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Each region of Italy has its own distinctive cuisine, and food in Sicily is especially full of surprises. Bread is topped with sesame seeds, couscous is found next to pasta on menus, raisins turn up in spaghetti, and gelato is eaten stuffed in a brioche bun—for breakfast.
It’s no wonder that traditional Sicilian food feels different from what you find further north. The island is closer to Tunis than to Rome and has absorbed influences from its many invaders including the Greeks, Arabs, Normans, and Spanish.
Unsurprisingly for an island, fish features heavily on the typical Sicilian menu, and we didn’t find it as vegetarian-friendly as Puglia, our favourite Italian region for eating. We always managed to find something on menus, though, often involving melanzana (aubergine/eggplant). Vegans will have to ask for the pasta dishes without cheese.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll be spoilt in Sicily. Sicilians pride themselves on their sweet decadent pastries, then there are refreshing granite from local lemons and mulberry fruits, and creamy gelato from pistachios grown on the island.
These Sicilian dishes were our favourites from our seven weeks in Sicily and include snacks, pasta, desserts, and drinks. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find our Sicily restaurant recommendations.
- 1) Pane con Panelle
- 2) Pane Cunzato
- 3) Arancini
- 4) Caponata
- 5) Sicilian Antipasti Buffet at Zia Pina
- 6) Parmigiana di Melanzane
- 7) Pasta alla Norma
- 8) Busiate alla Trapanese
- 9) Pasta cu Maccu
- 10) Pasta Chi Vruoccoli Arriminata
- 11) Spaghetti with Capers
- 12) Cannoli
- 13) Cassata
- 14) Frutta Martorana
- 15) Gelato in Brioche
- 16) Granita
- 17) Malvasia Wine
- 18) Digestivo
- Best Restaurants in Sicily
- Sicily Food Tours
- More Sicily Tips
1) Pane con Panelle
Sicilian street food is popular in Palermo but most of it is not vegetarian-friendly (think spleen and sheep’s intestines). One thing we could indulge in was panelle or chickpea fritters.
We often ate these delicious melt in the mouth fried snacks as an antipasto (starter) in restaurants or as pane con panelle on the street stuffed in a sesame seed roll.
We found good versions in the Ballaro market and at Franco u’ Vastiddaro near Piazza Marina where we enjoyed the Triplo with panelle, potato croquettes, and aubergine.
2) Pane Cunzato
We ate pane cunzato at the legendary Da Alfredo’s cafe in Lingua village on the gorgeous Salina island. These open top sandwiches are huge (more than enough for two to share) and we opted for the misto without tuna.
The bread base was overflowing with cherry and sun-dried tomatoes, marinated aubergine, capers, olives, mozzarella, and lots of olive oil.
Arancini are the most famous Sicilian snack. These deep-fried rice balls are often filled with meat, but you can also find them with vegetarian fillings. We enjoyed them stuffed with mozzarella and caper pesto and Alla Norma (with aubergine, tomato and ricotta) on Salina.
Caponata is a very typical Sicilian antipasto found on most menus. It’s a deliciously tangy, sweet and sour mix of fried aubergine, tomatoes, capers, and vinegar, usually served at room temperature. Perfect for vegetarians and vegans in Sicily.
5) Sicilian Antipasti Buffet at Zia Pina
Eating at Zia Pina is a classic Palermo experience. This simple restaurant near Vucciria market has paper tablecloths, no menu, and the “bread basket” consists of a whole sesame baguette plonked on the table.
The huge antipasti buffet is the highlight. Even skipping all the seafood we had a variety of vegetables, cheeses, and salads to choose from, especially aubergine in many forms—grilled, stuffed, cooked in tomatoes, and topped with breadcrumbs.
6) Parmigiana di Melanzane
My favourite Italian dish parmigiana di melanzane, layers of baked aubergine, tomato sauce and cheese, is popular all over Italy, but apparently originates in Sicily (although Naples also claims it as their own). Don’t miss this classic Sicilian dish.
