The Phallic Legend of the Cannolo

It is said that the very first dessert to resemble a cannolo was in Ancient Rome, around the time of Cicero. But, it was during Medieval times that what we think of today as a cannolo really came to life; invented in Sicily by Arab women!

As the story goes, the city of Qal at al-Nissa (or as it is called today, Caltanissetta), was home to many Saracen harems. The women of these harems were known to prepare sweets and desserts, they were the first to make a sweet similar to what we now call cannolo. Legend has it that the cannolo's phallic form was totally intentional! It was chosen to represent the the penis of the women's husbands. What a bunch of bad-ass medieval bakers, with a serious sense of humor! 

Later in history, when Sicily was conquered by the Normans and was thereby under Catholic rule, many women who previously lived in harems, became nuns. The cannolo tradition continued in the nunneries.

Of course, any mention of a phallus was completely done away with. Instead, the cannolo was said to represent a fountain of life water, the ricotta was said to be water. Less explicit, but still a symbol of fertility! 

What makes a Sicilian cannolo a REAL cannolo?

Cannoli, famous in all the world. They are a dessert. A a pastry. But did you know that cannoli are distinctly Sicilian? A dessert tradition born on the Island of Sicily. Many people do not realize that the cannolo is Sicilian, with origins deep in Sicily's history

But let's think about the modern day cannolo. What makes a Sicilian cannolo, today, different from the cannoli found in other cities in the world? 

The Ricotta

The ricotta cheese must be made from sheep's milk. Never cow. Usually, with mini chocolate chips mixed in. 

The Shell 

The shell is made with flour, wine, sugar, and fried in animal lard. Sorry vegetarians! Although, many of our friends in Palermo do prefer to use oil.

Candied Fruit

Canding fruit is a Sicilian art form. There is nothing better than real candied fruit.  In Palermo you usually find a delicious slice of orange peel.

La Festa della Pasta 'ncaciata

The pasta dish called "pasta 'ncaciata" is a typical Sicilian dish that is originally from Messina. This amazing dish is named after the way it is cooked: 'ncaciata style, aka, in burning embers. 

So how do you make this pasta dish? First you boil pasta to the point that it is more than al dente. Then, you mix the pasta with just a bit of the following ingredients: ground meat, salame, hard boiled eggs, fried eggplant, fresh caciocavallo, basil, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and pecorino. 

In the past, before ovens were a common household appliance, people used to cook this pasta dish directly in their fires' ashes. That's where the name comes from " 'ncaciata;" it's the preparation method.  "U ncaçio" means "in the embers" in the Messinese dialect.

Today, pasta 'ncaciata is still cooked, in the traditional style, during a specific event called "la festa della Pasta 'ncaciata." This event is every mid-August in Novara di Sicilia, a little village in the province of Messina. This annual tradition is a beautiful moment when the old ways of doing this is experienced  and this pasta is cooked on the burning embers, as it used to be done, 'ncasciata style! Young and old Sicilians, along with travelers and visitors relive the atmosphere of a Sicily of centuries ago. 

The Legend of Palermo's Spleen Sandwich

Pani ca' Meusa, the epic spleen sandwich of Palermo! Around the year 1000 there was a large Jewish community in Palermo and many Jewish people worked as butchers. They traded their butchering skills for parts of the animals they butchered. Much of the meat they kept was organs and offal of cow.

How did they prepare the cow innards? They boiled them and served them with lemon and salt. This was an original street food in Palermo.

Around the same time, the Arab population of Palermo used to make a sandwich with ricotta and caciocavallo cheese. This was also an original street food in Palermo.

At some point, these two dishes became very common in all of Palermo. 

Centuries later, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Jewish people were tragically forced to leave The Kingdom of Sicily, Remember, during that time Sicily was ruled by Spain.

Over time, the people who continued to populate the island of Sicily, started to develop their own Sicilian identity.  According to the legend, at this point in history, in Palermo the two street food traditions were combined into the spleen sandwich closer to what we know today. 

Today, the meat for this sandwich is boiled and then fried in pig lard. The tradition of frying in lard was created to heat up the meat and it began because it gave the meat a soft texture. This softness meant that even people without all their teeth could eat it.

