthropology. Currently based in Palermo, Ségolène’s explorations of the city are guided by her culinary and research interests.
Native Sicilian, Francesca is an art historian specializing on the middle ages who co-wrote a book on the Spanish Inquisition. But as a culinary tour guide, she is equally passionate about Sicilian cuisine, bringing a researcher’s curiosity to her exploration of Palermo’s kitchen. Like most Sicilians, she grew up in the kitchen of her mother and grandmother, learning the rituals of family meals and the recipes handed down through generations, like her grandmother’s pasta con le sarde, the iconic Sicilian sardine pasta. Ask her where to eat in town and she’ll probably send you to her local trattoria, Mangia e Bevi, for a polipetti muratuti. And you should trust her.
Born and raised in Palermo, Paola has spent every day of her life immersed in the culture of her city. Palermo’s baroque piazzas felt like her backyard and the city’s Norman cathedrals were her playgrounds. Being a tour guide with a background in architecture and a doctorate in museum studies, she is passionate about combining cultural heritage, local history and storytelling. She has also been able to reap the benefits of growing up with a mother who knows how to perfectly prepare Sicilian pasta, bread and pastries. If life is a banquet, then Paola believes there’s no better place to enjoy its food than in Palermo!
CB’s work was started in 2009 by Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer as a humble food blog called Istanbul Eats. The following year we published a book of our reviews, now in its fifth edition. That year we also launched our first culinary walk in Istanbul, a route we are still using today. In 2012, we realized that what we built in Istanbul was needed in other cities we knew and loved. We started CB that year with Athens, Barcelona, Mexico City and Shanghai as pioneering members of our network. In 2013, we added Rio and also launched our iPhone application in Istanbul. In 2015, Tokyo and Tbilisi came into the fold. That year we published mini-guides to Barcelona and Athens and also launched an iPhone application in those cities. Our Eatinerary service, which provides travelers with tailor-made culinary travel itineraries, was also launched in 2015. In 2016, Lisbon – the latest city to kindle our curiosity – joined the CB network. In 2017 we added Naples and Queens, NY – two places with very compelling stories to tell – to our roster and also published full-size eating guides to Athens and Barcelona. In 2018, Porto joined the list of cities we cover.
Where is Palermo?
Palermo is the capital of Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, separated from the Italian peninsula by the Strait of Messina. On the northwest of the island, its wide gulf faces the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is Sicily’s most-populated city, with around one million people. The name Palermo comes from Greek and means “all port.” This port city has had a host of different conquerors who have contributed to its many-layered heritage overtime – making Palermo a rich cultural capital in a country already steeped in history.
What are the best things to do in Palermo?
Palermo is soaked in history, art, architecture, culture and good food. The attractions are many, and can please people of all ages, starting fro the UNESCO monuments of the Arab-Norman Itinerary. A stroll in the old town will be unforgettable. Take in the exquisite marble statues of the Fountain of Shame and walk along the seafront at the Cala, the former harbor of Palermo, sipping your Sicilian wine for an aperitivo and admiring the view of Mount Pellegrino, one of the most iconic places in Palermo. Adventurous ones can get lost in the narrow alleys surrounding the historic markets of Palermo, which are for sure not to be missed.
When is the best time of year to visit Palermo?
The best time to discover Palermo is spring and fall because of the mild temperatures, even if it is possible to visit Palermo year-round. Some places will be closed in January and February as it is considered low season, but the main monuments are always open to the public.
What is the weather like in Palermo?
The climate in Palermo is Mediterranean, with very mild winters and warm, sunny summers. The Sirocco, a wind from Africa, is capable of raising the temperature by several degrees, sometimes pushing the thermometer past 65 F in winter and 100 F in summer.
Is Palermo expensive?
Palermo is relatively cheap compared to many major cities worldwide, especially in Europe or the US. You can have an Italian breakfast for one person from 3 to 5 euros (cappuccino and pastry). Restaurants can be cheap or expensive according to the area but, usually, it is possible to buy a main course meal for 15-20 euros (drink and service included). Street food is very cheap at the market and it is possible to buy a traditional bite for just 2 euros. The average price for a coffee is 1-1.50, and a draft beer is about 4 euros.
Is Palermo safe?
Compared to other cities, Palermo is very safe. The Palermitani are friendly and welcoming people. Violent crime in the city is rare, but petty crimes such as pickpocketing can be a nuisance in the market areas. People walk around late at night just as they do during the day, though it’s better to avoid isolated streets or alleys.
What is the best food in Palermo?
Palermo is world famous for street food. Everywhere on the streets and in the markets you can buy arancine or panelle and crocché, spending no more than 2 euros. There is no shortage of beautiful restaurants where you can discover other traditional dishes that make Palermo’s cuisine unique. Whether in the more traditional family-run restaurants, to the more-chic restaurants with a sea view, it will be possible to enjoy an eggplant Caponata or a pasta dish with sardines. Not to be forgotten are the cannolo or cassata, which will add an addictively sweet touch to your holidays.
Where is the best place to stay in Palermo?
Although it is the capital of Sicily, Palermo is relatively small compared to other Italian cities such as Rome and Milan. The city center remains the best place to stay in Palermo while on vacation. From the old town to the more bourgeois districts, there are excellent hotels and B&Bs from which you can walk to all the main sites. We most recommend the area around the Politeama Theater and Massimo Theater.
What is the COVID-19 situation in Palermo?
Palermo’s vaccination rate is at about 70%. Masks are no longer required, and no specific mandates are in place. As of June 1, 2022, the Green Pass or other equivalent certification is no longer required for entry/return to Italy from abroad.
Can Americans travel to Palermo?
There is no need for Americans to obtain a visa to enter Italy for trips of less than three months.
Can I fly directly to Palermo?
Direct flights between the United States and Palermo Airport (PMO) are infrequent. Usually, a stopover at major Italian airports such as Rome Fiumicino or Milan Malpensa – or main European airports – is required before connecting to Palermo. It may be possible to find direct flights from JFK to Palermo.
What is the best restaurant in Palermo?
In Palermo, restaurants are one of the best attractions. From the historic center to the suburbs, all restaurants compete with each other in terms of food quality and deliciousness. While the list is long, right now we love Buatta for typical Sicilian cuisine and Osteria Mercede for the best seafood.
Are there beaches in Palermo?
Three-quarters of Palermo is surrounded by mountains, and its gulf opens to the Tyrrhenian Sea. You can enjoy a beautiful seaside promenade within walking distance of the historic center. The nearest beach is about 15 minutes from the city: Mondello, one of the most famous in Sicily, with kilometers of fine white sand. The beach can be reached by car, cab or bus (No. 806) that leaves the center every half hour.
Is Palermo suitable for children?
Sicilians love children, and Palermo is a diverting city with much to do and eat for children of any age. The city’s cobblestone streets and crowds can make walking with a stroller difficult, but there are many parks and gardens, as well as children’s activities in the city’s major museums.