Last updated on November 21st, 2023
It’s true, Sicily is 100% worth the hype. The scenery is unbeatable, the culture is rich, the history is fascinating and the food, well…it’s off-the-charts.
I have been to Sicily countless times over the years, each time with a new perspective and scopo, or goal in mind. I always indulge in Sicily’s cuisine.
Whether you are a student, parent, lone traveler or with a tour group – keep this guide to traditional Sicilian food handy!
There is so much to know about Sicilian cuisine, but let’s keep it simple. Read on for:
- A brief summary of what Sicilian food is
- 10 best street foods
- Top Sicilian dishes + short descriptions
- Food pronunciation
- Restaurant, bakery and bar recommendations
- Additional flavors and products to keep an eye out for
Jump to Section
What is Sicilian Food?
Sicily is a true melting pot from about every angle at which you look at it – including its food. If you ask a Sicilian a bit about themselves he or she will most likely proudly state that what they first and foremost are is Sicilian, not to be confused with Italian. Sicilians have their own identity, independent from the rest of Italy, as does their food.
Sicily has been conquered and governed by several nations over time, including North Africa rulers, the Islamic Moors, Greeks, Romans, Normans and the Spanish, just to name a few. Thus, we see the direct influences from Arabia, Africa and Spain, all of which have helped to shape and define Sicilian cuisine over the centuries.
Seafood is a huge part of the local diet, along with seasonal vegetables and citrus fruits. Food is often cooked in lots of oil and the sweet and sour flavor combination is a common thread throughout the region. Frying is also a popular way to prepare food.
Top 10 Sicilian Street Foods
I can’t even begin to emphasize how varied and delicious the street food is in Sicily. At small restaurants and in the local open air markets, you can get your hands on some of the most authentic and unique street food Sicily has to offer.
Foodie Experience: Eating street food in Palermo is one of our foodie experiences in Italy. Read more in Italy Foodie Bucket List – 17 Amazing Italian Culinary Experiences by Region
(Pronounced ahr-ahn-chee-nee in Italian)
Creamy risotto that has been formed into a ball, stuffed with some kind of filling, breaded and deep fried. Did I get your attention? The fillings range from mozzarella and vegetables to ragù and peas to ham and cheese. You can either sit down and order them in a restaurant or pick them up as street food.
We Recommend: Pasticceria Savia (Catania) for fantastic arancini.
2. Pane con Panelle
(Pronounced pah-neh cohn pahn-nehl-leh in Italian)
A sandwich made from fried chickpea fritters. You can also order the panelle without the bread and eat them as is.
(Pronounced cahr-tohch-chah-tah in Italian)
This stuffed pizza, similar to a calzone, is originally from Catania. The most traditional way to make cartocciata is with tomato and mozzarella but they are also made with combinations of mushrooms, eggs, cured meats and fried eggplant.
If you like cartocciata, you should get your hands on some panzerotti.
(Pronounced crohk-keh in Italian)
This fried snack is made from mashed potatoes, eggs, Parmigiano and parsley or mint which is formed into an oval shape and deep fried until golden. Sometimes they’re made with prosciutto or salami.
(Pronounced steeg-ghee-ohl-ah in Italian)
A very traditional snack of lamb innards seasoned with parsley, wrapped around a leek and grilled on a skewer. When they come off the grill, they are cut into pieces and squeezed with fresh lemon juice.
Top Picks: For various street foods head to Vucciria, a street market in downtown Palermo that has not only great produce vendors but also street food and fun nightlife and cocktails.
6. Pane con la Milza
(Pronounced pah-neh cohn lah mill-zah in Italian)
Also called pani ca meusa, this is a very popular sandwich in Palermo made from the lung, trachea and spleen of veal, which is boiled, fried in lard and simmered in a sauce of garlic, chili peppers and white wine. The whole thing is served on white bread topped with sesame seeds called vastedda.
Ask for it either maritatu, meaning “married” with ricotta or caciocavallo, or schettu with a generous squeeze of lemon.
