Welcome to the capital of deep-fried leftoversby Wendell Steavenson / June 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
In April I went to Palermo. It was my first time in the city and I walked and walked, exploring the streets and alleys that opened into unexpected piazzas overhung with baroque façades, wondering and marvelling at the disregarded, casual, astonishing beauty of the stones and pillars and cupolae and marble nymphs cavorting in the fountains.
Sunlight slanted through flags of washing strung along the balconies and shone on a blissful Madonna looking down on a scrim of graffiti, overflowing rubbish bins and a grandmother in black stockings hefting a plastic bag of tomatoes. Joy: I had arrived at peak artichoke season, the plant piled up abundantly in acanthus mountains on flatbed trucks, in shopping trolleys, on trestle tables.
In the market that runs like a spine through Ballarò—possibly the coolest neighbourhood in the world, with its mix of Mafia, migrant and hipster—I bought artichokes still hot from the grill and crunched through their charred leaves into the squishy khaki heart. A slab of sfincione, thick spongy pizza with a smear of tomato on top, made a very good breakfast. Mid-morning snack stop at the friggitoria cart for panelle, a square of deep-fried chickpea batter or perhaps a potato crocchè, sparked up with mint.
The frying vendors stood beside big tubs of hot oil ready to refry any combination of zucchini, calamari and splayed sardines, to be eaten from a paper wrapper. Palermo is full of street food: paper plates of marinated anchovies, purple boiled octopus, snails with garlic, vats of beef spleen swimming in lakes of lard and spooned into soft hamburger buns for an unctuous belly-patting sandwich.