Palermo is famous for its street food. Cheap and simple, street food in Palermo is a delicious way to try lots of local specialities as you explore the markets. However, it can be a little intimidating to know what to choose and where to get it from, so I was thrilled when Palermo Street Food offered to take me on one of their tours to show me what was what.
I had a complimentary guided tour courtesy of Palermo Street Food, but as always my opinions are my own and I maintain full editorial control.
Street Food in Palermo
Palermo street food is delicious, filling and cheap. That’s partly why it became so popular among the locals, as they wanted something quick and tasty to eat on their way to work or on a quick lunch break. Now Palermo is renowned for having the best street food in Italy, so taking a street food tour in Palermo is a great way to learn more about the traditions, recipes and taste as many delicious foods as possible!
About Palermo Street Food
Describing themselves as “food sherpas” in Palermo, Palermo Street Food tour guides help visitors to discover the street food in Palermo as they show you around the local markets. According to their website they visit some of the oldest and most important family street food vendors in the markets and get excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, so I was excited to see what the tour would be like!
My Palermo Street Food Tour
My Palermo Street Food Tour in Mercato del Capo was different from the rest of the food tours I’ve taken around the world. On this tour, the services of your guide are included in the price (30€ per person) and as you walk around the market your guide suggests food to try. You only pay for the food you buy, but it is all super cheap so you will get excellent value for money.
The Mercat del Capo & Street Food in Palermo
There are three main markets in Palermo, and Mercat del Capo was my favourite. We began our street food tour of Palermo at the entrance to the Mercato on Via Porta Carini and kicked off with sfincione. Sfincione is a type of street food pizza, made by a local bakery then distributed to market stalls who reheat the sfincione on a hot plate and sell it to hungry punters. However, this isn’t quite like normal pizza as the sauce topping is made of a mixture of tomatoes, olive oil, onions and breadcrumbs blitzed together. The base is thick, and crisp on the bottom and there is no gooey cheese, perhaps just a light sprinkling and an anchovy or two. The sfincione seller was friendly although I couldn’t understand a word of the Sicilian dialect he was speaking, I gathered he wanted me to take his photo – so he is the cover star of the article!
Our next stop was for seafood. I’m sometimes wary of seafood street food, but we visited the market in the morning and all the dishes were fresh and delicious. Usually, on the food tours, the group would share a cone of fried fish together, but for one Giorgio thought it would be a bit much just for me, so the stall owner kindly offered me a mix of various dishes to taste.
Swordfish is popular here, as are sardines which are plentiful in the waters around Sicily. I tried a combination of caponata di pesce spada – swordfish caponata made with tomatoes, aubergine and peppers, with a touch of sugar to sweeten the sauce. Then a polpetta di sarde con tomate – sardine meatball with tomato sauce and an octopus salad. Everything was delicious! We sat at a table at the wine bar next door where I had a glass of crisp white wine (it was 5 o’clock somewhere!) and enjoyed watching the market thrive around us.
Sellers yelled out their special offers, calling to passing customers and joking among themselves as they re-adjusted the umbrellas to keep their precious wares out of the heat of the sun. An elderly couple took the table beside us, families strolled past and busy workers hurried by. A good market is never quiet! Giorgio also pointed out how the church is part of the market, so much so that shops were set up actually inside the church building, ensuring a continuous row of stalls, and presumably providing rent money to the church; a win-win scenario!
We also ordered some more food from the next stall to eat at the table, verdure in pastella – deep fried vegetables in a thick dough, like fritters. I tried cauliflower, artichoke and aubergine, which were very tasty – and an interesting way to eat some veggies! I also watched the stall holder for a while too, who had learned the recipe for the batter from her grandmother. She swiftly chopped the vegetables, re-arranged the platters of the part-cooked veggies and deftly tossed the orders into the fryer and served them up just as quickly, with a sprinkle of salt.
When I paid here I also made use of the toilet in the wine bar, as the name street food suggests, there aren’t too many opportunities for a bathroom break in the market, so make the most of it while you can!
