Sicily is unlike anywhere else in Italy. The largest island in the Mediterranean, this cultural hub has become one of the hottest travel destinations in Europe. The perfect mix of buzzy city life and calm, picturesque fishing villages, the scenery, people, food, and wine will have you falling in amore with this Italian region.
If you’re a fan of all things culinary, the rich, storied cuisine, combined with the outstanding vineyards and winemakers make the island a true travel experience for the senses. Although Sicilian cooking has a lot in common with the cuisine of the rest of the country, it also has Greek, Spanish, French and Arab influences that make it deliciously distinct. And there is no better way to learn about the history of the island and its people than through the many culinary tours, cooking classes and food and wine experiences available. Here are some of our top picks.
Street Food Tour of Palermo
Palermo, the capital city of Sicily, has a reputation for some of the best street food in the world and offers an authentic taste and introduction to the island’s food culture. Unpretentious and inexpensive, street food was never a trend here, but a way of life (and survival). If you’re not the type of traveler that likes to join organized tours but still wants to get a sense—and taste—of the place, you can plan your own street food adventure to see the sights and sample the goods.
A lot of the food stalls are concentrated near the Vucciria Ballaro market and Capo market areas so either is a great place to start. Palmero’s famous offerings range from thick squares of doughy pizza topped with ingredients like tomatoes, onions, anchovies and caciocavallo cheese at Franco U Vastiddaru, arancini (fried rice balls mixed with various spices, meats and cheese) at Bar Touring or I Cuochini, fried chickpea flour fritters that reflect Sicily’s North African roots called panelle, or the famous fried spleen sandwiches (not for the faint of heart) called pani ca meusa. You can find spleen sandwiches just about everywhere, but locals swear by Rocky Basile’s food cart, aka “King of the Vucciria”). If you’d rather have someone be your guide through the bustling markets, the Palmero Street Food Walking Tour is a 3- to 4-hour culinary adventure led by a local expert and limited to 12 people. Just don’t forget to bring your appetite!
Market Cooking Classes
If you’re the type of hands-on cook who wants to see where their produce and food products are coming from before you tie those apron strings and get cracking, a combined market tour and cooking class could be just the thing. The day starts with a trip to the market to purchase your ingredients, followed by a cooking class, and then, of course, eating your meal. In Sicily, there are not many places that offer this three-tiered experience; one of the best is led by Palmero chef Vincenzo Clemente, owner of Cin Cin restaurant. Along with his mamma, Lucia, this one-day, hands-on class starts at 9:30 am on the steps of the Massimo Theater, and then continues on to the nearby Capo market to get fresh ingredients. After that, everyone returns to the restaurant’s kitchen where Vincenzo and his mother guide the class as everyone prepares their dishes, which are enjoyed at a sit-down lunch, with a little local vino to boot. This class is great because it isn’t too long (it usually ends around 1:30 pm) the class is small—limited to a maximum of eight people, and it really gives you the opportunity to watch, learn and ask questions with two generations of Sicilian cooking pros.
Real Home Cooking
For those who dream of learning with a real home cook, Katia Amore’s LoveSicily classes in the beautiful baroque town of Modica are a perfect fit. Born in Sicily, Katia lived in the UK for many years until she decided to move back home to restore her grand-parents house and follow her passion for food. A former editor for Italy Magazine, she aims to take her guests on a journey into the history of Sicilian traditional recipes using the wealth of quality ingredients the island has to offer in both traditional and contemporary Sicilian gastronomy. A home cook rather than a trained chef, Katia has always had food as a central element in her family. She offers both one-day and three-day classes that span all elements of Sicilian cuisine, all in the comfort of her spacious home kitchen.
Food and Wine Tastings
Sicily’s largest and most famous wine producer, Planeta, offers food and wine lovers one of the most varied cooking and tasting experiences on the island. Located at the company’s La Foresteria Estate (it has several vinyards across the island), you can choose from class topics that focus on cooking with seafood, wine, olive oil, pasta, herbs or patisserie, and in three different formats to best suit your needs: three dishes with a two-hour cooking demonstration or a hands-on experience three-hour. Available all year round, all of the classes are hosted by the estate’s chef, Angelo Pumilia, include lunch with a wine selection chosen by the estate’s sommelier and are based on the Casa Planeta cookbook, Sicilia, la Cucina di Casa Planeta.
For something a bit smaller and more intimate, head to Tarantola vineyards, owned by the Testa family for over two centuries, in the hills between Alcamo and Camporeale in Sicily’s traditional grape-growing region. Here, you will be guided by the estate’s chef, Lucrezia, on how to prepare several seasonal dishes. A typical menu would be Trapani-style sfincione (a traditional, thick Sicilian pizza without cheese), caponata (a cold salad of aubergines, celery, olives, and capers), pasta and a simple meat course, paired with local wines. This class is private, so it’s tailor-made for you and your group (up to 14 people) so you can customize your entire cooking class experience.
Where to stay in Sicily