What is Traditional Sicilian food?


When you are planning a trip to Sicily, you probably wonder what typical traditional Sicilian cuisine is. It is not quite the same as the Italian kitchen. Let’s find out.

Traditional Sicilian food is influenced by many civilizations that trade products in Sicily. Recipes contain ingredients that were available on the island, like nuts, raisins, saffron, vegetables, cheese, and fish. The most famous dishes are:

  • Arancini
  • Cannoli
  • Brioche con Gelato
  • Sfincione
  • Pasta con le sarde
  • Caponata
  • Raw Red Prawns
  • Stuffed Sardines

In this article, we cover a variety of traditional Sicilian food and their history. Sicilian wine that pairs amazingly with the traditional cuisine. And a selection of the best Sicilian restaurants.

Let’s find out what makes these typical dishes Sicilian, and where you can find the best places to try to taste some.

Traditional Food & Pasta’s

Arancini

Arancini are stuffed (risotto) riceballs filled with a mixture of cheese and vegetables, or with cheese and meat. Both versions are delicious! Arancini is the perfect snack, finger food, and appetizer. It goes perfect with a glass of local wine.

You’ll find Arancini in almost every traditional restaurant in Sicily. This snack comes in many variations, so make sure to ask for the filling first. Or let it surprise you!

This traditional dish is originated when the Arabs ruled over Sicily in the 10th century AD. Arancini is a typical Sicilian, but in Italy, you can find similar recipes. Suppli is the Roman variation, it’s a bit different in how its made, but the idea is the same.

Sfincione

When you say Italy and food, you directly think of pizza. But in Sicily, a pizza is not the round flat type of pizza everyone knows. Sfincione is a thick baked bread with tomato and onions on top. A bit like focaccia, but don’t let the Sicilians hear that, Sfincione is totally different according to them.

In a way, it is. The traditional Sicilian pizza is bigger, and focaccia is just flatbread without toppings. Funny thing is that in Sicily, the traditional pizza’s are all different depending on which region you are. They might have the same name everywhere, but in Palermo, you’ll find a thick bread with toppings and without the cheese. While in Syracuse you’ll get a rounded stuffed pizza, more like a pie. And in Catania, the pizza is stuffed with anchovies, sausages, and vegetables.

With all these varieties, you might end up doing a pizza tour in Sicily!

Farsu Magru

This stuffed beef or veal roll originated in the 13th century during the Norman period. The traditional recipe is straightforward. Just slices of meat stuffed with basil, breadcrumbs, and cheese. Rolled into slices of bacon, tight together and cooked in the oven.

Over time this dish developed with a lot of different ingredients. Nowadays it is always made with hard-boiled eggs as stuffing and bacon and layers of thick tomato sauce on the outside.

Farsu Magru comes in slices when you order it and is often eaten with a fresh salad.

Caponata

Do you like Ratatouille? When you answer this with yes, you must read on. Capanato is like the Sicilian Ratatouille, slightly different, but with almost the same ingredients.

Also a perfect dish for vegetarian people!

Caponata is also a dish that shows the Arab roots in Sicily. The Arabs brought the Ratatouille to Sicily, and the Sicilian made their own version of this lovely dish.

It is effortless to make, and you only use like 4 basic ingredients. Eggplant, Tomatoes, Onion, and Celery. Some people use capers and olives as well. You can basically add what you like, as long as you use the four basic ingredients. Mixed with white wine vinegar, some salt, and sugar. Simmer for half an hour, and you’ll have a great meal. Super easy!

Caponata is often eaten as a side dish with pasta. Or just as a main course with some potatoes or bread.

Pasta alla Norma 

This is probably the most classic Sicilian pasta you’ll ever find. Originated in Catania. When you ask people about Sicilian pasta, 9 out of 10 are likely to answer ‘try Pasta alla Norma.’

The exact history of this dish is not clear, but people think it was the Greeks who introduced this pasta in Catania. Originally this pasta is made with macaroni, which is a pasta that the Greeks brought to the island. Macaroni is different from spaghetti in the form, and often it is a bit thicker than spaghetti.

Pasta alla Norma is made with freshly fried eggplant, tomatoes, onions, grated cheese, and basil. The sauce feels a bit the same as Caponata, but it is slightly different. It is even more basic than Caponata.

