Palermo, Sicily was named the 2018 Italian Cultural Capital by Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage—and for good reason. The region had been conquered by every notable historic Mediterranean empire, including the Romans, Byzantines, and even the Normans. That history has turned the area into a melting pot of art and food, and the best of each of these cultures combine to make Palermo the unique city it is today. I found it to be the perfect place to challenge my taste buds and explore my preconceived notions of “Italian food.”
When you think of Italian food, you may picture of lots of meat, sauces, bread and pasta. As a vegetarian and someone who tries to eat healthy most of the time, I thought it would be hard to experience Sicilian food and still stick to my principles. But I was surprised at the amount of delicious, healthy foods I found during my trip to Palermo. Here’s where to go if you’re also hoping to make a few healthy Sicilian gastronomic discoveries of your own.
Mercato del Capo
There are many famous markets in Palermo, and del Capo is one of them. The fun and lively feeling you get while walking down street markets make it a great way to start your morning. I suggest grabbing your fill of local produce like oranges and pistachios, and then walking over to one of the many parks in the area to enjoy it for breakfast.
Tip: You need cash for most street food in Palermo, but especially the markets!
Ke Palle Arancine D’Autore
Arancini are rice balls that are stuffed with your preferred flavors, and leave you with a full tummy. The balls are traditional Sicilian street food, and a must-try while in Palermo. The common saying “eyes larger than your stomach” is often played out with arancini—they are extremely filling so I suggest only getting one or two. Ke Palle sets itself apart from other arancini shops by providing customers with vegetarian and vegan options.
Tip: Grab some arancini to go as you explore the city’s side streets and architecture at lunchtime.
This restaurant might be what I miss most about Palermo. Couscous is a Sicilian dish from Trapani that represents the cultural mix of the region. If you’re looking for seafood, Kus-Kus delivers amazing dishes that incorporate local fish (check out their swordfish). There are also several vegetarian options—my mouth is watering just thinking about them.
Tip: Their takeout is very cheap but just as delicious as the sit-down meals, which makes it a great option if you’re on a budget.
My friend and I ate dinner a lot later than we were used to while in Sicily. However, it seemed to make dinner even more delicious (possibly because we were starving), and Frida Pizzeria was the perfect place to splurge on vegetarian and vegan pizzas after a long day full of walking in the sun. The pistachio “quadri” pizza with ricotta stuffed crust is a must-have, but you can’t go wrong considering all their pizzas are made with local and fresh ingredients.
Tip: You MUST reserve a table ahead of time; this place is always packed.
Gelateria a Ciccio
If you go all the way to Sicily, you’d be crazy not to get gelato no matter how healthy your diet normally is. Gelateria a Ciccio is home to arguably the best gelato in Palermo. If you’re having a hard time deciding what flavor you want (they have 73 flavors!), I recommend pistachio since the nut is native to Sicily. Also, order your gelato in a brioche bun—the Sicilian tradition is beyond delicious and will leave you wondering why we ever used to eat ice cream without brioche (until you realize it might be because of the calories).
Tip: With its prime location, head towards the nearby Orto Botanico, Villa Giulia, coastline, or UNESCO World Heritage Sites afterward!