Today on the streets of Palermo, we often eat our Pani ca' Meusa Maritata style. To make this street food delicacy, cow spleen, lung, and trachea are boiled. Then, right before the moment of eating, they are fried in pig lard, put on a bun, and sprinkled with ricotta and caciocavallo.

Maritata means marriage. The idea is that the white cheese represents the bride and the dark colored meat represents the groom.

And there you have it!  



Filming Alex Polizzi's Secret Italy

If you watch British TV, you likely know who Alex Polizzi is. Not only is she a TV star, she is also a wonderful person with a sincere curiosity
for uncommon food. Our co-founder, Salvatore Agusta, had the pleasure of spending lots of time with her and showing her around Palermo's food scene. 

Alex is working on a project the "Alex Polizzi's Secret Italy." She was in Palermo, filming part of the episode about Sicily. We couldn't help but tell her all our secret places and favorite foods. It was such a pleasure to hang out with her.  

We had panelle, pani ca meusa, arancine. Here you can see us standing outside Nino u' Ballerino.

Basically we spent the whole day walking Palermo and talking about history and gastronomy. Grazie Alex, it was fantastic. Come again soon.

The New York Times: 36 Hours in Palermo, Sicily

Credit Andrea Wyner for The New York Times

Credit Andrea Wyner for The New York Times

Ingrid K. Williams of the NYTimes tore it up in Palermo on her 36 hour adventure. Dear Ingrid, thank you so much for coming to our city!  Our favorite part of her article is when she says:

"Palermo’s diverse street food — from arancine (fried rice balls) to stigghiola (barbecued intestines) — is legendary. For variety and a modicum of comfort, head to Nni Franco u’ Vastiddaru, a street-food restaurant with plastic tables and chairs on an adjacent piazza. The specialty is panelle, rectangular fritters of chickpea flour, served on a seeded bun. Pair that with the fritti misti, a mix of arancine and croquettes, or the pani ca’ meusa, a cheesy spleen sandwich. Dinner for two, about 20 euros."

Yes! Dinner for two about 20 euro. Affordable good food. That is Palermo! 

The Palermo Street Food Game

We at Palermo Street Food are always up for special requests and this special request tour was one of the BEST TOURS we have ever done. It was a blast! An amazing time! We had so much fun!

The Palermo Street Food Game is a fantastic way to get to know the street food in Palermo while bonding with your friends and co-workers. 

This is how the game works. We break your group up into to teams, "Stigghiola Team" and "Polpo Team." The two teams are paired with a local guide and have to complete a series of street food eating experiences around the city, kind of like an edible scavenger hunt.

But, everyone must listen carefully to their guide, because the winner is determined by a test of street food knowledge.  After all the items on the list have been completed, everyone meets back at the home base for the question challange.

The winners of this game were Team Polpo. The question that they answered for the win: Which was the Sicilian King that asked to change some of the original ingredients in the arancina to make it more useful for hunting? 

The answer? We're not going to tell! 

After the winner was named, we spent the rest of the evening eating and drinking in Vucciria to celebrate!

Ainsley Harriott & Palermo Street Food

What can we say? Working with Sir Ainsley Harriott was a great honor. To see Palermo's street food through his eyes was incredible. Our Salvatore says that Ainsley's energy, charisma, and appreciation for good food are amazing. Grazie mille Ainsley for coming to Palermo.  

Watch Ainsley Harriott's Palermo episode in 4 parts here:

Ainsley Harriott & Palermo Street Food Part 1


Ainsley Harriott & Palermo Street Food Part 2


Ainsley Harriott & Palermo Street Food Part 3


Ainsley Harriott & Palermo Street Food Part 4

Palermo in Travel & Leisure

According Travel and Leisure you cannot miss a visit Palermo during your holidays. The famous U.S. magazine wrote about our city in one of their epic must-travel lists. 

They wrote that "Palermo, Sicily, is another destination capturing the collective imagination. TripAdvisor has noticed a recent uptick in searches and positive feedback—and we’ve noticed compelling reasons to visit, like a surprisingly sophisticated wine scene and affordable independent hotels."

