“Cu mancia fa muddichi“. The Sicilian dialect is extremely fascinating. Not the least for its ability to evoke familiar images and link them with unexpected meanings. The saying above, for example, translates into “If you eat, you make crumbs“. It’s a way of saying that if you do something, you may make a mistake or, rather, it’s always better to do something and make a mistake than do nothing at all. This is a philosophy I can fully relate to. It’s part of the spirit of the people of Catania, who are always busy and doing something. One of the reasons why I like the saying “Cu mangia fa muddichi” so much is that it refers to food, albeit in a metaphorical way. And food, for those of us who live in the shadow of Mount Etna, is something not to joke about.
In recent years, there’s been a trend in “reinterpreting” street food. Street food has been turned into a sensory experience. It’s been refined by great chefs and reformulated for restaurant tables. Although Catania has had its share of these reinterpretations, muddiche or °crumbs° are something we still like to make mainly in the street. In the capital city of Etna, a street food tour is a complete culinary experience and guaranteed to not leave room in your stomach for anything else. Of course, vegetarians and vegans might have a bit of a challenge. Still, there’s something to suit any taste. Also, cost is not an issue. Street food is made to be cheap. For a few Euros, you get a full meal. What things do you absolutely have to try?
The majestic “arancino”
This is an authentic and macho dish in Catania. In Palermo, instead, there’s a feminine version (“arancina”), which aims to be more refined. In Catania, we prefer to eat it with a meat sauce that has peas and big beautiful chunks of beef in it. It may not be necessary to explain, but an “arancino” is a ball of breaded and fried rice. The crispier the outside, the better the quality. Cooking rice for an arancino is not easy. The rice grains have to remain fully intact. Otherwise, half the taste is lost. Where to find the most famous ones? At Savia, the historic bar on Via Etnea which is in front of Villa Bellini. It’s an obligatory stop. A vegetarian alternative to the arancino with meat sauce? There’s the Catania-style arancino that comes with tomatoes, fried eggplant and salty ricotta. You should also try the pistachio version made in Bronte.
This is a kind of institution in Catania. It’s served in historic taverns or butcher shops that stay open all night, lighting up braziers to cook the meat in the middle of the street on Via Plebiscito. It’s certainly a folkloric scene and has a place in all the major tourist guides on the city. But, I might propose another option — the area around Ursino Castle, just a few steps from Piazza Duomo. There, you’ll find plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating which serve good meat dishes. It’s less chaotic and more homey than via Plebiscito. Make sure to try the cipollata (bacon wrapped around a fresh onion stem) and horse meat meatballs as well as the traditional fillet. The vegetarian alternative? L’insalata della nonna (grandmother’s salad) which comes with oil, cherry tomatoes, red onion and, if you like, salty ricotta. The dressing has to be diligently mopped up with a nice piece of homemade bread.
Here’s how to describe it, at all at once and in one breath: pig intestine stuffed and cooked with pig blood. In the local dialect, we call it “sangele“. It looks a bit like a sausage, but is more regularly shaped. I’d never eaten it in Catania until – due to my ignorance of French – I ordered the French version while on holiday in Lyon. When they brought me the dish, I thought about sending it back. In the end, I decided to try it and found it delicious. In Catania, you find it for sale on the street, often in Via della Concordia, or at the Fish Market — the historical one that opens its doors every morning near the Amenano Fountain in Piazza Duomo. The vegetarian alternative? In this case, there isn’t one. Anyone selling blood sausage often serves wine with it to help “swallow it down” and wash the sausage’s pungent flavour off the palate. The wine in question is “zibibbo“, which is sweet and like a liqueur. I love it.
This is a puff pastry stuffed with caramelized onions, tomato and mozzarella. It alone makes a good dish for anyone not eating meat. Otherwise, ham can be added to the filling. There are also other versions with “hidden contents” for those who want a stuffed pastry filled with onions and mushrooms or onions, olives and spinach. The variations are endless. They all have their merits, although the traditional version is fairly hard to beat. Where to eat it? At the Laboratorio Via Napoli. For natives, it’s a required appointment in late night Catania. Some useful information: the Laboratorio has expanded and now has a celiac section. This development is much appreciated. Rumour has it that it is the best place for eating cafeteria style (“cipollina” is one of the so-called “items” there, to use cafeteria speak). You can eat there without even noticing that everything is gluten-free.