7) Pasta alla Norma
8) Busiate alla Trapanese
Another wonderful vegetarian pasta dish is with pesto Trapanese from the city of Trapani. This typical Sicilian food is made with fresh tomatoes, almonds, garlic and basil, and is usually served with busiate, a long twisty fresh pasta from the area.
This version at Caupona Taverna di Sicilia in Trapani was topped with breadcrumbs and grilled aubergine.
9) Pasta cu Maccu
You are automatically signed up for a tasting menu (we didn’t realise this on our first visit), so wine and water are unlimited, an array of starters, dessert, and digestivi are brought out, and you choose your main course from the menu. At 20-25 euros a person it’s a bargain.
10) Pasta Chi Vruoccoli Arriminata
11) Spaghetti with Capers
Capers are grown on the island of Salina so they feature heavily on the menu there. We ate them made into a pesto with mint, parsley and pecorino cheese, and with a simple tomato sauce at A’Lumeredda in Malfa.
We didn’t try cassata until one of our last days in Sicily as the bright green mounds didn’t look very appetising, but they are surprisingly tasty. This super sweet dessert consists of sponge cake moistened with liqueur, ricotta, and candied fruit covered in green marzipan and icing.
14) Frutta Martorana
15) Gelato in Brioche
Gelato in Sicily is served in cones or stuffed in large sweet brioche buns and often eaten for breakfast in the hot summer months. My favourite gelato flavour in Sicily was pistachio and our most frequent gelato stop was Cafe Spinnato in Palermo.
A refreshing sorbet-like mix of ice, fruit and sugar. In Sicily it’s thicker than elsewhere in Italy so is eaten with a spoon rather than drunk through a straw. I liked the lemon and black mulberry (gelsi) flavours.
17) Malvasia Wine
Sicilians like to end a meal with a digestivo liqueur to help aid digestion. We were surprised at Trattoria Altri Tempi in Palermo when at the end of the meal they placed bottles of their homemade fennel, bay leaf, and lemon digestivi on the table for us to help ourselves. The perfect way to end the meal.
Best Restaurants in Sicily
These are the places we recommend to try Sicilian cuisine on the island.
The Best Restaurants in Palermo
- Trattoria Altri Tempi, Via Sammartino 65, Palermo – Go hungry as you’ll be served lots of food and drinks with their fixed menu.
- Franco u’ Vastiddaru, Via Vittorio Emanuele 102 (near Piazza Marina), Palermo – Variety of panelle sandwiches.
- Zia Pina, Via Cassari 69, Palermo – Go for the extensive Sicilian antipasti buffet.
- Antico Caffe Spinnato, Via Principe di Belmonte 111, Palermo – Delicious pastries and gelato.
- Caupona Taverna di Sicilia, Via San Francesco D’Assisi (Piazza Purgatorio), Trapani – Excellent, slightly upmarket food on a quiet street across from a church.
- Agriturismo Tarantola, near Alcamo – You can stay the night at this farm or book in advance for wine tasting and a delicious meal.
Salina, Aeolian Islands
- Da Alfredo’s, Lingua, Salina – The place to go for pane cunzato and granite.
- A’Lumeredda, Via San Lorenzo 11, Malfa – Our favourite restaurant in this little village.
Sicily Food Tours
One of the best ways to learn about Sicilian cuisine is to take a food tour like the following:
- A three-hour Palermo food tour that includes street food tastings and market visits.
- A food and wine walking tour of Syracuse.
- A food and wine tour of Mount Etna including a visit to a family-run winery.
More Sicily Tips
- For a primer on eating etiquette in Italy, check out our dos and don’ts guide to eating in Italy.
- Discover the best places to visit in Sicily.
- Escape the crowds on peaceful Salina in the Aeolian Islands.
- Climb the Stromboli volcano for a unique travel experience.
- Read what it’s like to live in Palermo for a month.