Ciao everyone! As most of you know, I have spent most of July and August working on finishing our Italian house renovation. It’s been 2 years of lots of blood, sweat, tears and $$$$, but it is beautiful and worth all the effort. (Read about the renovation here).
Since I have not had a lot of time this year to travel to places I’ve not been in Italy, I decided, like many Italians, to take a weekend during holiday time known as Ferragosto. Most Italians take this time to travel and be with family mid-August. Since my family is not around, I thought that going with my workshop chef, Teri, would be fun, and we could eat our way through the large metropolis of Palermo, Sicily. Teri is Italian, and like many American Italians, she has roots in Sicily.
We rented an Air B&B. Full disclosure: this was not my choice, and I suggest if you’re only going for a weekend and not planning on cooking or buying groceries, a hotel is the way to go. Staying in a hotel also gives one the opportunity to use the concierge services, and if you’re not familiar with a city, it’s a great help. Since we were not familiar with Palermo, I had to do a lot of research about what to see and what was open and of interest in August.
Of course we had to hit the markets. There are 3 main open air markets, and since it was August, they were smaller, so we could see them all in one morning and then head to lunch.
Ballarò: Located a few steps from the Martorana Church and Quattro Canti, the Ballarò market extends from Piazza Ballarò in the Albergheria district (near the medieval church of San Nicolò) along Via Ballarò past Piazza Carmine toward Corso Tukory, roughly parallel to Via Maqueda toward the main train station.
Capo: The Capo market, located behind the Teatro Massimo, extends from Via Porta Carini off Via Volturno near the old city wall toward Piazza Beati Paoli and can also be reached from Via Sant’Agostino, which runs off Via Maqueda, though this section includes various vendors of dry goods and articles rather than food. In many respects, this is the most “atmospheric” and “complete” of Palermo’s street markets.
Vucciria: The Vucciria (from the Norman French “boucherie”), perhaps the favorite Palermitan market for visitors, begins at Piazza San Domenico, off Via Roma, running parallel to Via Roma (from which it is hidden) along Via Maccheronai toward Piazza Caracciolo and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, branching off along Via Argenteria. It is much smaller than the other two markets, having lost many merchants in recent years, it is but a shadow of its former self.
I was so struck by how much the markets reminded me of Marrakech. The Arabic influence in Palermo, especially in the market, was so interesting and made it lively and colorful.
For those of you who love flea markets, there is a great area not to be missed. It’s on Piazza Domenico Peranni and it’s delightful.
With the exception of some Norman-Arab architecture and a number of words in the Sicilian language, the markets are perhaps the best-preserved of Sicily’s Arab traditions. Following in the footsteps of their medieval predecessors, Sicily’s new North African immigrants — a growing presence in Palermo — feel perfectly at home here, and are beginning to establish businesses in the Palermitan “souks.” Palermo is truly a melting pot of not only flavors but cultures.
I suggest you take a tour around town in a surrey like vehicle called an Ape (pronounced Apae). Reserve yours here . I found it was a great way to get a sense of the city in an hour, and they are a blast! Palermo has gorgeous architecture from a fusion of Arab and Norman styles which makes the landscape ethnic and eclectic. Read more about the history here. Safe to say it was stunning.
A word about food: The markets have many street food vendors. They make a variety of Sicilan specialties, like fried chick pea cakes served as a sandwich, lots of offal fried as well. Along any street you can find Arancini the symbol of Sicilian street food. An Arancino is a saffron rice ball stuffed with a filling like cheese, ragu or sausage breaded and fried. It’s basically Italian junk food. Katie Parla does a great job describing the offerings of offial, anancini, pastries and the rest read about it here.
Since it was August, the markets were downsized, so not a lot of street food was really available. However, we did find the most amazing place while walking to the Botanical Gardens our last day. Thanks to my eagle eye (when it comes to food and props:-)), I noticed all the locals holding a arancino the size of their head filled with piping hot ragu, I said to myself I gotta try one. Full disclosure: since we did not have the best introduction to arancino, even though our AirB&B host gave us a list of local favorites, the street food for me was underwhelming. And a little warning: if you’re not a fan of fried food or cheese filled desserts (which I am not), you may not love the food here. Although there is a great selection of seafood and yummy pastas for those not too keen on eating street food. Bar Touring serves the Arancino Bomba, and it is truly the bomb in every sense of the word. It was the best arancino I tried the entire weekend.
My suggestion is to have one, then walk it off it the beautiful Botanical Gardens, and in midday in the heat of the day, it is a lovely, shaded wander indeed.
We did find a terrific place to perch to have an aperitivo or 2 in a very patina-ed part of the city. Bar Garabaldi has a lively crowd and great bar menu.
Note: taxis are not cheap, so if you dare, rent a car. It’s cheaper than taxis and is a great way to drive out of the heat of the city and to one of the many beach towns on the island. I did just that. I rented a car, and I drove us to Cefalu a gorgeous beach town about a 1 hour drive. Once you make your way out of Palermo, it’s quite a pleasant trip. Parking was quite easy, too. You just wind down to the boardwalk, and there is a big parking area. We grabbed lunch on the seaside, and then headed to one of the many beach clubs to enjoy the breeze and the sea. I highly recommend it.
It’s safe to say I will go back. I really feel like I just dipped my baby toe into the Sicilian landscape and all it has to offer. A weekend trip is too little time to explore this beautiful island.
All italy Notes from Italy Personal Travel Uncategorized Workshops : Tags: annette joseph, excursions, italian riviera, Italian travel, italy, Palermo, resources, Sicily, summer, travel