PALERMO: EVERYTHING BUT THE HORSE'S HEAD
One thing I have come to expect on this trip is the unexpected. Be that monkeys going at it like, er monkeys on the streets of Calcutta or men eating plates of noodles while taking a dump in China.
Precious little surprises me these days but my last meal in Palermo, last night, came pretty close as I chowed down appreciatively on a bowl a pasta with a sauce made from veal and potatoes prepared lovingly for us by Valentino, a Sicilian post-op transsexual.
But, I am getting ahead of myself.
The day began with breakfast during which Claudio, the owner of my B&B warned me not to eat too much as he was going to take me on an afternoon foodie crawl of the local neighbourhood. He put his finger to his cheek and twisted it, which he told me is the Sicilian way of expressing how delicious something is, or will be.
At the appointed time, we headed the short walk to the market area of Vuruccio and began our eating expedition with a local favourite, plates of octopus, simply boiled in salted water and served in the traditional Palermo way, with head split open so the inside forms a coating.
After taking the chance to have yet another Pani Ca Meusa (lung and spleen sandwich) we stopped at a small storefront specialising in Fritti Di Mare, where Claudio picked up a container of mixed little delights to take away before taking me around the corner to introduce me to another of his friends, one of the last producers of Bottarga in the city, who proudly held up the sack of fish eggs he was heading off to dry.
By now, it was time for lunch and we stopped at a neighbourhood restaurant, with four small tables out front, called Caffe Antico where Claudio’s friend, Giovanni prepares what’s considered some of the best local food in the city.
I never saw a menu, so can’t tell you what else was on offer, but I was more than happy with a plate of spaghetti (always spaghetti, I was told) with a sauce made from fresh sea urchins, lots of oil and garlic.
Everyone seems to know Claudio and, as we sat, ate and drank a bottle of Nero D’Avola we were joined by a constant stream of friends each of whom protested that they were far too busy to sit down but then did exactly that as they joined us for a glass of wine and a cigarette. At the end of the meal, Giovanni came out to join us bringing some homemade semi freddo and canoli and, even more welcome, a bottle of the local grappa.
Cue long afternoon of getting frighteningly pissed in the company of a motley crew of chain smoking Sicilian men until I was high as a kite and reeled back to the B&B to sleep it off.
A couple of hours later, I was awoken by a loud rapping on my bedroom door to find Claudio, bright as a button, informing me that we were going to head out again for an evening tour of the old city, but not before supper which was courtesy of his upstairs neighbour, Valentino, the transsexual, who had prepared pasta for me, Claudio and his girlfriend.
It was one of the more unusual offers I have had on the trip, but Valentino’s flat was lovely, warm and welcoming and the pasta, linguine served with a sauce of veal thickened with potatoes, was delicious and just what I needed to blot up some of the afternoon’s over indulgences.
Afterwards, we all went for the promised walk which perked me up enough to have one final indulgence, another Palermo speciality of fresh fruit smothered in granita, after which, I headed back for the couple of hours sleep I was going to be allowed before heading for the airport and to Rome.
Palermo and Sicily are definitely on the list of “must return to” places from the EAT MY GLOBE trip. Thanks to Claudio and of course, Valentino