(Pronounced sfeen-chohn-eh in Italian)
This Sicilian pizza is more like a rectangle or square piece of fluffy focaccia. It’s typically topped with tomato sauce, onions, anchovies, oregano and caciocavallo cheese. You can easily find these from little street vendors, especially in Palermo.
8. Polpo Bollito
(Pronounced pohl-poh bohl-leet-oh in Italian)
Called vugghiutu by the locals, this street food is particularly common on coastal towns. You will see market stalls full of fresh large and baby octopus just waiting to be boiled or fried, served with lemon juice.
9. Granita con Brioche
(Pronounced grah-nee-tah cohn bree-osh in Italian)
Leave it to Sicily to make it tradition to eat a giant fresh brioche with a bowl or cup of granita. Granita is frozen, crushed ice flavored with sugar and some kind of fruit juice or coffee.
The most popular granita flavors are limone (lemon), caffè (coffee) and mandorla (almond). And don’t forget to order an espresso with it!
We Recommend: Pasticceria Costa (Palermo) for great granite.
(Pronounced cahn-noh-lee in Italian)
This is the classic dessert in Sicily. You can certainly eat this sitting down, but it’s often eaten as street food.
Rooted in Arab tradition, these dried pastry shells are filled with either a cow’s or sheep’s milk ricotta filling (I prefer sheep’s milk). The trick to identifying the good ones is if they fill them on the spot for you with the ricotta cream (if they are pre-filled they get soggy!). They come in various flavors and with toppings like pistachio, hazelnut and chocolate.
Tip: Thirsty after all this street food? Wash it all down with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice available from various street vendors.
Authentic Sicilian Dishes
Pasta alla Norma
(Pronounced pah-stah ahl-lah nohr-mah in Italian)
No dish better encompasses Sicilian tradition of cooking with local produce better than this pasta dish named after the 19th-century opera, Norma by Vincenzo Bellini. Tomatoes, garlic and basil are cooked with fried eggplant into a silky sauce. The sauce is served over pasta and finished with grated ricotta salata, a hard ricotta cheese.
We Recommend: Nuova Trattoria del Forestiero (Catania) is known to have the best pasta alla norma around.
Pasta con le Sarde
(Pronounced pah-stah cohn leh sahr-deh in Italian)
An amazing pasta for fish lovers. Fresh sardines, anchovies and wild fennel are cooked down into a sauce and then pine nuts, raisins and saffron are added. Finally, the sauce is mixed with bucatini (here we see North African influences). Some places sprinkle pan-fried breadcrumbs or almonds on top before serving.
We Recommend: Zia Pina is a classic Palermo restaurant located downtown near the Vucciria market. It’s easy-going, quick and reliable.
Timballo di Anelletti
(Pronounced teem-bahl-loh dee ahn-rhl-leht-tee in Italian)
If you like to try new things, timballo di anelletti is for you. It’s a pasta cake encased in slices of fried eggplant, held together in a bundt pan. Inside, anelletti pasta is layered with ragù, grated pecorino, mortadella or ham and mozzarella. Add one more layer and the whole thing is finished off in the oven before being flipped over and served room temperature.
Pasta alla Carrettiera
(Pronounced pah-stah ahl-lah cahr-reht-tee-ehr-ah in Italian)
Pasta alla carrettiera is a very simple spaghetti dressed in a sauce made from tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, chili peppers, parsley and pecorino cheese.
Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare
(Pronounced spah-geht-tee ahy reech-chee dee mah-reh in Italian)
Typically made with spaghetti, this pasta can also be made with linguine. The pasta is dressed in a sauce made from sea urchins, which are gently-cooked (to keep them tender and preserve their texture) with olive oil, garlic, and salt. Lemon wedges are sometimes served on the side.
Pasta con le Fave
(Pronounced pah-stah cohn leh fah-veh in Italian)
Called pasta u maccu by the locals, this pasta from Catania is hearty and vegetarian, made by cooking broken up spaghetti directly in a broad bean purée.
Pasta Chi Vruoccoli Arriminati
(Pronounced pah-stah kee vroo-ohk-coh-lee ahr-ree-mee-nah-tee in Italian)
Bucatini pasta is served with a sauce made from mashed cauliflower, raisins, and breadcrumbs.