It is so true! Palermo offers to all travelers the most reasonable offers in terms of Fun, Food and Culture. Our Palermo Street Food tour is totally a part of this mission: history, taste, and friendly people. What makes Palermo special is not only the jovial atmosphere of the city but all the different adventures you can find inside the city. 

Read more about it on our TripAdvisor.

So, what you are waiting for? Come and visit us!

From New York to Palermo by Bicycle

This post was written by Palermo Street Food's co-founder Danielle Aquino Roithmayr for Palermo's Rosalio blog. Yes, it is in Italian, but give it a try anyway! 

Se avessi un’auto la userei. Questa è stata certamente una delle prime frasi che ho imparato usando il tempo congiuntivo/condizionale; ed è proprio così.

Salve a tutti mi presento, sono Danielle Aquino, vivo da un paio di anni a Palermo e mi occupo di cibo artigianale: forse mi avete visto qualche volta in bicicletta in giro per Palermo. Sono la ragazza americana che molto cauta, con un caschetto protettivo, percorre giornalmente il marciapiede di via Libertà/via Notarbartolo, spaventata a morte dal traffico cittadino.

Il mio è solo un po’ di umorismo, non è poi così male il traffico palermitano, basta solo farci l’abitudine ed il gioco è fatto. Quel che è certo è che non manca mai una buona dose d’adrenalina; ad esempio oggi una signora guidando una Fiat 500 azzurra col telefonino rigorosamente al suo orecchio mi ha quasi appiattito quando ha deciso, cosi con naturale freschezza, di girare a destra senza utilizzare le frecce segnaletiche. Mi è persino capitato di rischiare d’esser catapultata all’interno di quello che qui a Palermo si definisce tecnicamente “lapino chino ‘i frutta e verdura” ossia un fruttarolo ambulante. Sarei comunque atterrata sul morbido tra melanzane e zucchine biologiche siciliane! Comunque, come ho detto, sono casi poco frequenti.

A Palermo per chi va in bici c’è poi un costante problema: dove incatenare la bici? Fortunatamente Io ho un lucchetto fortissimo che ho comprato negli Usa, fatto per resistere ai furfantelli di New York City che poco hanno da invidiare ai loro colleghi siciliani.

Se vi state chiedendo come abbia fatto a portarlo a Palermo, be’ posso dirvi che non è stato molto semplice. Ogni aeroporto in cui facevo scalo ho sempre dovuto dare mille spiegazioni sulle ragioni per cui avevo deciso di portarlo con me da New York, mentre una volta giunta a Roma e poi qui nel capoluogo siciliano nessuno mi ha più chiesto nulla, quasi come se fosse una routine viaggiare con un archetto blocca bici.

Ma ne è valsa la pena perché sto bene con il mio lucchetto newyorchese, almeno fino ad oggi. In ogni caso, ribadisco che questa città non è proprio fatta per i ciclisti urbani e tante volte mi “siddia” proprio incatenare la bici, così se devo solo comprare un gelato, in questa stagione sempre una ottima brioche con gelato ai gelsi e cioccolato fondente oppure se decido di prendere un caffè – senza zucchero per favore – lascio la bici vicino alla porta del bar e prego santa Rosalia di ritrovarla al suo posto.

A proposito di bar e caffè, una volta mi è capitata una strana avventura mentre mi trovavo in un bar per soddisfare la mia costante dipendenza da espresso. Ad un certo punto, mentre chiacchieravo con il barista, entra nel locale un signore sulla quarantina, probabilmente un manovale intento a concedersi una delle sue frequenti pause di lavoro. Sproloquiando con fare del tutto isolano (i siciliani sono tutti assolutamente dei grandi attori cominci) diresse lo sguardo verso di me ed il barista, chiedendo un caffè americano e prendendo spunto dalla cosa per sostenere che gli americani dovrebbero tornarsene tutti in America «perché è li che si sta bene» anzi, a suo dire, «tutti i siciliani dovrebbero andare a vivere in America perché qui non vale la pena continuare». Io vivo da qualche tempo qui e, alla lunga, ho assimilato anche un po’ di gestualità siciliana che non fa mai male. In quella circostanza, frenando quanto più potevo la mia risata, ho semplicemente annuito senza dire una parola. Non appena quell’uomo si è allontanato dal bar io ed il barista ci siamo guardati in faccia e siamo scoppiati a ridere. Mi capita spesso di essere scambiata per italiana ma più raramente che decidano di affrontare con quel genere di argomento con me. Anche in quella occasione avevo lasciato la bici fuori senza catena, ma per fortuna mi aspettava esattamente dove l’avevo lasciata; come si dice da queste parti “a postissimo!”.

