Sign up with email

or

Already a member? Log in.

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

Editors note: In the latest installment of our recurring First Stop feature, we asked food writer Katie Parla about her favorite bites and food memories in Palermo. Katie is a Rome-based food and beverage writer, culinary guide, and bestselling cookbook author whose family emigrated to the United States from Palermo.

 Katie’s work explores the food, culture, and history that shape Italy and its cuisine. Her new book, Food of the Italian Islands, is a deep dive into the food of Sicily, Sardinia, and beyond.

I first visited Palermo as a university student more than 20 years ago. I was in Italy on a travel fellowship for thesis research so I decided to roll a study trip and an ancestral quest into one. I arrived in town in the peak of summer after a very long and very hot overnight train ride from Rome. When I hit the pavement in the thick Palermo heat, I headed straight for La Cala, the port neighborhood in which my great grandfather Niccolò was born, his mother died, his father remarried, and the new family packed all their belongings for a one-way trip to New York in 1906. Standing at the water’s edge, I wondered what Niccolò would think about me being there alone. Had he eaten panelle (chickpea fritters) from a street vendor’s stall on this very spot?

Food was on my mind that morning in a major way. As an inexperienced traveler, I had neglected to pack any food for my train journey and if there was a bar car, I never found it. I hightailed it to the first storefront I saw, one with white plastic tables and chairs overlooking the small port. A crowd of middle-aged men, all vaguely resembling great-uncles, were eating sandwiches on the pavement. Inside at the blue and white tiled counter, slices of meusa, spleen in Palermo’s dialect, swam in lard in large metal drums. Meanwhile, steaming rectangles of panelle were dumped from the fryer basket onto a stainless steel tray, then sprinkled with a heavy dose of salt from a greasy metal container.

I ordered the panelle with potato croquettes – I was still an Italy rookie but I had figured out that if there was an option for double or triple carbs, I should go for it – and they were piled into a seeded sesame bun, wrapped in white paper, then shoved in my direction. I handed over some lira bills and ate my panelle e crocche’ sandwich overlooking the water where I imagined Niccolò had once played, sailboats now bobbing where small fishing vessels would have been moored a century earlier.

Niccolò never did return to the Cala, but every time I visit Palermo, I do. My first stop is always to that hole-in-the-wall, which I now know is called Pani Cà Meusa Porta Carbone. My order has changed since. I let the name of the establishment guide me – pani cà meusa means “spleen sandwich.” The decor has also changed, after a July 2023 renovation. There is a TV screen that broadcasts the menu. New bright lighting reflects off the glistening strips of lard-drenched meusa. The chipped, blue tiled counter has a sleek new look. But the food is just how it has been since opening in 1943 and the pigeons that graze and weave amongst the tables are just as plump.

Katie’s new book, Food of the Italian Islands, is available via Amazon and Katie’s website.

  • John’s Pizzeria: A Slice of NostalgiaFebruary 15, 2023 John’s Pizzeria: A Slice of Nostalgia (0)
    The eye-catching vintage sign proclaims: “ohn’s Pizzeria.” The letters in “Pizzeria” are […] Posted in Queens
  • RecipeOctober 30, 2020 Recipe (0)
    I can’t think of a more comforting dish than soup. It can be as simple or complex as you […] Posted in Athens
  • Los AngelesNovember 18, 2021 Los Angeles (0)
    It’s Sunday morning in Los Angeles. Behind the white door of a single-story house […] Posted in Los Angeles

Published on October 11, 2023

Related stories

February 15, 2023

John’s Pizzeria: A Slice of Nostalgia

Queens | By Ike Allen
QueensThe eye-catching vintage sign proclaims: “ohn’s Pizzeria.” The letters in “Pizzeria” are in the bold carnivalesque font that decorates many decades-old slice joints in New York. As for “ohn’s,” it’s missing a one-of-a-kind flourishing cursive capital letter. “The J fell off,” says Susan Bagali, while ladling sauce onto a Sicilian pie behind the counter. “I…
chicken avgolemono soup
October 30, 2020

Recipe: Chicken Avgolemono Soup

Athens | By Carolina Doriti
AthensI can’t think of a more comforting dish than soup. It can be as simple or complex as you wish, and as cheap or expensive as you can afford. Just open your fridge or pantry, and you’re sure to find something to turn into a liquid meal – vegetables, herbs, spices, meat, poultry, seafood, grains, legumes……
November 18, 2021

Los Angeles: State of the Stomach 2021

Los Angeles | By Hadley Tomicki
Los AngelesIt’s Sunday morning in Los Angeles. Behind the white door of a single-story house that blends in with its suburban neighbors, Jalia Walusimbi starts her day as she does every other.  Stripping the tough green skins from a cluster of plantains, she plunks the peeled fruit into a boiling pot to prepare a dish of…
Select your currency
USD United States (US) dollar
EUR Euro