(Pronounced pah-stah nnn-cah-shah-tah in Italian)
This is pasta baked in a springform pan line with breadcrumbs that is then inverted before serving. Penne or rigatoni are dressed in either a tomato sauce (typical of Palermo) or ragù (typical of Messina) and tossed with pieces of fried eggplant, caciocavallo or mozzarella cheese and bechamel sauce. It is then baked until hot and served at room temperature.
Sarde a Beccafico
(Pronounced sahr-deh ah behk-cah-fee-coh in Italian)
Sicily is famous for its enormous sardines and no plate shows them off better than this one. The sardines are stuffed with a sweet and salty combination of pine nuts, raisins and breadcrumbs before being covered in a citrus sauce and baked with lots of bay leaves.
Pesto alla Trapanese
(Pronounced peh-stoh ahl-lah trah-pah-neh-seh in Italian)
Commonly eaten in Trapani, this pesto is made with almonds, tomatoes, basil, garlic and pecorino cheese, preferably with a pestle and mortar. It is traditionally served with busiate, a pasta similar to fusilli.
(Pronounced frah-shah-too-lah in Italian)
The perfect polenta dish for the winter months. Frascatula is cooked with seasonal vegetables such as swiss chard or turnip greens and it’s sometimes served with sausage.
Involtini di Pesce Spada
(Pronounced een-vohl-tee-nee dee pesh-eh spah-dah in Italian)
Thin slices of locally fished swordfish are rolled up with capers, pine nuts, raisins, olives and lemon before being baked, fried or grilled. This is one of the best ways Sicilians prepare swordfish!
Pesce Spada alla Siciliana
(Pronounced pesh-eh spah-dah ahl-lah see-see-lee-ah-nah in Italian)
This dish is a classic way to enjoy meaty swordfish. The filets are served with a sauce made from capers, olives, cherry tomatoes, swordfish steaks, garlic, celery, vinegar, pine nuts, and olive oil.
Don’t Miss: The fish market La Pescheria in Catania features fresh seafood, cheese, and local wines. Not only is this a wonderful place to buy and to try different local foods, the fish market is an experience in itself and one to be remembered!
(Pronounced fahl-soh-mah-groh in Italian)
This popular secondo, dating back to the Middle Ages, is rather elaborate. It consists of beef wrapped up with prosciutto, cheese, sausage stuffing and eggs. When it is cut, the spiral roast is plated as medallions with a gravy.
Coniglio in Agrodolce
(Pronounced coh-nel-yoh in ahg-roh-dohl-cheh in Italian)
Rabbit is slow cooked with onions, tomatoes, carrots, celery, spices and Sicily’s famous agrodolce sauce (sweet and sour). The exact ingredients will differ depending on where you are in Sicily but the basic formula includes sugar, wine, vinegar, pine nuts and raisins. Sometimes the sauce calls for bitter chocolate!
Polpette di Cavallo
(Pronounced pohl-peht-teh dee cah-vahl-loh in Italian)
These are your typical Italian meatballs made with eggs, breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, lemon zest, salt, and pepper but instead of beef they are made with horse meat. They are either grilled, fried, baked or cooked in a tomato sauce.
Parmigiana di Melanzane
(Pronounced pahr-mee-jah-nah dee meh-lahn-zahn-eh in Italian)
A wonderful baked dish of layered fried eggplant, tomato sauce, various cheeses and fresh basil.
(Pronounced cah-poh-nah-tah in Italian)
Caponata has become popular all over the world in recent years. It typically contains fried eggplant, pine nuts, raisins, capers, olives, sugar and vinegar, which are all stewed together into a type of chunky spread or thick compote.
Caponata is the perfect combination of salty and sweet, perfect for serving with grilled meats, or as an appetizer.
(Pronounced een-sah-lah-tah see-sheelee-ah-nah in Italian)
This is a very popular salad made using oranges as the main ingredient. They are dressed in olive oil and usually are mixed with some combination of olives, onions, fennel or pine nuts.
