I knew before I got there that I'd love Palermo. I didn't realize quite how much.
There's a fizz to the city that I've found in few other places; people often shout across the street to each other, and there always seems to be more people out and about than there really are.
At night, Palermo's plazze are lit as if in twilight: it never seems to be dark, even into the early hours.
And there's the food. The food. I don't think there's a better place for it than this beautiful city.
Have we come to the most important battle of our epoch: Sicilian vs Neapolitan pizza?
Call me a heretic (many have) but, for me, the insanely thick crust of a slice of Silician knocks out anything coming from Naples or Rome.
Frida Pizzeria might be the world's best example of that Silician mana from the heavens. Busy every night - with tourists and locals alike - it's a great introduction to a city that, if you're even remotely into eating, will steal your heart.
I mean, look at that pizza.
So good I went twice. And ordered the same meal both times.
Also a contender for the home of pizza of the century (as almost anywhere in Palermo: for me it was Frida, for my partner, PerciaSacchi), this place is an excellent all-rounder with super pasta to match its pizzas.
The menu changes regularly and the terrace is superb; PerciaSacchi sits on a quiet side street not far from the large square that Frida Pizzeria calls home.
The Ballarò market
Before explaining the Ballerò market, know this: I have an unhealthy obsession with capers. I eat them directly from the jar; I put them in gravies; I make a puttanesca sauce perhaps three times a week.
The way some people love burgers, I love capers.
With that in mind, I'm telling you: buy some capers at Ballarò and eat them right from the little container. they are the prettiest damn capers I have ever seen.
Setting capers to one side (if we must), Ballarò is considered one of Europe's best food markets: stall upon stall displays succulent olives and bright tomatoes. If you're lucky, you'll even see (what's left of) a whole swordfish, being carved and sold.
If you're staying somewhere with a kitchen, pick up groceries to cook at home: you won't regret it.
Go for a drink: enjoy freely given food. We sat at the bar of the legendary Bar Garibaldi, enjoyed a couple drinks, and were surprised to see the bartenders put out homemade pasta for people to pick up and eat from paper plates.
The bar itself is amazing. On weekend nights, the place is so crowded that everybody spills out onto the street; you'll get good beer, super cocktails, and friendly locals who are more than happy to chat.
Nni Franco u' Vastiddaru
Get drunk at Garibaldi: head for 'fast food'. I can think of no better place in the world to spend midnight than on a terrace table at Nni Franco u' Vastiddaru, a haven for Sicily's iconic street food.
As a Brit, I was unaware that so-called fast food could be this good. I would happily eat at Nni Franco u' Vastiddaru at lunch, dinner or 1 am. Late at night, after a few beers (and with a few more), it is delightful.
Fill yourself with arancini (stuffed rice balls, deep fried and most often filled with ragu, peas, and mozzarella); enjoy them with some caponata (the delicious Sicilian salad of eggplant and celery, capers, and sweetened vinegar); finish with the spectacular pane con panelle, a bun filled with several chickpea flour fritters.
If you can believe it, I love pane con panelle so much that I talk about it almost as much as I talk about capers. If that doesn't persuade you, I don't know what will.
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