Click here to read the original post on the Rosalio. 


The Black-Hooded Men and Capo Market

Let's time travel for a moment, back to medieval Sicily, when the secret sect known as Beati Paoli walked the streets — and the secret tunnles! — of Palermo. The Beati Paoli were Palermo's very own Robin Hood; black-hooded men of mystery waging a secret revolutionary struggle against the Catholic Church and other athorities . 

Located in Palermo and named after "Beato Paola," Saint Francis of Paolo, the Beati Paoli were a group of hooded "avengers" who defended common people against the Inquisition, spies, and the government.

The Beati Paoli were headquartered in the Capo district of Palermo. The same Capo that is today home to many of our favorite street food vendors. They used a vast array of tunnels, sewers and hidden passageways to secretly navigate the city. Due to the sensitive and dangerous nature of their work, they protected their identities by wearing black hooded cloaks and operated only at night.

The historical evidence is hazy about what really happened to the Beati Paoli. Did they fade from power as they failed to achieve their goals? Did their struggle between conspirators in Sicily and the government span not decades but centuries? It is very difficult to establish the historical truth of this sect, but the setting is real: the old Palermo; Capo Market and its underground tunnels.

Panormus Street Food Festival

The festival started this morning. It is the 1st edition of the Panormus Street Food Festival in the heart of Palermo. The festival was organized by a Milanese company in honor of Expo 2015.

The location for this event is Palermo's Piazza San Domenico, which is right next to Vucciria market. There were more than 35 different stands and a total expected 2,000 people, made up of Sicilian locals and travelers!


It's such a beautiful thing. All of our street food all at one giant celebration of culture and food: meat, fish, vegetables, desserts it's all here. 

Of course, Palermo Street Food was there. Check out our full photo albums here, here, and here. Here's a snapshot of us with Nino u' Ballerino, our local Street Food Oscar hero. 


This 2 day festival runs from 10am-Midnight and parallels 2 other Sicilian street food festivals: Fuori Festival in Monreale and Cefalu'. If you are in Palermo today or tomorrow, this festival is a must see. So many happy people dedicated to celebrating one of Sicily's most amazing assets: the street food! 

Nino u' Ballerino wins the Street Food Oscars

We are proud to announce that this year marked the first edition of the Italian Street Food Oscars, the first national contest that awards the best Street Food in Italy.

 There were around 1,000 Italian vendors considered for the awards and the competition registered around 47,000 votes from the general public. The competition was organized by and of course the contest was full of  Palermintan nominated vendors.

Of the approximately 1,000 vendors, only 10 vendors were selected for the final round. In that top 10 was our own Nino u' Ballerino, aka Antonino Buffa from Corso Finocchiaro Aprile in Palermo. 

The top 10 finalists had to prepare their specialties for a jury made up of Mauro Rosati, Jury president, and the journalists and food bloggers: Chiara Maci, Luisanna Messeri, Elisa Poli, and Carlotta Girola.

We are overjoyed to report that not only did Nino u' Ballerino win for the category of "Best Offal Dish" for this spleen sandwich, but he also won the overall competition for "Best Street Food in Italy." 

Nino was so moved by the win, that he shed tears while he accepted his award. 

Here is the list of finalists:

1.       Nino U’ Ballerino dal 1802    

Specialità: Pani ca' meusa "schiettu"

Regione: Sicilia

2.       La Folperia da Max e Barbara 

Specialità: Folpetti

Regione: Veneto

3.       Le Roi de la Crêpe

Specialità: Crêpe con sella, pecorino e erbe

Regione: Umbria

4.       I Sapori del Mio Paese

Specialità: Panino con porchetta artigianale

Regione:  Basilicata

5.       All’Antico Vinaio

Specialità: La Favolosa

Regione: Toscana

6.       Tavola Calda Europa

Specialità: Arancino con ricotta fresca e Piacentinu Ennese DOP

Regione: Sicilia

7.       Venditti Porchetta

Specialità: L'abruzzese

Regione: Abruzzo

8.       Amici di Ponte Vecchio

Specialità: Covaccino con stracchino e salsiccia

Regione: Toscana

9.       Pepèn

Specialità: Spaccaballe

Regione: Emilia Romagna

10.   Bello&Buono

Specialità: Cuoppo di fritto

Regione: Lombardia

Click here to watch the video!  