Even though we had only just begun, I was starting to feel a little full – make sure you take this tour on an empty stomach! Next stop was a shop with a counter inside, which by 12pm was starting to fill up. Here we tried some typical hot snacks, including the scrummy arancina alla carne, arancini rice balls filled with meat and cheese and deep fried. I also tried some panelle e crocche, two light snacks often served up together as a starter in restaurants. Pannelle looks like thin slices of potato which are fried up rather like flat fries. However, they are in fact made from chickpea dough. Crocce are basically potato croquettes but with a hint of mint and lemon juice. Filling and tasty.
After that, I was pretty stuffed, which was another (but not the only) contributing factor in me skipping the next food stop. Veal feet and head are not the most appealing food items at the market, but the cold meat and offal served with a squeeze of lemon is dirt cheap, and apparently quite tasty, although I suspect it has become less popular over the years. The stall owner here was friendly, and chatted to Giorgio like an old friend, letting me take pictures even though he probably assumed I wasn’t going to buy anything from him.
Usually, there is another stop on the tour to a place selling spleen sandwiches, another delicacy of Palermo, but by then my stomach was churning and we decided to skip that and head straight for dessert. I felt a bit disappointed in myself for not being more adventurous, but as I was so full I would have struggled to eat anything more than dessert. There is a separate space in my stomach for dessert, and I always have room for a sweet treat!
Anyway, before dessert, we also had time to walk a little to let my food baby subside a little. We ended the tour at a café next door to the restaurant I’d eaten at the previous evening. Inside a beautiful building with original frescoes on the wall – and incredible cakes! I’d had a large canolo (the BEST Sicilian dessert in the world) the day before, so I went for two mini pastries, one a strawberry tart, and the other filled with mascarpone cream. Seriously, mascarpone cream is incredible, and I don’t know how I’d managed to live without it for so long!!
Once I’d troughed my dessert, I strolled back with Giorgio to where we met and carried on back to my bed and breakfast for a sly nap. Sicilians compete with Spanish people for the best siesta times – the riposino usually lasts between 12pm and 3pm, when smaller shops and businesses close down. It is a great time to take advantage of some peace and quiet, especially after a big lunch!
What I loved about the Palermo Street Food Tour
This tour was unlike any other I’d taken, in that you pay a flat fee for the guide, then pay for whatever you eat and drink. This helps to keep to a strict budget if you need to, but I was surprised by how cheap and good value everything we ate was. I spent less than €20 on a varied and exciting lunch, which was worth every penny. Not drinking the wine or just choosing one dessert would have saved me a few euros, but what’s the point of taking a food tour if you don’t eat any of the food?
I loved the Mercato el Capo. As we walked around, Giorgio chatted to everyone and I felt like I belonged there instead of being a gormless tourist. I love visiting markets but sometimes get overwhelmed with what to eat, and end up just walking through them, too scared to order anything! But with Giorgio explaining what everything was, and taking me to each stall, introducing me to the owners and advising me what to choose this street food tour was a fabulous experience.
Anything I didn’t Like?
I think learning about the more unusual (unappetizing) street foods is really important and interesting, but perhaps trying the more “challenging” foods would be better at the beginning of the tour to try them while we were still hungry and had time to taste more delicious foods afterwards! Once I was full of tasty things, I really didn’t fancy the less appealing foods, which was a shame!
Overall, I would definitely recommend Palermo Street Food Tours, but try to be braver than me and try everything! If you’d like to book a street food tour in Palermo with Palermo Street Food, you can find all the information on their website here.
Where to Stay in Palermo
I stayed at the lovely Kalamonjo Suite&Rooms which was peaceful and comfortable. The same owners also have another B&B very close to the Mercato del Capo called La Dimora del Capo, which also gets excellent reviews.
For hostels in Palermo, check out Balarm Hostel which gets great reviews, for dorm beds at around €17.50 per night. You can also see all of the options for hostels in Palermo on Hostelworld here.
Or check the options on Airbnb, like this gorgeous loft apartment. If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip! Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to Sicily, get a quote now from World Nomads.
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