Friday, May 23, 2008

Life Sicilian Style by Barbara Quinn

For the past nine days I’ve been in Sicily with its sun-drenched beaches, stunning vistas, and warm people. I was lucky to see the orange-ribbons of lava from Etna streaming down the mountain to the sea. Overhead a full moon lent eerieness to the nightly drama.

This was my first visit to Sicily and it did not disappoint for Sicily is both a world apart and familiar at the same time. It’s a lovely, confusing, and harmonious blend of cultures. Besides the large Roman influence, Greek and Arabic culture are great on the island. From architecture to food, the many cultures blend and recombine. Byzantine mosaics and Greek temples are as plentiful as the bars that serve tasty espresso for less than a dollar. They speak Italian, however the Sicilian dialect is unto itself. E.g., what we call Limoncello is Limoneddu in Sicily. Happily most Sicilians were able to understand my limited regular Italian.

CusCus is one of the dishes with an Arabic history that is prevalent. I had swordfish, and also spagola, a long thin fish. Both were rolled and stuffed with pine nuts, breadcrumbs, and raisins. Nutmeg is another popular spice. Almonds – mandorle - are used in more ways than I ever could imagine: almond wine, almond flavored granita - an ice that is perfect in the hot afternoon, and pasta with almonds. I rarely saw a piece of garlic. When it was used it was used lightly. These authentic foods of Sicily haven’t made it to America. Sure we have fried calamari and cannoli, but we don’t have mini cassata which are tasty almond and ricotta cakes, or pasta with fava and calamaretti - the tiny calamari the size of a thumbnail, or nespole, which are loquats.

Someone needs to open a real Sicilian restaurant in New York! Till then I’ll remain grateful for the sights and sounds, and for the unusual tastes that paraded across my palate. I’m also grateful that there are still places like Sicily where you can step seamlessly into another culture and learn that there’s more than one way to live, love, and eat to your heart’s content, all the while having the threat of disaster in the form of a smoldering volcano hanging overhead. Talk about learning to live for today!

4 comments:

Nannette Croce said...

I visited Sicily as a teen nearly 40 years ago.I also found it an interesting mixture of strange and familiar (as I did the province outside of Naples where my Dad's family comes from) since I'm almost half and half (one grandparent was from Abruzzo.) Some of those cultures definitely traveled across the ocean with the the emigrants. Others like the women who had to face the door when they sat outside (do they still do that?) were very strange.

Angie Ledbetter said...

You made me want to go see for myself one day! Glad your trip was as good as the local food.

Maryellen Pienta said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Sicily! It sounds as though you sampled the best of many things. I've been lucky to live here for four years. Since I live on Mt. Etna at 1,000 feet, I know the 'carpe diem' feeling . . .

Barbara Quinn said...

Mary Ellen, I probably went through your town! We took a long drive around Etna (didn't do the group thing up it since I prefer to stay away from group activitives) and went to lots of the hill and lava towns, though we didn't have time to hang out I longed to do so. Maybe next time. Lucky you to get to live there! Thanks for dropping in.

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