Who is the Genius of Palermo?

The Genius of Palermo is a particular figure. He has the beard of an old man but with the body of a young boy. He wears a crown and a snake in its arms that bites his chest. 

palermo street foor genius streat food street food

The image of the Genius of Palermo can be found all over Palermo. The most important Genius of Palermo statues are in the Vucciria market, at Villa Giulia, and in Piazza della Rivoluzione.

the real genius of palermo

Most of the statues of the Genius of Palermo also bear the the following Latin phrase: "Panormus conca aurea suos devorat alienos nutrit," which literally means "Palermo, the golden land, eats its own people and feeds foreign people." The most famous interpretation of this phrase is that the city of Palermo is a benevolent place but forsakes it citizens.

Most of the people here in Palermo consider the Genius to be a pagan symbol that protects our city and it is celebrated, along with Santa Rosalia, who is our religious protector. 

Another theory says that the Genius's snake represents fertility and capacity for renewal of the city of Palermo. This emphasizes the ability of the Genius to create something new from the consumption of the city of Palermo.

The Genius statue in Piazza della Rivoluzione found a special role during the riots of 1848 when it became the symbol of Palermo's desire for freedom and emancipation from the Bourbon rule. During that time, people would gather around the statue and drape it in the protest flag.

Pane Panelle & Tumminia

A couple of days ago we decided to go to visit Davide, a young vendor in Palermo that has his truck well of Palermo's main drag. We were curious to meet him because we have being noticing that in the last 9 months this guy had a great success in Palermo, so we wanted to understand his secret! 

Once we arrived, we immediately met Davide; he did not lose the chance to shake our hand in between making panini. 

Davide is almost 30 years old, he has been working in the field of Palermo street food since he was 20. Even though he started to study at school to become an electrician, he had a keen eye for business and taking the example of his dad, he started to go around Palermo with his car selling "pane cunsato" and other fresh sandwiches that he prepared (facci di vecchia e panini allo sgombro). Pane cunsato literally means "dressed bread" and the main ingredients of his food were anchovies, fresh tomatoes, cacio cavallo or tuma cheese and for sure GOOD extra virgin olive oil, oregano, salt and a bit of pepper.

Since the beginning he changed different trucks and recipes finding finally his true love: PANE E PANELLE!!

But guys do you know how many pane e panelle vendors there are around Palermo? Well, the number is probably similar to the the number of Pizzerie in New York City. Hundreds, if not thousands. To become as famous as he is today, he had to develop something different, for sure!

As we ate his panino we asked him his secret. He told us that everything started based on a series of conversations that Davide had with a Doctor who usually eats at his truck. In fact, usually you can find Davide around Villa Sofia Hospital so his truck is frequented by many doctors.

During the conversations between the Doctor and Davide, Davide started to learn more about ancient grains like Tumminia, Kamut and Farro flour and their good effects on the human body. Tumminia is actually a grain native to Sicily, and Davide makes 50% of all his panini with Tumminia bread. Since then, Davide decided to prepare his pane e panelle using bread made with those new (or maybe it's better to say old) kind of flours. 

The result is that today Davide is considered one of the best street food vendors in the city because, besides the artisanal quality of his production (panelle, crocche, rascatura...), he also uses bread made with these wonderful grains. He also told us that coming soon is a panino for people that suffer from celiac disease.

That's an absolutely great new entry into the Palermo street food scene! It is innovation, combined with antique Sicilian-ness.  So far, he is the only one doing this. Bravo Davide!

Today Davide is quite successful. When we asked him if he had anything to say about his success, he said that he has to thank God who, since the beginning of his adventure, has been near to him and driving his ideas. 

What we can say about Davide? He is a great guy, with great humility and capacity. AND he makes a damn good panino.