Sometimes you travel to a place once, twice, ten times…but still, sometimes, it feels like it’s the first time; it feels like if it’s something totally new. And Sicily is one of these places. We went again this year to visit this unique island flying from the tiny airport of Perugia in Umbria straight to Sicily! It’s less than an hour flight, and the queue at the airport is so short that it feels like getting on a train. We wanted to go because we love Sicily, and we wanted to combine our trip with the Cous Cous Fest that this year has reached the 17th edition. This festival takes place every year in the pictoresque town of San Vito Lo Capo, in Western Sicily, at the end of September. What’s the festival all about? Definitely cous cous… but not just that.
Cous cous is a dish that represents the link between the several cultures that have touched Sicily in the previous centuries: mores, spanish, europeans… Sicily has been, in fact, the forbidden land for so many civilizations that all of them tried (an some succeeded) to conquer it, even if for just few years, leaving their fingerprint in the local art, traditions and, obviously, cuisine.
Talk shows, meetings, seminars, tasting sessions and cooking challenges with famous chefs flying to the island to attend the event. Add music, street shows, art exhibitions, stunning nature and multicultural art: this, and much more, was waiting for us in San Vito Lo Capo during the Cous Cous Fest.
San Vito Lo Capo is a small, beautifully authentic town near the city of Trapany, in the Zingaro Natural Reserve, in western Sicily. This town represents the perfect location for this festival, as the fascinating shades of colors of San Vito (the emerald blue of the sea, the bright green of the nature, the shiny yellow of the lemons) reflect the variegated flavors of the different types of cous cous and the variety of the overwhelming fragrances of the street food markets.
Sicily may not look around the corner, but it is really very close to most European Capitals and easy to reach by plane. And every time we go there, we are more and more persuaded that the trip is TOTALLY WORTH IT. Also the most demanding and hard-to-please traveler would be mesmerized and satisfied by the unique experience that this corner of Italy can offer. It’s not just the nature, not just the art, not just the people, not just the traditions: Sicily is all of this, blended together in an original, unique way. And the food as well couldn’t be anything else but unique.
If you have traveled to Sicily before, you may know some of the typical dishes. We have tried most of them during our previous trips, but every time we come back, at every bite, it feels like heaven. Where to start with the delicacies we tasted?! The cakes, let’s start with the cakes.
Cannoli siciliani. Who hasn’t, at least once, heard about them? Deep fried, crispy, cylindrical wafer stuffed with a cream made of sheep ricotta, chocolate drops, candied fruit cubes, candied cherries and decorated with candied orange zest or pistachio granola. Unforgettable the cannoli at Pasticceria Capriccio, in Via Piersanti Mattarella.
A bit less known than cannoli, but AS delicious, the Genovesi, typical sicilian small cakes prepared with shortcrust pastry and custard, topped with icing sugar. If from San Vito you drive to the nearby town of Erice, you can try one of the best ones at Pasticceria di Grammatico Maria.
In the morning for breakfast, in the afternoon when you are thirsty and evening as a treat… there is always an excuse to drink a granita siciliana. Not the artificially colored slush you get in the rest of the world… neither the granita from the rest of Ital is barely comparable with the creamy delight you get here. The flavors are the same of the ice creams: lemon, pistachios, mulberry, pickly pear, orange are the most common, but you can find many more all over Sicily.
Cassata siciliana is another of our passion: a light sponge topped with ricotta and chocolate, a typical creamy icing and candied fruit, surrounded by marzipan. No words can describe the incredible experience that happens in your mouth and in your brain when you have a bite. No words, seriously.
And finally…the pistachios from Bronte, organic and origin-certified top quality pistachios used in the sicilian dishes as pesto, spread, granola…. and ice cream. Gelato al pistacchio is unbeatable. Even more when served in a still warm, just baked, crispy wafer.
Together with desserts and sweets, Sicily has unique savory dishes. Street food has been playing an important role in the local cusine for centuries. For example with the arancini di riso: deep fried rice balls of the size of an orange (hence arancini) filled with ragù sauce or ham and mozzarella or spinach and sausage (to try the ones at Bar L’Uomo Ragno in San Vito Lo Capo). The pane cunzato (cunzato bread), typical of the town of Scopello (small village near San Vito) but baked in different ways idepending of where you are in Sicily: it’s a simple but flavorsome dish of bread seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, oregano, black pepper, pecorino primo sale cheese, tomatoes and anchorvies. The panelle, a bread bun filled with small chickpea frittata (we had superb panelle at Bar Europa di San Vito).
During this trip in the area we tried more dishes typical of the tradition of Trapani, the largest city of this part of Sicily. These dishes include the busiate (a peculiar type of pasta) traditionally topped with pesto trapanese (type of pesto from Trapani), but delicious also with fish or crustaceans. And the cous cous alla San Vitese (San Vito style) or alla trapanese, both prepared with the freshest tender local fish.
If it’s your first time in Sicily, remember: don’t order to much food, as the portions are HUGE! Usually one dish is enough for a meal. If you are hungry…ad an arancino as starter and a cassata as dessert. And the most perfect meal is served!
Either you like swimming or hiking, the seaside or a volcano, fish or meat, savory or sweet, chaos or intimacy, you will find in Sicily whatever you are looking for. Sicily has a bit of everything, for everyone. We will go back soon to spend few days in this beautiful corner of paradise in the middle of the Mediterranean, tasting the delicious food and enjoying the atmosphere of this island. And you… when are you flying there?