This pasta dish is super easy to make, a variation on the standard cooking is to put the eggplant into the oven, before mixing it in the sauce. It gives some typical extra flavor to it. Just as with Caponata there are widely available variations to this dish. You can add whatever you like, but the remember, the original way is just as simple as described and always vegetarian.

Pane e pannelle (chickpea fritters)

A typical traditional Sicilian dish you’ll find everywhere. Famous in Palermo where it was eaten by travelers and seaman to still there first hunger after they arrived at the island.

Originated when the Arabs ruled over Sicily.

It is very simple to make, and when you order it in a restaurant or bar, you often get it in a panini or other bread. The perfect lunch, healthy and vegetarian!

Sicilian Sea-food

Pasta con le sarde (a mare)

This is a typical Sicilian pasta with sardines and anchovies. And also shows the rich history of the island. The ingredients used in the pasta such as raisins, pine nuts, and saffron, were all introduced by the Arabs.

The Sicilians make this pasta in different ways. The name of the dish says it all. Pasta con le Sarde means Pasta with Sardines. “a Mare” means in the sea. So if you order a pasta con la sarde a mare, you probably end up with pasta without sardines, because they’re still in the sea.

It is a reference to the poor old days when the locals used the make pasta with the ingredients they had. Often they had the nuts, raisins, saffron, and pasta. But they didn’t have the sardines. So they just end up making the pasta without the sardines.

When you’re in Palermo, make sure to find a traditional restaurant that makes pasta con le Sarde. The Palermo way of making this pasta is a bit different. When the pasta is ready, they put breadcrumbs on top and put it in the oven for about 10 minutes. This will give the pasta a crunchy top layer, and for those who like fish, a delicious taste!

(Raw) Red Prawns

I’m not a seafood lover, so a lot of the traditional Sicilian dishes are not really my thing. But like on every other island, seafood plays a big part in the food chain. Traditionally seafood was easy to catch, so they made a lot of different recipes around the local fish.

Red Prawns is one of those recipes. And there a typically two ways the Sicilian turns these prawns into a beautiful dish. Over time the use of red prawns developed much in many different dishes.

In Sicily red prawns are usually eaten as a starter, often eaten raw. Many people combine it on a plate with some Arancini and other small finger food.

All over Italy, seafood plays a significant role in the kitchen, so you’ll find prawns everywhere. A traditional Italian dish is a pasta with prawns. This is also widely available in Sicily, but it’s not a traditional Sicilian recipe.

Stuffed Sardines

Sarde e Beccaficio, or in English, stuffed sardines. It is probably one of the oldest recipes in Sicily. And over time, every Sicilian family developed their own way of this dish. You can try this everywhere on the island, and it will taste different every time.

It’s because not all original ingredients were widely available back in the day, and people just use the things they got.

The recipe is very simple, the sardines are stuffed with essential ingredients like raisins, nuts, saffron, and basil. Drenched in orange juice. Black pepper & Sea salt are added and on top typical Italian breadcrumbs. Then it is put in the oven until they finished. Don’t be surprised if they use something else instead of orange juice. As I said, it depends on the ingredients and the family recipe.

When you’re into seafood, this is a must-try when in Sicily!

Sicilian Baked swordfish rolls

Swordfish is not a fish that is easy to catch, back in the day the swordfish was only eaten during local celebrations or by the wealthy inhabitants of the island. In this time, it is the most famous Sicilian seafood dish you’ll find.

It is on the menu in every restaurant, in all kind of variations.

The original recipe, like many others, contains a mixture of pine nuts, raisins, saffron, and basil. Ingredients that were widely used since the Arabs arrived at the island. Nowadays you’ll find baked or grilled swordfish in every variation you can think of.

Baked swordfish rolls are the traditional way of preparing swordfish in Sicily, but you’ll also find recipes used in finger food, like swordfish carpaccio, or in a pasta.

The traditional way rolls covered in breadcrumbs, feels a bit like fish croquet, but with a fresh filling instead.

Traditional Sicilian Pastry

Cannoli

This Sicilian pastry is also originated during the Arab period in Sicily. These deep-fried dough rolls are filled with ricotta cheese and sometimes with some extra tomatoes. The dough rolls must be freshly made, so that’s a thing to remember when you order a Cannoli.

