2019 Discovery: Palermo Street Markets, Sicily

Street food stand
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Crowds got you down? This post is part of a series of 10 European Discoveries for 2019 — off-the-beaten-path gems where you can escape the tourist rut and find a corner of Europe all your own.

Among Italians (and other foodies), Palermo is synonymous with street food. And its three sprawling street markets — Ballarò, Capo, and Vucciria — let you delve into gritty Sicilian culture in a way that engages all the senses.

Go ahead — taste something you’d never otherwise consider putting in your mouth. Like frittula — basically the leftover parts of veal (cartilage, intestines, little bits of bone) all chopped up, griddled, and seasoned with generous salt and lemon juice. Or pani ca’ meusa — a pillowy bun stuffed with spleen, lung, and other organ meat. Or polpo bollito — a small octopus, boiled whole and spritzed with lemon.

Too adventurous? Then stick to the oldies-but-goodies: arancina, a deep-fried ball of saffron rice and meat sauce; sfincioni, French-bread-style “Sicilian pizza,” grilled up to order; and panelle e cazzilli, chickpea fritters and herbed croquettes.

Best of all, the whole time you’re browsing these gut-bombs, you’re fully immersed in the energetic hubbub of Sicilian urban life — watching the Palermitani greet old friends, listening to the urgent musicality of the vendors’ sales pitches, and smelling all that sizzling and frying goodness (plus a full spectrum of other odors). Palermo’s street markets are quintessential Sicily.

Ready to dive in? If you’re exploring Sicily on a Rick Steves tour, you’re good-to-go: The Best of Sicily in 11 Days Tour includes a guided walk through the Ballarò street market. If you’re traveling independently, consider joining a food tour. You can read about my experience on a Palermo street food tour here — and you’ll find lots of other recommendations in our brand-new Rick Steves Sicily guidebook, co-authored by Sarah Murdoch. Look for that in stores this April.

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