Make it: This is a super fast and easy salad to put together. Follow our step-by-step instructions for Italian Fennel and Orange Salad – A Winter Salad Recipe from Sicily
(Pronounced peez-zoh-loh in Italian)
Pizzolo is a type of pizza that is seasoned with olive oil, oregano, pepper, Parmigiano, greens, cheeses, and salami. It’s then topped with another layer of dough, making it more of a sandwich than a pizza. Pizzolo is also sold sweet, topped with a pistachio cream, a chocolate custard, or ricotta and honey.
(Pronounced scahch-chah in Italian)
Scaccia is a long, rectangular stuffed flatbread, often rolled up and cut into slices. It’s filled with cheese and tomato sauce, and depending on the variation, also potatoes, sausages, and different vegetables.
Pagnotta del Dittaino DOP
Pagnotta del dittaino is a round bread made from durum wheat grown strictly around the volcano Etna and around Catania. It has a crisp crust and light, yellow crumb. It’s best used for bruschetta.
Read More: about pagnotta del dittaino DOP and about all of Italy’s bread in Bread in Italy – Types of Italian Breads & Where to Eat Them
(Pronounced kree-spell-leh in Italian)
Fried dough (shaped in many forms) is either made sweet or salty. Savory versions are filled with sheep ricotta, anchovies, salted cod, sardines, broccoli, and/or potatoes. Sweet versions are served plain with powdered sugar, filled with raisins, or even drizzled with honey.
Crispelle di Riso
(Pronounced kree-spell-leh dee ree-soh in Italian)
Crispelle di riso are fried rice fritters flavored with orange and cinnamon. Hot out of the fryer, they are coated in honey or sometimes dusted in powdered sugar.
Rame di Napoli
(Pronounced rah-meh dee nah-poh-lee)
Originating in Catania, these soft, chocolate-covered cookies are flavored with honey, orange marmalade, cinnamon, cloves, and orange rind. After being baked they are glazed in dark chocolate and decorated with chopped nuts. Keep your eyes out for modern variations as they are quite versatile.
(froot-tah mahr-tohr-ah-nah in Italian)
You can’t miss these brightly painted marzipan sweets shaped into small fruits in every window of every pastry shop in Sicily.
(Pronounced zehp-poh-lee-neh in Italian)
These light and fluffy potato doughnuts are fried until golden brown and then rolled in sugar. Try to get your hands on them warm!
(Pronounced joo-joo-leh-nah in Italian)
Its name means “sesame” in Sicilian dialect, which is the primary ingredient in this nougat candy made during the Christmas holidays. It’s easy to make and easy to eat!
(Pronounced cahs-sah-tah see-shee-lee-ah-nah in Italian)
This is not only a masterpiece to look at but also an explosion of flavor in your mouth: sponge cake is flavored with liquor, chocolate and ricotta cream, then topped with a thin layer of marzipan and decorated with a green ring of frosting and citrus fruit.
(Pronounced tohr-tah seht-teh-veh-lee in Italian)
Meaning “seven veils” in English, this chocolate and hazelnut Sicilian birthday cake reigns supreme. The first layer is a chocolate sponge followed by a layer of praline crunch, hazelnut Bavarian cream, chocolate sponge cake again, hazelnut Bavarian cream, chocolate mousse, and finally, glazed in chocolate.
We Recommend: Pasticceria Cappello (Palermo) is a great bakery serving up all sorts of delicious sweet treats since the 1950’s, in particular the torta setteveli.
Brioche con Gelato
(Pronounced bree-osh cohn geh-lah-toh in Italian)
What could be better than a buttery brioche bun filled with a scoop of whatever flavor of gelato your heart desires? It’s very popular in the summer heat and you will even see locals eating it for breakfast!
(Pronounced nn-zood-dee in Italian)
These spherical-shaped cookies from Catania and Messina are flavored with almonds, cinnamon, orange zest and lemon juice.
(Pronounced mmm-pahn-ah-tik-kee in Italian)
These strange cookies have Spanish origins dating back to the 16th century. They are half-moon shaped and filled with sugar, chocolate, almonds, lemon peel, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, and…ground beef!
