A local guide to Palermo: sardines, spumante and spontaneous dancing | Holidays in Sicily
There are two parallel culinary worlds in Palermo: traditional home cooking and street food.
Palermitans are very proud of their traditional cuisine, and I would recommend a stop at the Trattoria da Nonna Dora to Sardinian pasta, which celebrates local ingredients sardines, pine nuts, raisins and wild fennel. A generous portion costs €6. After fresh fish? Try Osteria Mercede for its tonno rosso (bluefin tuna, €18), and simple I sapori del Mare for its killer Pasta portico (pasta with prawns, €16). Cheese lovers should not miss the ragusano all argentiera (caciocavallo cheese fried in oil, garlic and vinegar, €10) at La Buatta, via Vittorio Emanuele.
A street food meal is not something you plan; this happens when you wander Palermo’s narrow streets and souk-like markets. Panicto meusa (focaccia stuffed with sautéed beef spleen and a cascade of grated caciocavallo, €2.50) is Palermo’s street food trophy. Francu U Vastiddaru near Piazza Marina is my top pick. The best carb (and vegetarian) choice is a panino con panelle e hooked (a sesame roll with chickpea fritters, potato croquettes and mint). Fratelli Testagrossa in Piazza Indipendenza does big portions for €2.
The MEC museum and restaurant (mecmuseum.it, entry €7) is an inspiring encounter of innovation with style and ingenious cuisine. Visionary architect Giuseppe Forello has assembled one of Europe’s largest collections of Apple computers and other artifacts (including a pair of Steve Jobs shoes, pictured), and it’s all now on display in the Palazzo Castrone of the Sixteenth century. Next-generation experimental restaurant MEC shares the building, serving avant-garde Sicilian fine dining, with intriguing flavors that will elevate your “tech” experience to a different level.
La Kalsa, the historic Arab quarter, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. To experience its diverse urban vibe, head east from Piazza Sant’Anna and let the cacophony of the city be replaced by the sound of your footsteps on ancient cobblestones and the laughter of quaint little bars. There are photo opportunities around every corner and the street art of Via dello Spasimo is a vortex of color and historical figures. In recent years, the neighborhood has transformed into a hub of bars, restaurants and artisan shops. It’s perfect for cocktail lovers: try Dal Barone’s bitter Sicilian orange liqueur and house spirits or an aperitif at Nautoscopio, which has a nice seating area on a small beach.
To escape the city, take a train from Palermo Centrale to Punta Raisi Airport. Get off at Sferracavallo station and the Barcarello-Capo Gallo nature reserve, a real gem little visited by tourists, is around 25 minutes away on foot. Take a picnic and enjoy being surrounded by the sea and the rocky shore: the views of the sunset over the sea can be captivating. A train stop along the town of Isola delle Femmine, where the more energetic can hire a stand up paddle board at Isola Surf (€15). If you prefer to lounge with an appetizer and a seafood platter, one of my favorite bars/restaurants, Il Miramare, is right there.
Palermo’s nightlife is all about al fresco drinking, spontaneous talking and dancing. A typical night for me would start with a glass of Sicilian spumante at restaurant Seven (the roof terrace of the Hotel Ambasciatori), which offers the best views in town, before a walk between the Vucciria (Piazza Marina) and the neighborhood from Piazza Olivella. Sicilians love to welcome tourists, so don’t be surprised if you end the night with a group of 15 new friends. One of my favorite bars is the quiet Bottega Monteleone, which offers quality natural Sicilian drinks such as Baracco Ambras and catarratto orange wines.
Afea Art & Rooms (double from €90 B&B) is a B&B concept – an original combination of creativity and hospitality. The rooms have been individually designed by local artists, using the furniture as a canvas to tell their story.
Marco Romeo is a food guide in Palermo and founder of Streaty, a travel agency specializing in food and wine experiences in several Italian cities