From Brooklyn to Palermo, a Chat with The Cheeky Chef

Presenting, Linda Sarris, aka the Cheeky Chef!

We first met Linda circa Festa di Santa Rosalia 2013 and we've been eating and drinking amazing things with her ever since.  After a long stint back in Brooklyn, NY, Cheeky is back in La Conca d'Oro!

We just sat down and chatted with Linda about being back in Palermo.

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Palermo Street Food (PSF): So, Linda Linduccia, you just moved back to Palermo from Brooklyn, something you have been planning for a long time now. You have traveled to so many places in the world, what keeps you coming back to Palermo?

Linda Sarris (LS): Palermo is the best city. Ever. Next question ...  Just, kidding, I'll answer.  Settling here was an obvious choice for me. Palermo has always been a place where I could escape. Days here are filled with adventures in the food markets, late night street food, meeting friends, really cheap drinks. I love being here and soaking up the energy of this place. I feel here in Palermo the same way foreigners feel an electric energy when they visit New York.

PSF: Ok, so what was the first thing you ate the other day when you arrived in Palermo?

LS: Every time I arrive in Palermo I go straight to the Mercato del Capo food market behind Teatro Massimo. I visit the same fishmonger and buy a small box of fish meatballs from him. They are made with swordfish, parsley, and currants. I could live off of those things. Perfectly fried polpette with the combination of sweet and savory that you find in a lot of dishes here. The fishmonger definitely remembers me, but we are not exactly friends yet. I'm working on it. I told him the story that this is my first stop every time I come back to Palermo and he loved it!

PSF: As a chef I am sure your cooking must change here in Palermo. Which ingredient are you currently obsessed with cooking?

LS: I am a chef who has always focused on fresh seafood and coastal flavors so you can imagine how crazy I go here with the fish selection. When it comes to cooking in Sicily, I always go for the things that I cannot find at home. Tenerumi, or squash runner greens, long zucchini the size of baseball bats, little red mullet fish called triglie, and wild fennel whenever I can find it.

PSF: Where is your go to place for grocery shopping in Palermo?

LS: I found an apartment in Centro Storico because I do not have a car and I like when I can just walk everywhere I want to go, like in New York where hardly anyone has cars. One of my favorite things about being here is having your special "pushers" that you can become a regular customer with. I am scouring the food markets now since I'm new in town to make sure I pick the right fishmonger and the vegetable stand guys. In a supermarket or bakery it is not such a big deal, but in a public market the loyalty is very important here. As a Chef visiting Palermo, the outdoor food markets are a dream come true. I actually like visiting them all and since they are so close together, it's not crazy to buy fish in Capo and vegetables in Ballarò. There are a few men in Vucciria that I visit only to buy salted sardines, homemade bottarga, or fresh tuna.

PSF: I remember when you took the Palermo Street Food tour a few years ago, we spent a lot of that night hanging out and drinking lots of grillo in Vucciria. Do you still hang out in Vucciria at night?

LS: I actually don't like going into Vucciria that much anymore. The small square is a market in the morning and the piazza turns into a great place to hang out at night drinking beers outside and sampling street food. Maybe I am getting old, but I think the crowd has changed over the last 3 years and there are much younger "ragazzi" hanging out and it's a bit too crowded for me. Maybe weeknights are better but on the weekend it is madness. There are still the same guys, since forever, making food in La Vucciria, which I love. The boiled octopus, grilled sausages and stigghiole, mangia e bevi (scallions wrapped in pancetta) and the fried panelle is always a good idea.

PSF: Where do you like to go now to just have a drink and chill?

LS: There is a nice bar on Via Maqueda near the Quattro Canti called Bistrot Bisso. It's really central and perfect for lunch or an aperitivo. I always loved Bar Garibaldi and there is another place Colletti that makes good cocktails. For a coffee and cake, I like Cioccolateria Lorenzo in Piazza Marina. Cana Enoteca is a nice place to hideaway with a glass of wine on Via Alloro.

best places to eat and drink palermo

Cioccolateria Lorenzo,

one of The Cheeky Chef's favorite working cafe spots in Palermo. 


PSF: You have lived in both the countryside and city in Sicily. The first time we met you was at Case Vecchie! You were in full campagnola mode, apprenticing with your mentor Fabrizia Lanza. Do you miss it sometimes? Sicilian countryside farmer life?

LS: Yes of course! I actually go quite often. I have been in Palermo for about a month and have already spent time in Sambuca di Sicilia, Regaleali where the Tasca d'Almerita family has their winery and cooking school, and also Camporeale. With my life as a freelancer, I have flexibility to write and work from anywhere. That was part of the main plan for my move here. I am cooking less for work but enjoying it more when I can actually cook for friends. I am writing a small guide book on my own for tourists coming to Sicily, I am developing a travel program for an agency in Rome, and helping out with a few other food/wine projects with friends here. It's important to get a nice mix of city and countryside. Sicily has it all and even in January it's beautiful to sit by the seaside.

PSF: Where is your favorite place to go from Palermo for a day trip by train?

LS: Train travel here is tricky. I prefer to rent a car which is actually VERY cheap. I mean this month, since it is winter, I have found car rentals for between 6-10 euros per day.

PSF: Where do you like to go if you just go for a Sunday drive from Palermo?

LS: I love Mondello the beach town outside of Palermo and you can get there on the public bus. For a longer trip, Scopello is great in the summer or San Vito lo Capo and the Riserva dello Zingaro are top!  Also the ferry to the island of Ustica is a wonderful day trip in summer from Palermo. You can go there and back just for the day.

PSF: You are in the process on perfecting your Italian and Sicilian!

LS: I love the challenge of spending time in a place that forces me to speak another language. It's amazing how fast you start to pick it up when you have no other choice.

PSF: What's the Sicilian word you use most often?

LS: Amunì! Which means, Andiamo. Which means, let's get a move on people!

PSF: What's new that's badass? Can you share one of your upcoming Sicily projects you are working on?

LS: Yes! Two things. First, I am working on a top-secret bread baking workshop with the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School. We are inviting bakers from all over the world to come for a collaborative week this fall to experiment with local flours. 

PSF: Hot. Second?

LS: I am leading a week-long trip this May with the Di Giovanna Organic Winery in Sambuca di Sicilia where we will bring guests on adventures through the western side of the island. We want to give tourists a real "Life in Sicily" experience by organizing winery visits, cooking lessons, trips to see how ricotta is made and visit the sea salt pans near Marsala.

PSF: But what about the street food in Palermo!?!?

LS: Tranquillo!! That will be the next trip. 

PSF: Final thoughts?

LS: Yes, check this out, I'm learning to slow down my walking because I'm so obviously a New Yorker sometimes. Sicilians take their time. Everything is on a slower pace.

PS: Meglio così!

LS: In fatti! 

Known best as The Cheeky Chef, Linda Sarris splits her time between cooking for female CEOs in New York City and working as a food/travel consultant based in Palermo, Italy. She's the founder of the project SNACK Sicily. You can visit her website, hereYou can also follow her on Instagram, here