The Palermo Old Town can spring surprises! Wandering around the little streets now and then emerges a little, quiet town square with a beautiful baroque castle that is scenically illuminated at night. For example, Piazza San Francesco with Antica Focacceria San Francesco next to it – this famous and historic address originated in 1834 when the chef of the palace court opened a pub there. Many celebrities and historic figures have had a meal here: Giuseppe Garibaldi, Luigi Pirandello, Francesco Krispi. Today the guests can enjoy a meal in a hall with official red walls and golden yellow tablecloths that more resembles a restaurant than a pub as it was before. Here you can taste Crocchè di latte (milk croquettes), Frittelle di fave, pisellie carciofi (fritted, pickled beanswith peas and artichokes), Bucatini con le sarde (noodles with sardines) as well as many other dishes prepared following Sicilian gastronomic traditions.
One of the most important Palermo streets is Corso Vittorio Emanuele that stretches from the town square Palazzo dei Normanni to the cathedral and further to the sea. This town square is always crowded with tourists, businessmen and politicians. During lunch break (which in Palermo is at 13:30) in the traditional local “Trattoria Al Normanni”, located directly beside the cathedral, there are no openings. However, the owner of the local Giuseppe Mancella usually, seemingly from nowhere, conjures up a free table just for you! The fi sh here are outstanding and just caught.
Not far from Vucciria Square is located the Arabic and baroque style Kalsa square. In its centre there is a beautiful church – Santa Teresa alla Kalsa. In the afternoon in the church plaza old men gather for an improvised card game.
The Kalsa and Vucciria squares are connected with small, narrow streets. To meander through these narrow streets the drivers need special skills and the grace of Palermo’s protectress Saint Rosalia. Right in the middle is located the famous Gangi castle which watches over the Piazza Croce dei Vespri plaza. A modern art gallery has been founded near the castle.
Go to the historic Osteria dei Vespri square as well. This is where you can find one of the most charming pubs, where classical music is played, you can sit at little tables from dark wood illuminated by low lamps, and wine box lids hang on the walls as paintings… The atmosphere is inimitable! As well as the food! Calameretto ripieno di mandorle al profumo di arance (cuttle fish with almond stuffing and orange aroma), Spaghetti con pomodori secci, carciofi e pangrattato tostato (spaghetti with dried tomatoes, artichokes and toasted bread crumbs) or Stormatio di riccota e zuccine alla menta fresca in salsa di peperone rosso (zuchini pie with fresh peppermints in a red paprika dressing). All the dishes are enjoyable with one of the offered 300 wines from Italy and other countries.
The street merchants display their merchandise already at dawn – boxes of fruits and fishes. Later on different delicacies, snacks and sweets merchants turn up as well. Gas stoves are lit. In a moment delicious scents start to appear in the narrow streets. Welcome to Ballarò, Vucciria and Capo – three Palermo street markets that have their own rules – the delicacies like Pani ca meusa, Fritelle, Stigghiole, Sfinciuni, Panelle and others are consumed right on the street. They give out irresistible, appetite stimulating aromas and vapours. None of the locals can await lunchtime without tasting some of the delicacies that they eat standing right there on the spot, wielding them wrapped in paper. Of course you can also have these delicacies in one of the many restaurants. You can shop in Vucciria market, which is the most popular but also the most expensive as well. Shopping in a market is the best way to enjoy the real Palermo atmosphere.
“Santandrea” restaurant is located near the church San Domenico, which is built in baroque style. Even though this restaurant is situated in one of the most poverty-stricken blocks it is very popular with journalists, writers, people from the theatrical circle and judges. In the evenings the restaurant owner Annemaria Kuraro serves the tables herself. What is interesting about this restaurant is that there is no menu! The owner lays out the menu of the day to each customer personally and always remembers their preferences. She bears in mind who doesn’t like onions and who prefers pepperoni. This restaurant offer national dishes that are created and improved according to your wishes by the chef Marcello Nolfo. Wines are offered by Annemaria’s son Emilio. You must try Filleti di spigola – golden-roasted porgy with tomatoes, artichokes and capers or Pasto con le sarde – noodles with sardines, stone-pipe seeds and raisins.
“Trattoria Gagini” was opened by Roberto Lo Sardo in the former studio and store of the famous 16th century artist Antonello Gagini. This artist is reminded by his various artworks that can still be seen in the city. In the restaurant you can still see the sink and walls that have witnessed those times and create an antique atmosphere. “Trattoria Gagini” is known for its fi sh dishes but there is no shortage of meat dishes either (especially in winter). The pasta is also served with fi sh, for example, Trenette ai fi letti di triglia, gamberi e zucchini (noodles with porgy fi llet, crabs and zucchinis) or Ravioli di cernia (Ravioli in the form of flowers with porgy stuffing).