You can find this in almost every Italian restaurant in the world. But Cannoli is made in many different variations. When you’re outside Sicily and want to try a traditional Sicilian Cannoli, ask if they have Cannoli Sicily. It is the purest version of this dish, fresh rolls filled with ricotta.

Brioche con Gelato

The Sicilians love their pastry, but they also like to keep it simple when possible. Brioche con Gelato is at simple as it gets, a brioche with Ice cream. But not every type of bread is suitable for this sweet dish.

You want to have a brioche that is freshly made and cut in half, so you can put the ice cream in between. Like you do when eating an hot-dog.

The best brioche con Gelato is those freshly made. The bun directly out of the oven, still crunchy outside and a bit warm and soft inside. Icecream in the middle, which melts into the soft bread.

I can almost taste it! Isn’t this the best breakfast you’ll have in Sicily?

Sfingi

These really simple rolls are made in many variations. You’ll find them all over Italy. Sometimes they called Zeppole, but they’re slightly different. Sfingi is the Sicilian variation on this pastry. The Sicilian version is made with donut style dough, sugar, and vanilla. Deep-fried and after they’re fried, rolled in cinnamon sugar.

When you try this, make sure they’re freshly made. These rolls are the best when they’re still warm!

Sicilian cassata

Typical Sicilian birthday cake. But different then the birthday cake you think of right now. Sicilian Cassata is a sponge cake with layers of ricotta cheese. The same filling as you’ll find in canolli. The cake is moistened with liqueur or fruit juice. And covered with marzipan and often decorated with marzipan fruit sweets. A big calorie bomb!

Pignolata

Pignolata is fried dough balls that are covered with chocolate and lemon syrup. You’ll find this in every pastry shop, but initially, this was eaten during Christmas celebrations. It is a snack for when you have a coffee or craving for something sweet.

Best Sicilian Restaurants

With all that delicious food, you probably can’t wait to try it yourself. When you are visiting Sicily, there are a lot of restaurants where you can choose from. Honestly, you can’t really go wrong on this island. But sometimes it can be hard to pick the right restaurant for your cravings. A few tips for selecting a restaurant, so you don’t need to stress out before going to dinner;

  • Check the menu
    You can either check the menu online or when you are walking by the restaurant. Check if they’ve something you like and if they don’t, just skip it and go the next one!
  • Check the prices
    Remember, most of the time you pay for the location. For example, if you’re going to eat a restaurant next to the sea, with a beautiful sunset view. You’ll probably end up paying a lot more than when you sit in the middle of the center. You need to decide if you think it’s worth the price.

We often try to find the local spots, because most of the time, food is better and prices are lower. And that sunset view? While, when we get a coffee to go, we just walk to the beach and enjoy the sunset without paying a lot of money.

  • Review check
    Tripadvisor is great for checking restaurant reviews from other travelers. But don’t let them guide you too much. Sometimes a restaurant gets a bad review when it was bustling and people needed to wait a long time.

    Just make sure you read the reviews if you use this method. You probably know if they’re honest reviews when you read them.

The last tip, before we dive in the best restaurants in Sicily. When it’s a trendy place, and you definitely want to eat there, make sure to make a reservation beforehand. It is just like any other city when it is too busy, there’s a possibility they don’t have a table for you at that moment.

So where to find the best restaurants in Sicily? As we said, you can’t really go wrong on this island. The food is good, almost everywhere. But for your comfort, we selected a few restaurants in different cities, which get a lot of great reviews, and we think you should try them during your trip.

Restaurants in Palermo

Pablo’s Ristorante & Lounge Bar

This restaurant rates number 1 on Tripadvisor, it offers a variety of seafood, vegetarian, and meat dishes. They offer traditional Sicilian recipes but in a new way.

The restaurant is located at Via April n9a/11. It is advised to reserve a table.

La Bottega Del Principe

Great when you are walking around the city and want to stop for drinks and some finger food. They make the perfect arancini at this place.

La Bottega del Principe is located at the street; Discesa Maccheronai

Sikulo – Umori & Sapori

When you’re looking for traditional Sicilian cuisine in Palermo, this is the place where you want to go. It’s both a bistro and small pizzeria. You can find this place at Piazza Diodoro.

