“Italian bread” according to the narrative of my youth.
A few years ago my mother came to visit me in Switzerland. Lugano, conveniently located 20 minutes from Como, my Italian happy place, meant that this would also be her first trip to Italy. She landed at Malpensa in Milan and her first request was a cappuccino. At the café, she turned to me and said, “Where is the Italian bread?” In fact, she said this to me every time we entered a shop or ate at a restaurant. She was baffled, where was the “Italian” bread. After the first week she got used to this unexpected version of “Italian” bread, and she still did not call it that, now it was just bread. For my mother, “Italian” bread has sesames on top.
Some people trace their roots online, creating family trees from scattered branches dropped over time and space. My roots are in my tummy. When the waiter placed a basket of bread on our table at da Antonio in Catania, I knew I had a clue. This is what my mother called “Italian bread”. Specifically, bread that has sesame seeds on it. I took a photo and sent it to her immediately. Later back in Palermo our friend Irma informed me that these ‘seeds’ are actually called ‘cimino’ in Sicily, the word sesame is not in fashion.
Essentially, I went to Sicily to eat and drink. What I discovered was the essence under the food and wine, the hospitality that made me feel like home. I found my roots, without meeting a single actual relative.
Originally this trip to Sicily was to be the celebration of our collective 175 years. In 2020 my mother turned 70, I became 50, and Claudio reached 55. This trip all started as a birthday blitz, southern Italian pilgrimage. In the circumstances of the time, it morphed into a cross country adventure in two. Together Claudio and I arrived in Palermo and 16 days later, having traversed the majority of the island sampling food and wine along the way, our adventure took us back to Palermo for a final two days of revelry.
Short of a novella, describing our trip is impossible. What I hope is that these photos with their short explanations will give a glimpse into the magic of our adventure and express gratitude to all those who contributed to the magic. Caution, they may make you hungry.
We, were almost never hungry, as food, good food, is on large supply in Sicily. To be sure we were headed in the right direction, before we left we equipped ourselves with recommendations and contacts from dear friends who love, and or have roots, in Sicily. Then, while there, we received each day from Giovanni some sort of guidance about our current or suggested next location, and the food to be enjoyed there. It got to a point where before Claudio ate anything he asked, “has this been suggested/approved by Giovanni.” Featuring most prominently were wine and ricotta. Little did we know that there was an internal (to Sicily) battle over which is the best ricotta, goat or cow. As for wine, it was nearly all divine, and we found ourselves gravitating to the rich, mineral flavored tastes of wines from the Etna region.
The red line is our route.
Palermo >>Monreale>>Scopello >> Trapani (Vultaggio Agritourismo 9 km from Trapani) >>San Vito lo Capo>>Favignana>>Marsala>>Mazara del Vallo>> Selinunte>> Sciacca>>Marina di Ragusa >> Scicli >> Modica>> Ragusa ibla>>Ragusa >>Noto>>Ortigia>> Syracuse >> Marzamemi>>Catania>>Aci Castello >> Acitrezza >> Acireale>>Etna>> Catania>> Palermo
-Palermo! We arrived to the Funky Flat in Palermo and Giovanni was there waiting for us on the pavement. His giant smile straight from his heart lit up the street. We walked 20 kilometers that day and ate our first (and last) spleen sandwich (not pictured), one of the many dishes for which Palermo is ‘famous’.
Breakfast in Palermo outskirts, Giovanni took us across the city to eat THE best of a certain kind of ricotta pastry from “da gangi”, il cartoccio fritto con ricotta, featured here center with Bearlilino; top left a side view of this bite of ricotta bliss; second left Giovanni took us to visit the Albero di Borsellino, an olive tree from Bethlehem planted on the initiative of Maria Pia Lepanto, mother of Judge Borsellino. This tree, also called the Tree of Peace is a symbol of regeneration, solidarity, civil commitment, and of justice; the rest are wonderful, relaxing clips of us at the seaside soaking in sun and salt air.
Featured my first gelato with brioche (the original ice cream sandwich?) overlooking the sea, we finished our day. The men in the shop could not believe it was the first time for me to eat such a thing!; bottom left the Rosalia, patron saint of Palermo at Monte Pellegrino Hermitage where she rests when not being paraded around; middle the view of Mondello; bottom right Giovanni with his gelato while Claudio explores the seaside ruins.
Famosa autista. In an effort to make us eat more, Giovanni made us a Palermo specialty which is meant to aid digestion. Di, this is a homemade version of ENO. Soda water, with lemon soda and bicarbonate (baking soda). It is meant to be drunk in one go as soon as the bicarbonate has been added. I am not sure it worked entirely, and it was a lot of fun!
Featured a cassata siciliana, an experience in itself. Giovanni cooked us dinner at their place in Palermo. He even sang us happy birthday complete with candles on this orgasmic confection made of ricotta, sponge cake, marzipan, homemade icing, and candied fruits. A meal in itself. We enjoyed it for the next two days. It is from the same place we had something called “apostle’s fingers”. Tiny little bite sized paper thin pastries filled with the smoothest, richest ricotta cheese ever. When we went in to buy them, Claudio was inside buying more before I had eaten my first one, that is how good they are.
Monreale, a magnificent experience for the eyes and the taste buds! After visiting the extraordinary Norman-Byzantine cathedral a meal, complete with a decadent pistachio dessert fit for royalty at bricco e bacco, was heartily enjoyed complete with an Etna red.
On a rare cloudy day we bid farewell to Palermo and headed to the sea, Castellammare on the right was our first full site.
Scopello. Claudio’s kind of lunch, pane cunzato and a glass of local white, this is what one eats ‘on the road’ in Sicily.
Erice where ancient city meets modern art and the GPS began a series of indications which took us to odd and wrong places. Here inside the old city it took us to a near disaster which brought us to meet kind folks from Modica, building our community connections.
The road to San Vito Lo Capo. Happy birthday to Claudio we went to this spectacular seaside to have a special lunch, along the way we were treated to vast expanses of green, gold, and yellow shades of earth and skies of blue.
San Vito Lo Capo. However wonderful the beach was, the real draw was Ghibli where Giovanni had assured us the best couscous on earth was served. Top my deux couscous, rais on the right, tuna so delicate and delicious it melted in my mouth; bottom left Claudio’s birthday cannolo; middle the kids cheer on his birthday; final right dessert that evening at Vultaggio, more ricotta, this time fried in a ravioli!