Sicilian Food 101

From our time here I have learned that food in Sicily is more than just the food itself.  There is so much emotion and tradition involved that me writing a page to encapsulate “Sicilian Food” feels like an injustice.  I will try to make this the Sicilian Food 101 page.

This is going to be a living document that I will update with new foods and more details.  Links below will go to a page with more detail on that particular dish or item.

To kick things off I wanted to give some perspective on the typical structure of an Italian meal.  This is very different from an American meal structure and was definitely a learning experience for us.

Structure (Courses) of an Italian meal:

1.   Apertivo -The apertivo opens a meal.  Appetizer or drinks given at the beginning of a meal.   People will still be standing and have alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks such as wine, prosecco, champagne or sparkling drinks.  Sometimes small finger food: olives, nuts, cheese.

2.  Antipasto – Stepping it up a bit with the appetizers.  Cold meats & hams, cheeses, seafood, and sandwich type items.  My favorite course.

3.  Primo –  Made it to the first course!  Consists of starches or soup. Risotto, spaghetti, lasagna, crepes, polenta, pizza,  etc.  This is where Im usually full.

4.  SecondoWhat? Another main course? Usually choices are within the realms of prepared fish or meats.

5.  ContornoThese are the side items that would accompany the Secondo.  Veggies dominate the sides category.

6.  DolceMade it to Dessert!  Cannolli are my favorite.

7.  FruttaA little fruit sounds pretty good.

8.  Digestivo – Sounds about right at this time after eating all that food!  Is it TUMS? Nope its an alcoholic drink that is meant to ease digestion after a long meal.  Grappa & Lemoncello are favorites.. and from experience they actually do work.

9.  Caffé – Probably feeling a bit drowsy at this point time for some Italian jet fuel.


Now I wanted to touch base on the different types of restaurants that you encounter in Sicily.  There are 4 categories:

  1. Agriturismo –  An agriturismo is  a great experience where you head straight to the farm for your meal.  Why have all the middle men?  An agriturismo will usually serve food to guests prepared from raw materials produced on the farm or at least locally. Some will even allow the guest to participate in the activities surrounding the farm.
  2. Trattoria / Restaurante – A typical restaurant in American terms.  You are seated and have wait staff.
  3. Gastronomia – Great places where they have prepared food ready to go.  There are no seats, just glass cases filled with a wide variety of food ranging from the Antipasti to the Secondi.  I wish that America had places like this!  High quality food fast and inexpensive.
  4. Bar – Now a typical American thinks of a bar as your local watering hole, but in Italy its something completely different.  A bar is basically what an American would consider a cafe.   These places usually have food and pastries to accompany your coffee.  Of course coffee is a whole different being in Italy as well.  The food you will find are arancini, bomba, pizzette, panini, etc.

Below I put together a typical Sicilian menu with the above courses in mind.  And when I say a typical Sicilian menu… I really mean typical because almost 95%+ of all the restaurants around are Italian/Sicilian and all serve essentially the same dishes.  This repetitiveness does not seem to bother anybody other than the Americans who want a world wide variety on every street.  Eventually I will have links to each of these dishes with pictures and explanations.




Proseco Salami Spaghetti alla Vongole
Pecorino Insalata di Mare Risotto alla Pescatora
Olives Insalata di Polipo Ravioli di Pesce Spada
Smoked Ricotta Alici Marinate Spaghetti al nero di seppia
  Insalata di Caprese Spaghetti ai ricci
  Panini Pasta alla norma
  Caponata Cous Cous di Pesce




Pesce Mista alla Griglia Spinachi Cannoli
Bistecca alla Griglia Patate Fritta Panna Cotta
Cavallo alla Griglia Carciofi Gelato
Pesce al Forna    




Blood Oranges Limoncello Cafe Macchiato
Melon Grappa  
Pistachios Sambuca  


Below are some common food items translated:

agnello –lamb.

amaro –bitters.

anguilla –freshwater or sea eel.

anguria –red water melon, also rosso melone.

antipasto –appetizer.

arancine –fried rice balls filled with meat.

arrosto –roast.

babbaluci –small snails (in Italian, lumache).

baccalà –cod fillets in salt or water.

baccalaru –Sicilian for baccalà.

bar –drink and coffee shop, as distinguished from a pub.

beccafico –fresh roasted herring (sardines) stuffed with a delicious mixture of traditional ingredients.

birra bionda –light beer or ale, as distinguished from dark beer (stout or bock) or red beer.

bistecca –steak.

bruschetta –toasted bread topped with chilled chopped tomatoes, onions, olives and herbs.

caciocavallo –a local cheese made from sheep’s milk.

cacocciulo –Sicilian for carciofo, artichoke.

calzone –bread roll baked with ham, cheese or other stuffings.

cannolo –pastry having a tubular crust filled with ricotta cream filling.

caponata –cold salad of eggplant (aubergines), capers, olives, celery and tomatoes. A variation is made with artichokes instead of eggplant.

capricciosa –a pizza made with numerous ingredients, including tomatoes, mozzarella, ham, artichokes and other toppings.

cappuccino –light coffee served with steamed milk and usually served at breakfast. (So-called for its colour resembling that of the light brown habits of the Capuchin monks.)