Restaurants in Catania

Sagre Ristorante

Let’s start with the #1 rank on Tripadvisor in Catania. Sagre is a minimalistic restaurant, with only a few tables. It is recommended to make a reservation beforehand. Overall they get excellent reviews. It is not the most traditional restaurant, but they serve traditional Sicilian food in their own modern way. Feels like the best of both worlds.

You’ll find this restaurant at Corse Della Province 99.

NovantaCinquecento

All seafood lovers pay attention now! According to the reviews, this is the place to be in Catania when you’re looking for seafood. So not the restaurant I will choose, but that’s because I don’t like seafood 😉

You’ll find this place at Piazza San Fransesco in the center of Catania.

Il Gambero Pazzo

When you’re looking for traditional Sicilian food, this is your go-to restaurant in Catania. They offer a wide variety of seafood, meat, and vegetarian options.

When you want to enjoy dinner here, make sure to make a reservation. They only have about 50 tables, and these fill up pretty quickly. This restaurant has great ambiance, it feels traditional and local.

You’ll find this place at Via Vela, in the heart of Catania’s center.

Restaurants in Taormina

Taormina is a place where you can enjoy an outstanding beach holiday. Near the beaches and in the small traditional center of Taormina you’ll find a lot of great restaurants. We recommend a few restaurants in different styles, but as we said before, you can’t really go wrong on this island while picking a place to eat. The Sicilians know how to make delicious food!

La Bottega del Formaggio

A must visit when you’re in Taormina. It feels more like cheese and butcher shop, but they have a few tables where you can enjoy the perfect local finger food. Everything they serve is locally produced, and they love to explain where all the products are coming from. It is important to reserve a table here if you want to sit inside. When it is to busy you also can do take away and enjoy their delicious cheeses and meat platters somewhere else.

They get only excellent rankings on Tripadvisor, and they rank #1 in Taormina. You can go here for lunch, pre-dinner snacks or dinner. And don’t forget to taste some of the brilliant local wines!

You’ll find this place at Via Bagnoli Croce 28

Timoleone Café

When you’re looking for a local venue with a lovely garden terrace. A place where you can enjoy you’re drinks and dinner, Timeleone café is the right place to go. They offer traditional Sicilian food. They’ve got an open kitchen, which is fun, you can look inside how everything is made.

You’ll find this place at Via Timeleone 6

Villa Carlotta Restaurant

Looking for the perfect romantic setting during dinner? Villa Carlotta is where you want to go. Next to the sea, offering beautiful sunset views. The traditionally decorated restaurant gives you a welcoming feeling when you walk inside. Oh, and the food? It is great. They offer traditional Sicilian seafood and all kinds of other dishes.

The traditional Sicilian swordfish is like their signature dish according to the many reviews.

Villa Carlotta restaurant is part of a small boutique hotel. So when you’re still looking for a romantic place to stay in Taormina, this might be the perfect place for you!

Restaurants in Syracuse

Syracuse is a great place to enjoy the best things in Sicily. Here you’ll find great beaches and beautiful historical landmarks. The best of both worlds. Many exciting and great restaurant will complete your Syracuse experience.

Siculish – Street Food Experience

An unusual restaurant which got the best rankings on Tripadvisor for restaurants in Syracuse. They do everything a bit different here, and that’s what makes them so beloved by their guests. You’ll find traditional Sicilian recipes, made in a whole different way. The Siculish way. It is a pleasure to drop by and enjoy some of the street food. Don’t expect fine dining. It is a street food bar, good food, but quickly made.

You’ll find this restaurant at Via Gemmellaro 3

Moon

They like to experience with traditional food in Syracuse. Just do everything a little out of the ordinary. That’s also what you’ll find when you go for dinner at Moon, Move Ortigia Out of Normality is what it stands for.

Moon offers a combination of traditional Sicilian food and modern Mediterranean dishes. Every plate is made with the fullest attention, which makes it a pleasure to look at. They change their menu daily, depending on the available ingredients.

And when you like what you eat? Just ask for the recipe, they will explain everything, so you can remake it a home. The chef’s secrets will become yours!

Best Icecream in Italy (must visit!)

Noto is a small village around 40 minutes drive south from Syracuse. Known for its historical buildings, beautiful architecture, and the best gelato in Italy. Some say even they have the best gelato in the world!

