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Imagine you are Marcel Proust at the beginning of his novel In Search of Lost Time, or the feared food critic Anton Ego in Ratatouille, the Pixar masterpiece that won the 2008 Oscars for Best Animated Film. In the exact moment you taste a madeleine dipped in tea or a forkful of ratatouille, your palate is activated you are catapulted back in time, to that first Sunday morning you tried the dessert or to that time when, after falling off your bike, the dinner your mother prepared you somehow seemed to make everything better.

It is this emotion, this involuntary memory flashback, that cousins Nico Virga and Angelo Fascetta had in mind when they opened their restaurant. Located on Via Cavalieri di Malta, behind the Church of San Domenico – known as the Pantheon of Sicilians – Osteria Mangia e Bevi is a charming eatery that offers not only simple home cooking from Palermo, but also a true taste of grandma’s cooking. Grandma Antonietta’s, more specifically.

“I grew up with my grandparents,” says Nico. “My grandmother Antoniette was a great cook, she raised me with the dishes of our tradition. I grew up with this palate; it was her way of coddling me.”

At 16 years old, Nico lost his grandparents. At 19 he began working in the garment industry, which took him around Sicily and the world, but upon reaching the age of 35 he decided to make a change in his life. “I got tired of always being out and eating sandwiches at the gas station,” he recalls, “and I decided to open this place.”

Meanwhile, his cousin Angelo, who also worked in the clothing industry, running two stores, had closed them and moved to Spain following an existential crisis. He returned to Palermo to work as a bartender in his uncle’s restaurant, and as soon as Nico shared with him the idea of opening a restaurant, Angelo jumped on board.

“I had my grandmother Antonietta in mind,” Nico recounts, “In fact, her soul is in here.” They built a menu around the dishes that grandma Antonietta used to cook, staying true to her recipes. For example, at Mangia e Bevi you will not find garlic, not even in the sautéed dishes – precisely because Mrs. Antonietta did not use any in her cooking. Even the suppliers the osteria sources from are the same places where Nico’s grandmother used to go shopping. And the desserts, as well as the bread, are homemade.

When Osteria Mangia e Bevi opened its doors, Nico was in the kitchen and Angelo in the dining room. They furnished and decorated the place with care, managing to create a unique and distinctive style: you will find glass-topped wooden tables inside which dried beans, pasta of different sizes and Sicilian playing cards are displayed in plain view. On a balcony inside the restaurant, clothes are hung to dry, recreating the typical Sicilian urban and home landscape.

After ten years in business, the partners have expanded the space and plan to expand further. They opened a second location in Piazza Marina, following the exact same format. Nowadays, Nico no longer works behind the stove, having delegated the task to his coworkers, but anyone who joins the team at Osteria Mangia e Bevi has only one imperative that they must obey with absolute strictness: absolute fidelity to grandmother Antonietta’s recipes, which are respected to the letter.

“I am for tradition,” Nico states confidently. No gourmet dishes, only typical home cooking: each dish on the menu is a piece of Sicilian history. Here you’ll find the classic eggplant caponata and sarde a beccafico, sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs, pine nuts and raisins. A must-try is the purpiceddi murati, small octopuses drowned in a delicious sauce of peeled tomatoes – don’t forget the classic scarpetta at the end: using bread to soak up the sauce.

Try pasta with broccoli arriminati, a classic, made not with broccoli but with boiled cauliflower cooked with onion, pine nuts and raisins and a touch of tomato. The whole thing is topped with a generous sprinkling of muddica atturrata, breadcrumbs that are toasted in a frying pan and that once upon a time, in the poorer classes of the population, replaced the much more expensive cheese.

Among the main courses, try the mangia e bevi, which gave the osteria its name: rolled spring onions with pork tips, which are traditionally roasted over the fire during picnics in Sicily. Pittinicchi, on the other hand, are pork chops that are slow-cooked in sauce, a real delicacy.

But if there is one dish that represents both Osteria Mangia e Bevi and, more importantly, Sicilian home cooking, it is pasta fritta: fried pasta. Pasta fritta is both irresistibly tasty as well as a brilliant remedy against food waste. It is, very simply, leftover pasta that is fried in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. The result is a kind of large noodle omelet with a black, crispy crust on the outside that tickles any palate. At Osteria Mangia e Bevi you will find it in two variations: spaghetti with tomato sauce and fried eggplant, or again with broccoli arriminati.

It’s a delicious dish – the type that will catapult you into an involuntary flashback, just like Marcel Proust with madeleines in tea or Anton Ego with ratatouille. Except that Osteria Mangia e Bevi’s pasta fritta will make you feel like you’re at grandma’s house, just like when Nico and Angelo were children.

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Francesco CiprianoFrancesco Cipriano

Published on April 03, 2024

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