carciofi –artichokes.

cardo –also cardu or cardoon. The celery-like stalk of the artichoke leaf.

cassata –cake or tort of sweet ricotta cream filling in a crust of frosting and candied fruits.

cena –usually supper (evening meal) but sometimes a large lunch.

cipollata –glaze of onions, vinegar and sugar used as sauce for certain fish dishes.

conto –restaurant check.

contorno –a side dish, usually in addition to the salad.

coperto –nominal cover charge added to restaurant bill; this is not a tip.

cornetto –light breakfast pastry similar to a croissant.

cozze –mussels.

croquet –fried potato and cheese dumplings.

cuccìa –sometimes cucchia; traditional winter pudding made from hard wheat, somewhat similar to rice pudding. Served on Saint Lucy’s Day, 13 December.

cus-cus –Italian spelling of couscous.

fava –a flat broad bean grown in Sicily.

finnochio –fennel. The term actually refers to the “wild” variety, unrelated to the anise greens often sold as finocchio nowadays.

focaccia –a seasoned bread, quite similar to a thick pizza, but flavored with olive oil and herbs instead of vegetables and cheese; in Sicily, most focaccerias (focaccia bakeries) serve focaccia but also sfincione.

friggitoria –food stand specializing in fried foods such as panella, arancine, croquet, etc.

fritedda –vegetable dish or pasta sauce made with fresh green fave beans, peas, and sometimes artichoke hearts and scallions.

frizzante –fizzy  water.

frutti di mare –seafood, such as shellfish.

gamberi –shrimp.

gelateria –an ice cream shop.

gelato –ice cream, whether made with or without milk.

giri –refers generically to any of several spinach-like vegetables but particularly to one resembling bok choy, with dark leaves and a white stalk.

granita –crushed sweetened ice flavored with lemon, strawberries, mint and sometimes mulberries (gelsi).

grappa –strong brandy distilled from grape pumice and seeds.

griglia –grill; alla griglia refers to grilled dishes.

insalata mista –salad of lettuce and other vegetables.

insalata riso –cold rice salad, a Summer dish.

involtini –grilled or roasted chicken or beef slices stuffed with vegetable or meat filling; also leafy vegetables (such as radicchio) stuffed with meat filling.

latte di mandorla –literally “almond milk,” carbonated milky white drink made with sweetened almond paste and almond extract.

limoncello –generic name for a sweet lemon liqueur.

maccu –also macco, creamy winter soup made from dried fava beans and fennel.

margherita –a pizza made with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.

marsala –dark fortified wine similar to Port, named for the Sicilian city where it is made; alla marsala refers to meats prepared with this wine.

martini –sweet white or red vermouth; unless the term “cocktail” is specified, this is not the cocktail of this name (containing dry vermouth with vodka or gin) but the vermouth itself.

milza –sauteed veal spleen, usually served in sandwiches.

naturale –natural; describes mineral water that is not effervescent; “still water.”

nero di seppia –cuttlefish (seppia) ink and the black sauce made from it.

osteria –literally a tavern or inn, but usually a trattoria.

ostriche –oysters.

panella –salty flat fried cakes made with ceci bean flour, often served as an appetizer.

panino –sandwich.

pasta al forno –pasta baked with beef, tomatoes and cheese; similar to baked lasagne.

pasticceria –pastry shop.

pecorino –describes ricotta and certain other cheeses made from sheep’s milk.

pesce –fish.

pesce spada –sword fish.

pesto –green pasta sauce made with ground, crushed basil and pine nuts.

pizzeria –restaurant specializing in pizza and certain fried foods.

pollo –chicken.

polpo –octopus.

porcini –small dark mushrooms.

pranzo –lunch.

primo –also “primo piatto,” first course, usually a pasta or rice dish.

pub –British style pub or American style bar.


ricci –urchins, usually served raw.

ricotta –cottage cheese, which in Sicily is made from sheep’s milk.

risotto –describes various arborio rice dishes.

ristorante –usually a more formal restuarant which serves evening meals and sometimes lunches, as opposed to a trattoria or pizzeria, which would be less formal.


salsiccia –pork sausage.

sarde –fresh small herring (sardines), usually served stuffed (“beccafico”) or with pasta and fennel (“pasta con sarde”).

scampi –large shrimp.

secondo –also “secondo piatto,” second course, usually the main meat dish.

seppia –cuttlefish.

sfincione –a thick Sicilian pizza topped with tomatoes, onions and anchovies; rarely served in pizzerias but available in focaccerias, some bakeries, or from street vendors. To Sicilians, sfincione is not considered “pizza,” which in Italy is by definition thin and crusty.

spiedini –meat and vegetables served on a skewer, similar to shish kebab.


tonno –tuna or tunny; this is a tasty dark Mediterranean variety served fresh, nothing like the canned white tuna sold in supermarkets.

torrone –an ice cream flavor based on this candy made with honey, egg whites and nuts.

trattoria –an informal restaurant which serves evening meals and lunches.


vino bianco –white wine.

vino rosso –red wine.

vitello –beef.

vitellino –veal.

vongole –clams.


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