Do you know what a chiosco is?

A few years ago, when I’d just purchased my first smartphone and there were not many apps for editing photographs (in fact you could count them on one hand), I was at a “chiosco” with some friends. We’d just ordered some drinks of mandarin and lime, lemon seltzer and salt, and green mandarin. The person serving us at the kiosk had put the drink glasses in a perfect line on the counter and it looked almost like a painting. “Wait, wait. Before we drink them, let me take a photo,” I said.  So, I took my mobile and waited a good long minute for the photo app to load. Eventually, I took the photograph and applied some effects to it. Only I made a mistake. I changed the photo from brilliant colour to black and white. I wanted to try and retake it but meanwhile my thirst overcame me and the seltzer and lemon awaited.

I have never seen anything like the kiosks you find in Catania. To tell the truth, I can’t really say if there’s anything like them elsewhere. One thing I do know, although I can’t cite any specific source to back me up, is that kiosks are something typical of Catania. They’re like high-level street food. They offer gourmet drinks to meet any taste. Kiosks exist in Catania because we who live there are a people who care about the substantial things in life. We think first and above all about eating and drinking and believe all the rest must follow. Kiosks, you might say, take care of the drinking part. It’s important to be able to have just the right drink. This involves a custom mix of the most thirst-quenching syrup, the right amount of lemon juice and seltzer water fresh from the syphon.

Me, for example, I always ask for a lemon seltzer and salt. The salt is supposed to be optional. According to me, it’s indispensable.  It’s a simple beverage. It takes only two minutes flat to make and less to drink. But it can quench your thirst like nothing else. When you’re really thirsty on a summer evening, a drink like that can  loom up before you like a mirage in the desert. But for me it hasn’t always been just lemon seltzer and salt. That’s to say when I was a girl, it was mandarin and lemon instead. This is a mixture of mandarin syrup, “seltz” (which I should explain is seltzer water from a syphon) and lemon juice. Another mouth-watering version of this is the orange one which is very sweet. For some, its over the top. They’re the ones that drink green mandarin. That’s generally made with mandarin syrup also but one that’s a bit more sour. At least I think it’s that way . Otherwise, I don’t know how to explain why it changes the colour of your tongue. It’s the green mandarin, obviously, that changes your tongue green. What can I tell you? I’ve been crazy about that drink too since I was little.

Then, there are those drinks I discovered when I was a bit older. For example, “chinotto” or the non-alcoholic bitters you get at the kiosk. It’s not the same as the version you find at the supermarket, not even the more refined ones. The one from the kiosk is much better. There’s also tamarind. It’s a very sweet drink. But I would describe it as drinking tamarind in its purest form. Lemon-lemon with pieces of lemon in it is another great classic. I have a friend who will drive kilometres to have one at her favourite kiosk. In fact, the notion of a “favourite kiosk” opens a whole other discussion about what’s the best kiosk in Catania. It’s not easy to answer. For sentimental reasons, I’m very attached to Chiosco Giammona in Piazza Umberto near Via Etnea. It’s a landmark and the owners are very polite. They never ask me if I want salt in my “seltz” because, like me, they know its a necessary ingredient. The owners treat the kiosk as a kind of religion which also now happens to be a business.

There’s also another school of thought that roots for the kiosk in Piazza Borgo which is always busy at all hours. It’s easy to get to especially by car. You always find parking and there’s plenty of benches to sit down on.  Sometimes though, they’re a bit too generous with the lemon juice.  There, what starts out as a thirst-quenching drink can, I tell you, turn quickly into a stomach ache. Recently, I discovered the kiosk in Piazza Roma, which is also known as that of “Zio Lino” or ‘Uncle’ Lino. I’d never been there before. It’s only after the owner died that I found out it was a bit of a legendary place. They invented — in fact, patented — the perfect formula for making a frappé. If you had to find one word to describe their frappé, the word would be “substantial”. Their most famous flavour of frappé is the nutella one. I tried it upon the recommendation of a friend — as well as the hazelnut version. After that, I asked myself why I had never gone to this kiosk before. One thing is for sure. I will be going back. I need to try all the other frappé flavours they make. Stopping at a kiosk is a quench-thirsting break to take before a late-night snack at the “Laboratorio” (or ‘Laboratory’) on Via Napoli. This famous spot in Catania is open all night and serves pastries and hot food. There, it’s just not real love without an onion — or rather a pastry filled with onion, tomato, mozzarella and ham.

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