The Most Popular Dishes Of Palermo Italy

Palermo Food

Palermo is world famous for its beautiful coastal scenery, its distinctive Arabic-Norman architecture, spectacular churches, vibrant local markets and, of course, its delicious cuisine. Palermo’s diverse blend of cultural influences are reflected everywhere in the city, including in the local cuisine. This means that the city boasts a whole range of unique dishes that you will struggle to find in other parts of Italy. This makes exploring Palermo’s culinary delights a real treat for visitors from other parts of Italy and further afield in the world.

To help you immerse yourself in Palermo’s signature cuisine I have collated a list of some of the most delicious dishes that you simply can’t afford to miss out on trying.


No exploration of Palermo’s culinary heritage would be complete without mentioning arancini, a true staple of the Sicilian diet and nicknamed the ‘Queen of Street Food’. Arancini are tasty rice balls that are coated in breadcrumbs and stuffed with slow-cooked saffron-infused meat with tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella or caciocavallo cheese.

Arancini have been a part of the Parlermian diet since around the 10th Century when the territory was under Arabic rule. In Palermo, as well as Syracuse and Trapani, arancini are also the traditional food of choice during the feast of Santa Lucia in December, when pasta and bread is not eaten. You’ll find arancini being sold by street vendors all over the city as well as in restaurants, cafes and tavernas. There are also vegetarian and even vegan arancini on offer in Palermo, so don’t worry if you’re not a meat eater because you can still enjoy one of Sicily’s favorite snacks.


Panelle are a type of Sicilian fritter that is made using chickpea flour, salt, pepper, parsley and olive oil. Usually eaten like a sandwich, between slices of sesame bread, they are served with a slice of lemon that you can squeeze onto the panelle. Often served with fried mashed potatoes and flavored with mint, panelle makes an ideal snack while you’re sightseeing in the city.

These finger-licking snacks have several main variations on the island although in Palermo the most common shape is conical, inspired by the huge peak of the nearby Mount Etna.

Pasta Alla Norma.

Pasta Alla Norma is prepared with spaghetti, or another pasta, and served with a rich tomato sauce, sliced fried eggplants, a generous topping of grated ricotta salata cheese and garnished with fresh basil. The dish is named after the successful opera ‘Norma’, by Vincenzo Bellini, who is said to have exclaimed ‘This is the real Norma!’ when he first tasted the dish, meaning that it was a true masterpiece that was better than his own famous opera. Perfect with a side plate of seasonal salad, pasta Alla Norma is a mainstay of the culinary scene in Palermo.


Sfincione, also known as a ‘Sicilian pizza’, originates in the 18th to 19th Century and is a thick-crusted, rectangle-shaped pizza that is usually topped with tomatoes, anchovies, onions and assorted herbs along with a strong cheese such as caciocavallo. There are lots of local variations on the standard Sfincione including the Piduni which is stuffed with endive, toma cheese, tomato and anchovies, and the Focaccia Alla Messinese which is made with tomato sauce, vegetables, anchovies and toma cheese.

Sfincione plays a major role in the cultural life of Palermo and on New Year’s Eve Sfincione is the traditional dish, much like a Turkey for Thanksgiving in America.


Also known as ‘parmigiana di melanzane’, this classic dish heralds from Sicily and is made with fried sliced eggplants that are layered with tomato sauce and cheese, then baked in an oven. Other variations on the dish include using layers of veal, chicken, meat cutlets or vegetables. Parmigiana can also be made by dipping the sliced eggplants in beaten eggs and covered with breadcrumbs before being fried, giving the dish an additional lovely texture.

Usually served in a cheese and tomato sauce, parmigiana looks similar to a lasagna and packs a seriously delicious punch. Great for a late lunch, or a main course at dinner, parmigiana is one of Palermo’s most heartwarming culinary offerings.

Pasta Con Broccoli Arriminati.

This tasty pasta dish originates in Palermo and is made with the tenderest parts of broccoli with sardines, raisins, pine nuts, and is served in a thick creamy sauce. To give the dish its uniquely Sicilian flavor, it is infused with saffron, creating a beautiful yellowish color and an enchantingly deep flavor profile. Another local Palermian trick is to cook the pasta in the same water that the broccoli was steamed in, giving the pasta an additional layer of flavors that helps to further integrate the dish.

Pane Con La Milza.

Pane con la Milza literally means ‘bread and spleen’, and although this might not sound particularly appetizing, it’s Palermo’s favorite alternative to an American-style hamburger. The Pane con la Milza is made with beef spleen and chopped veal lung that are cooked in lard before being served in a bun, often a sesame seeded bread.

When ordering your Pane con la Milza, you can opt for a ‘schietta’, or single, which is served with a slice of lemon, or a ‘maritata’, or married, with a slice of ricotta cheese or grated caciocavallo. An extremely good source of protein, the Pane con la Milza is the go-to snack for students and young professionals after an evening in the local bars; however, it’s also a popular choice for a light lunch and is served by all the city’s top street vendors.

