World’s Best Street Food

February 26, 2014 / Food & Wine
Palermo, Sicily

The world’s oldest – and best – “street food”? It’s that of Palermo where – for centuries – the piazzas have teemed with the carts and kiosks of the mensari (“street vendors” in dialect) shouting out their wares in palermitano while frying in great vats, then seasoning the many delicacies of the cucina povera. You simply can’t miss the sensorial/cultural experience of street food while in Sicily.

On a recent visit from our Sicilian relatives, the goodness of the Palermo streets entered our Umbrian farmhouse: sister-in-law Marilena had slipped into her suitcase a kilo of farina di ceci (chickpea flour). No better gift to bring! Our kitchen turned into a friggitoria Palermitana one day as Marilena made us pane e panelle.

Diffuse in the Mediterranean area, the chickpea stars in many a culinary specialty of the Arabs, dominating Sicily from the ninth to eleventh centuries. On every trip to our relatives in Palermo, the first outing is in search of pane con panelle. While wandering Isola delle Femmine last summer (a neighborhood of greater Palermo, not an island) we spotted a newly-opened friggitoria (fry shop). I remember young Mariarosa inside, browning the chickpea “little breads” in steaming vats of hot oil, ignoring the steaming August heat.

La friggitoria of isola delle Femmine
Crocche sold here, too
Almost ready exclaims Mariarosa
Le panelle sizzling away

She fried crocche (potato croquettes) too, since Palermitani had long ago married a food from the New World – the potato – to this Middle Eastern chickpea goodness. Many a customer squeezes a couple sizzling crocche (called cazzilli in palermitano, for their phallic shape… ahem) into the sesame roll holding the panelle.

Panelle and crocche ready for frying

A dish of lemon wedges perches on the counter of every frigittoria: a lemon juice drizzle enhances the panelle goodness.

Mariarosa advises a drizzle of lemon juice on the panelle

Using a schiumarola (skimmer), Mariarosa would deftly slide the sizzling panelle out of the vat of boiling oil, dropping them onto a slotted stainless steel wrack to drain. She’d then slip the drained steamy panelle into a split sesame roll, wrap the hot bundle in brown paper, before handing it over the counter to eager customers.

Mariarosa frying le panelle
Sizzling panelle ready for the roll

Sister-in-law Marilena came without a schiumarola… but her pane e panelle brought the incomparable goodness of Palermo’s street food right into our Umbrian kitchen.

Pane con panella, what a feast!

Sicily's white wine, Insolia, is a perfect accompaniment to pane con panelle

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

20 Responses to “World’s Best Street Food”

  1. Francesco Paolo

    Always thought the best was in Bari: Panzerotti, Calzone Barese, Fa-Gots, Arancini, eccc

  2. Jack Litewka

    Made me hungry. Alas, it’s merely oatmeal, yogurt, and banana once again.

  3. Christine

    My mouth is watering. I hope to taste the real thing next year in Palermo! Thanks for this posting.

  4. healthnutbetty

    Anne, I love your comments about all the unique customs in different provinces, not to mention the fabulous recipes. Grazie Millie

  5. Not sure if you can get it in other parts of Italy or overseas but here in Sicily they sell the chickpea flour. Just needs water added to it before cooking. Probably Annie can tell you where to buy it.

  6. It has been ages since I was last in Sicily and I hope to have an opportunity to visit the island again. So much to offer in terms of scenery, history, art and of course…. regional food. The pane con panelle looks delicious. Thank you for the post, Anne.

  7. Anne, Thank you once again for sharing wonderful news from Italy! Your articles are always filled with great information that brings Italy to the rest of us.

  8. Anne Robichaud

    Roseann, I never make the panelle, just eat them!…and watch my sister-in-law, Marilena and brother-in-law, Filippo, really working with lots of muscle the chickpea flour mixture into a firm mass..perhaps best to see it on Youtube to know how to make the panelle?

  9. J. Kevin Crocker

    Yum!!!. Looking forward to my return. Anne, as usually you bring real Italy to life. I just love it.

  10. Rosemary

    I will attest to the fact that this is the most scrumptious thing you have ever tasted! We experienced Pane Panelle Crocche at the Ballero Market in Palermo and it was truly to die for! My mouth is watering just reading your post!!

  11. Dyanna

    This looks yummy! I love the food in Italy…the best in the world!

  12. CeciliaBelenardo

    We were there in October, we loved Palermo and want to go back again.Thanks for your great article.

  13. Susan

    Want to tour Sicily in Oct. 2015.

    Bud & I plan on touring Sicily in 2015 intheFall. Lead me to the good xconnections. What toue group should we go with? At one point you told me that we need 3 weeks to see the entire island. We hope to hear from you soonYour write outstanding stories and reviews of wonderful places. Looking firorward to your reply.
    Bay Forest ladies are still talking about your cooking class here.


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