We Recommend: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (Modica) for cannoli, mpanatigghi and other sweet treats.
Minne di Sant’Agata
(Pronounced meen-neh dee sahnt-ah-gah-tah in Italian)
This dessert means “breasts of St. Agatha” and it resembles exactly that! These individual-serving cakes are made with a pastry crust filled with a mixture of sheep’s milk ricotta, dark chocolate, powdered sugar, and candied fruit. They are then covered with a smooth layer of white icing and finished with a red candied cherry in the middle, resembling a woman’s breast.
Cioccolato di Modica
(Pronounced chohk-coh-lah-toh dee moh-dee-cah in Italian)
Modican chocolate is defined by its method that eliminates the conching process (which refines cocoa beans when liquefying them with cocoa butter, resulting in an incredibly smooth texture). Modica’s chocolate, however, is made by processing the beans by hand in a stone bowl called a metate, exactly how the Aztecs made chocolate. The result is a rich chocolate with a gritty texture.
It comes in many flavors, and we suggest you try as many as possible. My favorite is arancia (orange chocolate).
Although this cioccolato is from Modica, you will find it throughout Sicily.
Nice To Know: Chocolate from Modica is one of our top gifts to bring back with you from Sicily because it’s so unique and it’s hard to find in other places in the world.
We Recommend: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto is a fun stop if you are in Modica. It’s a museum, bakery and sweets factory all in one!
(Pronounced cahs-sah-tehl-leh in Italian)
These small half-moon shaped pastries are filled with ricotta, lemon and bits of chocolate and deep fried. The best ones come from Trapani!
(Pronounced ahn-yehl-loh pah-sqwahl-eh in Italian)
Agnello pasquale is a cake made from almond and pistachio meal and flavored with either lemon zest or vanilla. It’s baked in a lamb-shaped cake pan and decorated in buttercream. It is finished with candied fruit, raisins and/or almonds. You will only see this around Easter.
(Pronounced gehn-oh-veh-see in Italian)
Head to Erice for the most authentic version of these individual round shortcrust pastries filled with a lemon-scented custard or ricotta cream. They are finished with a heavy dusting of powdered sugar and are best eaten warm.
We Recommend: La Pasticceria Maria Grammatico (Erice) is famous for its genovesi.
(Pronounced booch-chehl-lah-toh in Italian)
A ring-shaped cake typically made during the Christmas holidays and said to have roots in Arab traditions. Buccellato is made with shortbread pastry that is filled with dried figs, dates, raisins, candied fruits, chocolate, and all kinds of nuts and then baked until golden in a bundt pan.
Ingredients and Flavors in Sicily
- Gambero rosso: red prawns are caught daily by local fishermen, especially around Mazara del Vallo on the western coast of the island which are considered the absolute best in the entire world. Locals enjoy them raw with a bit of olive oil and a lemon wedge. Don’t Miss: Spaghetti con Gamberi Rossi.
- Salmoriglio: This sauce made of olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper is served with lamb, chicken, or veal, boiled fish (especially swordfish), seafood, and various vegetables. It can be used to accompany just about anything!
- Agrodolce: a sweet and sour sauce made with vinegar and sugar and onions, fruit juice and/or chocolate (but not limited to). Great with grilled meats.
- Bottarga: made from the roe of locally caught tuna that is salted and dried. It is used like parmesan cheese, grated over pasta, beans and as a general seasoning to many other dishes. Another great thing to bring home with you but be sure it is vacuum packed!
- Capers: capers from Pantelleria, a small, remote Italian island off of Sicily, are world-renowned. No need to go directly to the island to buy them – you can easily purchase them on the mainland of Sicily.
- Tarocco: This is a blood orange that exclusively grows in Sicily. It won’t be exported outside of Italy because the skin cannot be waxed, a method used to preserve citrus before exporting. The tarocco orange juice is particularly good!
Drinks in Sicily
Malvasia: a sweet, thick dessert wine made on Salina in the Aeolian Islands off the northern coast of Sicily. You can readily find it throughout Sicily.