Tonno Alla Ghiotta.

Surrounded by the beautiful turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Palermo is widely renowned for its fresh-caught seafood. Tonno Alla Ghiotta is a magnificent tuna dish that is hugely popular in Palermo with locals and tourists alike. The tuna is quickly flash-fried before being slowly simmered in fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions, olives, capers and herbs. The deliciously rich dish is served with salad, or sometimes rice, and makes a wonderfully filling and healthy option for a candlelit dinner with a glass of local wine.

Pasta Con Le Sarde.

Pasta con le sarde is a pasta dish that is served with sardines, anchovies, wild fennel, saffron spices, raisins, pine nuts and onions. The dish is usually served with a bowl of toasted breadcrumbs that you can sprinkle on top, just like you normally would with parmesan cheese.

Undoubtedly one of the tastiest dishes in Palermo’s culinary repertoire, the pasta con le sarde is perfect for a laidback lunch in a local restaurant, combining the refreshingly uplifting flavors of the fennel, raisins and pine nuts with the salty undertones of the sardines and anchovies.

Sarde A Beccafico.

Sarde a Beccafico is made using gutted sardines that are stuffed with breadcrumbs, sultanas, pine nuts, parsley, salt and pepper. The sardines are then rolled up and baked before being served and eaten on wooden toothpicks.

The dish originates from an old Sicilian tradition in which the nobles would hunt warblers, known locally as Beccafico, which they would stuff and eat as a highly prized delicacy. However, because this dish used to be too expensive for anyone except for the elites of Palermo, the recipe was adapted and used sardines instead of small birds. As time went by and the hunting of these birds went out of fashion, Sarde a Beccafico took center stage and now you’ll find these scrumptious snacks being sold by street vendors and served as a lovely starter in the city’s restaurants.


Made with tomatoes, eggplant, onions, celery, capers, olives, and a selection of seasonal vegetables in an agrodolce sauce, caponata is one of the healthiest dishes on the menu in Palermo. This delightful antipasto has Arabic influences and is served both hot and cold, depending on the season.

Most restaurants give caponata their own twist, but in Palermo, you’ll often see that the chef adds octopus, swordfish or even lobster with a garnish of asparagus, shrimp or grated dried tuna roe. Other variations of the standard caponata include adding carrots, bell peppers, potatoes, raisins and pine nuts to this classic Palermo dish.

Pesce Spada Alla Palermitana.

Swordfish, caught locally in the coastal waters of Sicily, are one of Palermo’s best seafood offerings. Pesce spada alla Palermitana is made using sliced pieces of fresh-caught swordfish steak that is soaked in olive oil, and mixed with parsley and bread crumbs before being briefly fried in a pan. Served hot or cold, this simple but delicious dish is often served with a seasonal salad and makes the perfect lunch while you look out over the crystal clear waters of the sea in which your swordfish was caught.


As one of Palermo’s best-loved desserts, cannoli is a fried roll that is stuffed with ricotta cheese, and chocolate chips and is topped with chopped pistachios and an orange zest. Another recipe has its roots in the Emirate of Sicily, under Arabic rule, it was during this time that the Arabs introduced the city of Palermo to pistachio nuts, cinnamon and candied fruits which soon became a popular addition to the region’s desserts. Most culinary historians believe that cannoli originated in Palermo and Messina and was served as part of the Carnival season, although today, cannoli is a year-round staple of Palermo’s diet.


Cassata is a traditional Sicilian cake that is made of sponge cake that is flavored with liqueur and fruit juices. The flavored sponge cake is then layered with candied fruit, sometimes nuts, and ricotta cheese, and has a crunchy shell of icing and marzipan. There are a few variations of cassata, and while it’s normally a rectangular and square shape in Palermo it’s traditionally made in a round shape. Another popular variation of the cassata is made like a pie, with a bottom and top crust that is filled with ricotta and sponge before being baked in the oven. Perfect for any occasion, cassata is one of the tastiest desserts on the island.


This iconic Sicilian semi-frozen dessert is made with water, sugar and a wide range of flavorings. Similar to a sorbet, the granita has a smoother consistency than a sorbet and has several variations on the island. In Palermo, the granita is chunkier than in other Sicilian cities, compared to the smoother varieties in the eastern parts of the island.

Some of the most common flavorings for granita include mandarin oranges, lemon, jasmine, almonds, mint, wild strawberries, mulberries and even coffee. A must-try dessert in the hot Sicilian summers, granita is refreshing, bright and makes the ideal complement to any meal in the city.

Palermo’s Unique Culinary Tradition.

Each region of Italy has its own rich culinary heritage and the port city of Palermo is no exception. From freshly caught seafood dishes to tasty street food classics and delightful frozen desserts, any visitor to the city is completely spoiled for choice when it comes time to grab a bite to eat in Palermo.

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