When you sit down in a small, family-run trattoria in Palermo, something like Trattoria Family Michele & Iolanda, expect to have the freedom of choice snatched away from you. You'll enjoy whatever plate you're given to eat, but you won't have much say in what that plate is.
Thinking about Sicilian food nearly always sets the stomach to growling. Perfectly-baked pizzas, al dente pasta smothered in a rich ragú, fried arancine, swordfish filets, cannoli, pani c'a meusa. Mmmmm... Hold on, wait just a second. That last one, I don't recognize that. "Oh no? Well then, my friend, we must educate you. Pani c'a meusa!"
Sicilian cuisine continues to spring wonderful surprises on us. I had been completely unaware of the existence of sfincione, or Sicilian Pizza, until we visited Monreale. And now, I'll never forget it.
The first time I saw someone walking down the street in Palermo, eating ice cream in a bun, I thought, "What a weirdo". The second time I saw it, I thought, "Is this some sort of crazy Sicilian specialty?" The third time I saw it, I thought, "That looks delicious". And the fourth time I saw someone eating ice cream in a bun, it was because I spotted my own blissful reflection in a storefront window.
Reading that one of Palermo's favorite dishes is pasta con le sarde, spaghetti with sardines and fennel, didn't exactly set my stomach on fire with unquenchable desire. But after seeing plate after plate being ordered at Ristorante Amato, near the Teatro Massimo, I figured there must be something to it. So I hopped on the bandwagon and ordered my first ever pasta/sardine/fennel dish. And it won't be my last.
On the streets of Palermo, the only things which stick out more than the ancient palaces are big Sicilian bellies. The sight of obese men puttering around on Vespas is a daily amusement, and even many of the toddlers have a few pounds on me. Of course, it's all perfectly understandable. Along with pizza, pasta and ice cream, Sicilians turn out to be masters of fried food.