Walking is always my preferred method of exploring and getting to know a city for the first time. Taking a walking tour is usually a fantastic introduction; giving you insights into different parts of town, interesting anecdotal tales of history and, more often than not, straying off the more well-trodden routes. It’s no wonder then that, just before heading off to Sicily recently, I was doubly excited to hear via Twitter about StrEat Palermo Tour: a walking tour around Palermo that combines the above with a foodie twist.
Rated in the top five cities for street food, Palermo is a place to indulge and a walking tour all about food seemed the perfect way to legitimately stuff our faces learn more about the city’s street food culture.The StrEat Palermo Tour kicks off at 10:30 from Piazza Verdi in front of the Massimo Theatre (recognisable from the closing scenes of The Godfather III I hear – I’ve been having a bit of a Godfather marathon since getting back but haven’t made it that far yet!) and the first stop is the nearby market. Before setting off, our guide Marco were presented us with our ‘Passaporto del Mangione’ or ‘Foodie’s Passport’ to prove that we were tasting everything along the way.
Snaking off the main square, the market winds its way through narrow medieval streets lined with vendors selling the freshest of fresh ingredients. Much to my delight, I spotted various vegetables I’d never seen before such as the beautiful round Tunisian aubergine and cucuzza, the near-metre long Sicilian courgette. Our first stop, in the heart of the market, was for an array of fried goodies: Cazzilli (mashed potato croquettes with parsley and mint), Arancina (fried risotto balls with saffron and cheese – made without ham for a veggie version) and Panelle (thin chickpea fritters). Whilst our food cooked we all dipped into a nearby church to take a look around. Almost certainly one of the most impressive churches that I saw in Sicily (look out for photos coming soon!) and one we would have never spotted for ourselves, Marco also gave us some fascinating insights into Palermitans’ beliefs and their love of Santa Rosalia – whether for religious reasons or just for the hope she will support them in football…! The next stop was at a cart serving fresh Sfinciuni. This Palermitan soft pizza has a thick soft, almost spongy base soaked with tomato then topped with oregano and (optional) chilli. The bread is fired within the cart itself giving it crisp edges that perfectly complement the fluffy interior.Winding further through the markets, next on the list was a more alcoholic pit-stop: Sicilian sweet wines Sangue Siciliana (which translates as “Sicilian Blood” but is thankfully less gory than that sounds!) and the lighter Zibibbo. Both were sweet and warming, though not necessarily something I could drink in any great quantity. The establishment itself was a small bar run by a lively and very entertaining group of gentlemen. The longer stop also offered some welcome respite from the midday heat, leaving us all refreshed for what lay ahead… Moving on, we got back onto the street and made our way through some interesting alleyways and squares with the odd bit of street art here and there – an area that comes to life later in the night. Our next stop had been anticipated with mixed feelings. Or it had for the rest of the group as the delicacy there was Pane ca’ Meusa…a lung and spleen sandwich. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to completely skip out on trying anything new and was presented with a much more palatable sandwich filled with slices of fried aubergine. The spleen (I’ve saved you all from any photos of it) surprisingly received rather positive reviews from the group but I was satisfied with my veggie alternative!Finally, after a tiring morning of walking and eating (such hard work!) it was time for lunch (yes, more food!) We already had the impression that Marco had carefully selected each of the street food stops, and lunch confirmed this. Tucked away and definitely somewhere we would never have known about otherwise, lunch took place in a beautiful high-ceilinged hall where we were served chilled wine, tasty Sicilian Caponata (slow cooked aubergine, tomatoes, olives, and celery), and an array of cheeses. A standout for me had to be the pistachio cheese; the Sicilian inclination to add pistachio to almost anything is fine by me!As if we weren’t full enough by now, there was of course just enough room left for dessert. Also hidden away from the main hustle and bustle, the bakery we visited serves freshly filled Cannoli. A Sicilian classic, Cannoli is a tube of crispy pastry filled with sweet, creamy ricotta cheese. The contrast between the two textures and flavours is heavenly. We all opted for the large ones and didn’t regret it. The store also boasted a giant Cannoli tube which led to some speculation on how anyone would go about eating it…?Sufficiently full and then some, we ended for the day four and a half hours later with a trip into and up to the top of Palermo Cathedral. Worth it for the views, climbing all of the stairs up also made us feel a little less guilty about eating quite so much!
As we progressed throughout the day, we gained stamps in our Foodie Passport to prove we really had tried it all. This was a very nice touch and made it much easier to remember the names of everything we ate. We did manage to forget our last stamp though; I could have got away with claiming we skipped dessert but then I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how amazing it was!Overall, the day was an absolute pleasure. I hope I’ve given you all a glimpse here but without giving everything away as I would urge you to take the tour if you are ever visiting Sicily. Both my boyfriend and I loved the day (he even seemed to enjoy the spleen…). The food was incredible and Marco was friendly, entertaining and knowledgeable; everything we could have asked for in a guide!
For me, the tour was ideal to find out what street food is veggie early in the trip and made me feel much more comfortable ordering these dishes again. I’d never thought before to specifically search for food walking tours before but this is going to be top of my agenda for future trips!
*I was a guest on the tour for the purposes of this review, but it was truly a highlight of my time in Sicily 🙂