Palermo’s Prized Street Food – Pane con Panelle
“Pari ‘na paniella” (“it looks like a panella”) is an expression in palermitano dialect to describe an object flattened by a heavy weight. And every Palermitano – no matter age or social class – knows panelle and the incomparable goodness of one of Palermo’s oldest street foods.
A stop for pane con panelle always starts off our Sicilian vacation. But this year, the serranda – those characteristic sliding metal doors – was down at elderly Rosario’s corner friggitoria at Sferracavallo. Not a good sign: the locals told us that this legendary protagonist of the world’s best street food – Palermo’s – had died, after years in his friggitoria bent over vats of boiling oil, frying le panelle, tasty chickpea fritters made of chick pea flour, salt, pepper and finely-chopped parsley.
Gratefully, a younger generation carries on – and to Pino’s surprise – even young women! What to call them? Not “panellari” any longer, perhaps but “panellare”?
We went looking for pane con panelle, in the next coastal town, Isole delle Femmine where we found young Mariarosa in the local frigittoria, overseeing the browning of the chickpea “little breads” in steaming vats of hot oil. One of countless Middle Eastern imports lacing Sicilian culinary traditions, the chickpea is diffuse in the Mediterranean area and highlights many a culinary specialty of the Arabs who dominated Sicily between the ninth and eleventh centuries. I palermitani married a food from the New World – the potato – to this culinary specialty from the Middle East: potato croquettes, le crocche (called “cazzilli” in the palermitano dialect – for their phallic shape) are fried up by the panellari, too, and many a customer squeezes a couple crocche into the soft roll holding sizzling panelle. A bowl of lemon wedges perches on the counter of every frigittoria: a drizzle of lemon juice enhances the panelle goodness.
Mariarosa deftly lifted the sizzling panelle out of the vat of boiling oil, sliding them onto the schiumarola, then dropping them onto a slotted stainless steel wrack to drain. She slipped the drained panelle into rolls she had split, wrapped the pani con panelle in brown paper and passed us the hot bundles of goodness. We squeezed on the lemon juice and headed to the café’ across the street for a cold glass of the Sicilian white wine, Insolia.
This snack launches every Palermo sojourn for us – and it’s always gran finale, too.
Read about another Sicilian treat with Arab roots
Read more on Palermo street food
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Read about a favorite Sicilian small island, Ustica
Read more on Ustica – and on an Ustica treasure
Read about – and see – the wondrous Sicilian island of Lampedusa
Read about why many are heading to Lampedusa