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After 2023’s surge of tourists across Sicily (fueled, in many ways, by the international success of locally shot series like White Lotus and the upcoming Gattopardo), the new year promises to be a busy one, as more curious travelers are drawn by the stunning landscapes, impressive architecture and, of course, the delectable cuisine.

While some of Palermo’s streets have transformed into tourist hubs full of souvenir shops and eateries, it can be tricky to pick out the most authentic spots. However, within the vast expanse of the city, a little exploration and attention can lead to high-quality, tranquil places that truly honor Sicilian food and ingredients, even on the busiest streets.

Tastes of the Ballarò Market

Start your day by taking a stroll through Ballarò, the city’s oldest and largest market. Smell the aromas, take in the colors and hear the sounds as you’re catapulted into a fascinating dimension reminiscent of a North African souk. It is, in fact, from the Arab domination of the 10th century that the Ballarò market was born, an important site which still retains its customs and characteristics today.

The market stretches from Piazza Casa Professa to Corso Tukory, and here you will find the best local delicacies on display, from fruits and vegetables, to meat and fish, to bread and spices. Don’t be frightened by the vendors’ shouts – this is the abbanniata, the traditional chant used to proclaim the quality of their products.

We suggest you try the cooked food on offer at the market as well: from panelle (chickpea flour fritters) to cazzilli (potato croquettes), as well as batter-fried vegetables such as artichokes and cauliflower, or boiled potatoes and pollanche (boiled corn cobs). Ballarò is a true living monument, an unforgettable experience not to be missed. Francesco Cipriano

Pasta at “Da Basile”

What we like best about Antica Focacceria del Massimo (known locally as “Da Basile”) is the simplicity of the cuisine and setting, a genuine, family atmosphere where you will find workers, students and tourists lined up waiting for a large plate of steaming pasta. It is located right in the center of town, opposite the Massimo Theater. Pasquale and Maria Teresa are the third generation of the family that runs the place. Originally, it specialized in spleen sandwiches, sfincione (Sicilian-style pizza) and arancine (stuffed rice balls), but over time, Maria Teresa introduced several typical Sicilian appetizers and main courses, including large pasta dishes that are prepared in minutes. Each day, you will have about three different pasta options to choose from; from the classic Norma with tomato, fried eggplant and ricotta salata, to pasta with potatoes and peas topped with a generous spoonful of grated cheese. Also try their delicious arancine, fried on the spot to ensure crispy breading and which you will find in two classic flavors: meat (with meat sauce and peas) and butter (with béchamel sauce, ham and mozzarella). Genuine, family-style cuisine that will make you feel at home. Francesco Cipriano

Espresso at Caffè del Corso

If you want to not only enjoy great coffee, but truly understand the rituality and importance of Italian espresso, Caffè del Corso is the place. Run by the legendary Baldo, whose father opened the café back in 1950, Caffè del Corso is located on the very central Via Vittorio Emanuele and specializes in only one thing: espresso. Baldo uses a classic espresso machine with pressure levers, which ensures excellent coffee. This is precisely why it has become a popular meeting point for Palermo residents: no frills or embellishments, products that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and a single man to prepare the coffees and wash the cups (but only when the sink is so full that it overflows) who does not indulge in chats with customers and hardly smiles, focusing on preparing one of the most popular coffees in town. A coffee at Baldo’s, however, is not just a coffee: It is a crash course in local gestures, social norms, codes of behavior – in short, a collective ritual that creates a sense of community. Francesco Cipriano

Classic Spleen Sandwich at Nni Franco u Vastiddaru

The spleen sandwich is a symbol of Palermo, the king of street food. You can order it maritata (married): a round bread bun stuffed with spleen and lung which have been cooked in lard, along with ricotta and caciocavallo cheese. There’s also the schietta (single) version, which is cheese only. One of the most common is the third version, in which a half lemon is sprinkled over the lung and spleen. There are several places in Palermo where you can try delicious spleen sandwiches, but one of our favorites is Nni Franco u Vastiddaru. Opened 30 years ago by Franco Basile, the small locale is now run by his son Fabrizio, who grew up in this friggitoria (fry shop) and carries on his father’s passion for the business. A very casual eatery in the historic center, on the corner of Via Vittorio Emanuele and Piazza Marina, it has a take-out counter and seating both outside and inside. Francesco Cipriano