Gelato is Italian for ice cream. It is used in all kinds of typical Italian recipes. The most famous, the typical Sicilian Brioche con Gelato.

Caffe Sicilia

It is the famous place where every Sicilian is going, and everyone who visits Sicily needs to eat least try their ice cream once.

Caffe Sicilia was opened in 1892, and renowned for its pastry. The ice cream is fantastic, as well as the different cakes they make. Drop by for a coffee, and try something you like. You won’t be disappointed! It can be quite busy at Caffe Sicilia, so make sure to take your time when you’re going here.

They’re closed on Monday, open from Tuesday – Sunday between 08 a.m. – 09 p.m. You’ll find Caffe Sicilia at Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 125 in Noto.

Best Sicilian Food Markets

Learning about the Sicilian traditional cuisine is great, but maybe you want to give it yourself a try and learn how to cook like a Sicilian. When you’re visiting the island, you can, of course, attend a traditional cooking class. But it is also great fun to just cook for yourself, friends, and family. You must have the availability of a kitchen, but if you’re staying in an apartment, you probably will. When you don’t have a kitchen, you can use, just ask around. The Sicilians are very hospitable, and who knows you end up cooking a traditional Sicilian dinner with some locals!

When you decided what you want to make, it is essential to buy some fresh local ingredients. How better than to go to the food market!

In pretty much every town you’ll be able to find a market at least a few times a week. It is a pleasure to walk around and try some local products, even when you’re not planning to make dinner for yourself.

The best markets in Sicily you’ll find in the cities Syracuse, Catania, and Palermo.

Ortiga Market – Syracuse

In Syracuse, you’ll find the Ortiga market. This open-air market has it all. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Different meat, cheese, and freshly baked bread. It is like a supermarket, but then with only fresh local products sold by local farmers. Seafood lovers will like this market the most. You’ll find the freshest fish, a few hours before they caught it, and know it is sold at the market.

Catania market

In Catania, it is interesting to walk around the market and see how big of a variety of products are available. Catania is closeby Mount Etna, and because of the volcanic soil, the land is exceptionally fertile. Which result in a lot of different product you’ll find at this market. Perfect place to find your fresh fruits and vegetables.

Palermo markets

Palermo is renowned for its fresh markets. Every district has its own open-air market, where you can buy daily fresh products. The four markets, Ballaro, La Vucciria, Capo, and Borgo Vecchio all have their different style. That said, Borgo Vecchio is not a great market to visit anymore. It developed over the years to a small local market where you don’t find many different products. You’re better off in one of the other markets.

The Palermo markets are great for buying fresh ingredients and trying some traditional Sicilian street food like Arancini. And when you’re looking for fresh markets, that stay open until late? Go to La Vucciria, this market area is open almost 24 hours and known for their fun parties at night. 

We wrote this extensive guide about Palermo, with all the information about the food markets and other things that makes Palermo worth a visit.

Sicilian Wine

Besides the traditional Sicilian food, Sicily is renowned for its wines. Some of the wines are the best you’ll find in the world. So when you’re in Sicily, make sure to book a wine tour! It is not only a pleasure to taste some of the famous wines, but it is also great to visit the Winelands and get a tour along the vineyards.

Marsala wine is probably the most famous wine from Sicily. Marsala is a fortified wine, more like port wine or sherry. The alcohol percentage is around 20%, so it is a wine where you drink one glass after dinner or so.

The Sicilians are winemakers since the ancient Greeks were on the island, around 800BC. Next, to the fortified Marsala wines, you’ll find a variety of red and white wines all over the island.

An exciting region to visit vineyards is around Mount Etna. The volcanic soil gives a particular taste to the grapes, which makes the wines authentic. You’ll find many different wineries in this area, it is a pleasure to drive around and stop at a few different wineries for a tour and some tasting. You also can book a guided tour, where you don’t have to drive yourself, so more relaxed tasting 😉

When you’re visiting Sicily, you probably want to know more about the island. We wrote different articles about Sicily, with a lot of useful and practical information.

Léon Kopijn

Léon Kopijn works and lives as a Digital Nomad. He travels the world with the love of his life and writes about inspiring cultures and practical travel tips. Find out more about Léon on his about page!

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