Aperitivo at Monkey Pub

Piazza Sant’Anna was once the site of the old Lattarini market, a beautiful square in Palermo which today retains few traces of its past. For many years it was used as a huge parking lot under the facade of the church of Sant’Anna la Misericordia, until it was pedestrianized in 2014. Since then, several pubs have sprung up that have revitalized this area of Palermo. Among them is the Monkey, a pub with an underground feel and unpretentious beers and cocktails. What is unique about this place is its ability to gather: On evenings and weekends, the entire square fills with festive activity. It is said that when it rains, Palermitans don’t leave the house – nightlife is lived not inside clubs and bars, but in the streets. It is thanks to this unique dynamic that encounters and friendships are made in Palermo, creating deep relationships. The Monkey also offers free concerts by talented artists, making a name for itself as one of the city’s cultural promoters. A regular event is the Sunday aperitivo at Piazza Sant’Anna around noon. Enjoy a spritz under the winter sun while a trio plays a live jam session. Francesco Cipriano

I Cuochinis Pezzi

Exiting Via Maqueda and surpassing the junction of Via Mariano Stabile at the renowned Quattro Canti (one of Palermo’s most famous intersections) reveals larger streets and the opportunity to discover hidden gems behind the grand doors of the palazzi (buildings). These colossal entryways often conceal spacious courtyards, some, like the one at Via Ruggero Settimo 68, emanating enticing aromas.

Here, at the rear of Palazzo de Stefano’s courtyard is the entrance of I Cuochini, a small shop offering various types of pezzi. In Palermo, pezzi (literally, “pieces”) are an age-old tradition in Sicilian street food. Baked or sometimes fried brioche dough is made from a simple list of ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, lard and yeast. Following this base, a diverse array of fillings and shapes emerges, including mini pizzas, fried pasta with ragù, panzerotti (turnovers), and the beloved crochettina di latte (milk croquettes), a delightful blend of milk and butter encased in a crispy fried coating. While street food is ubiquitous in Palermo, I Cuochini has perfected it, earning a reputation for its rosticceria mignon. While mignon means small, rosticceria encompasses a variety of prepared foods, usually roasted or fried. The downsized rosticceria include petite pastries and bite-sized savory delicacies, all excellently executed at I Cuochini. The shop has even been recognized by the Municipality of Palermo as the inventor of rosticceria mignon, a high honor, indeed. Ségolène Bulot

Fresh Pasta at Pastory

At Pastory for lunch, fresh pasta takes center stage. Fellini’s notion that “La vita è una combinazione di pasta e magia,” (“Life is a combination of pasta and magic”) certainly applies here. Among owner Serena’s grandmother’s Neapolitan pasta recipes, with their ever-surprising twists, was a pumpkin dish introduced in mid-fall. This special edition is called simply zucca e salsiccia (“pumpkin and sausage”) to highlight both the simplicity and the star ingredient of the plate. It incorporates pumpkin, sausages, garlic, rosemary and sage, and is the perfect choice for slightly colder days leading towards the year’s end. Serena and co-owner Tamara not only surprise with their menu but also welcome guests with a particularly cheerful demeanor, a tailored service that mirrors their home-crafted pasta.  – Ségolène Bulot

Kassaros Cassata

As for a delightful dessert, Kassaro’s cassata al forno (oven baked cassata) is a tempting choice. Situated in one of the city’s busiest streets, Kassaro remains a typical place where owner Luccio prepares dishes that stay true to simplicity and tastiness. Chef Emanuele’s specialty, the cassata, is a pie made in-house daily filled with ricotta and chocolate flakes. If you get there around noon and get it warm, you’ll have the flakes melt in your mouth, creating an indulgent experience akin to Baldo’s coffee – a habit that’s hard to give up once started.  – Ségolène Bulot

Local Wines at Bottega Monteleone

We can’t close our tour of the year’s superb bites without a superb drinking place – one where you can also get a good bite! Bottega Monteleone is the undisputed choice. Nestled in a narrow street connecting Via Maqueda with Via Roma, this tiny Enoteca provides a serene atmosphere where all attention can be focused on the wine.

The cozy cavern brims with meticulously chosen Sicilian wines produced in limited quantities, all embracing an organic or natural ethos. Katharina and Angelo, the proprietors, are always ready with recommendations and valuable insights for those uncertain moments. Today, our inclination is towards traditional and natural winemaking methods, opting for an effervescent choice that adds a touch of excitement to the year’s end. We’ve chosen the QB, a naturally sparkling wine crafted entirely from Sicilian Catarratto grapes. The fermentation of this wine occurs spontaneously, and it is bottled with residual sugars 10 days after the onset of fermentation, maturing in acacia barrels for six months. Just a few months of patience, and you’ll have the finest libation for 2024 – until then, cheers!  – Ségolène Bulot

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Francesco Cipriano and Ségolène BulotFrancesco Cipriano and Ségolène Bulot

Published on December 20, 2023

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