What to Eat in Catania

In this article, I won’t tell you what to eat in Catania, because I will condemn myself to write an endless list. I will rather give you information about the best dishes in Catania.

What to eat in Catania

Ciao, caro visitatore, I’m Don Tano Bongiorno, your semi-official but trustworthy guide to everything in Sicily.

Today, I’m gonna confine myself to Catania and the five best dishes you can find there. If you only bring back one memory of your visit to the beautiful city of Catania, you’ll remember the delicious dishes you had there.

A visit to Catania and its storied history combined with Baroque architecture is a visit filled with wonder, but we’re gonna take a step beyond that and consider the needs of hungry mortals. Food.

There’s no getting away from the Sicilian cannoli and arancini, so do yourself a favor and don’t try.

Just lay down your defences and enjoy the treasure trove of delightful flavors just waiting around the corner to welcome you with open arms!

Now when you read this list of the five dishes you simply have to taste while in Catania, try not to lick the screen.

So without further ado, let’s get to it.

The Best 5 Dishes you Must Taste

1. Arancino

Arancino

Arancino is the street food par excellence in Catania. Arancino is that place of eternal gustatory damnation we call,  «tavola calda» or «rosticceria». But you can call it a snack bar.

Along with cannolo, arancino we have two exquisite taste delights that vie for first place as the most popular street food in all of Sicily.

A traditional arancino is fried, shaped something like a taco shell and filled with rice and ragù. You simply hold it by its ends and dive in.

These days there’s also a baked version someone started. And it too, has become very popular. The traditional fillings they now offer are arancino filled with pistachio nuts, eggplant, or spinach and ham.

Caro lettore, as you see, there are plenty of must-try varieties to sample while you’re in Catania.

If you can stay a bit longer…

If your visit to Catania allows you to stay a bit longer, you should take the time to discover our other culinary traditions and have some real fun trying some of our other traditional dishes.

Cartocciata, Bolognese, Cipolina, Pâté, Bomba and that moving thing we call «pane cunzato».

Pane Cunzatu in Catania

That means something like “dressed bread”, meaning there are an infinite varieties of toppings for delicious fresh bread.

You’ll get completely lost in feasting like you’ve never feasted before. Your head will swim and at night you’ll dream of more delightful dishes to try tomorrow.

Here’s a little-known fact from Don Tano:

Arancino is also extremely in Palermo but for some unknown reason they call it « arancina ». In Italian, most words ending in « o » are masculine while most words ending in «a» are feminine. It’s just a grammar thing that started back in the mists of history.

As if they had nothing else to dispute, every time a citizen from Catania runs into a citizen from Palermo, the two are ready to fight over which name for this most popular dish is right. Go figure.

2. Cannolo

Cannolo pistacchio

If you happen to be counted among that pitiful group of humans who considers food a mere necessity in order to survive, somewhat akin to needing oxygen, then when you get to Catania, you’re in for an awakening.

Get ready to change your mind!

If there’s any food that smacks of mysticism, that would have to be cannolo. More than a mere dessert, but caution: it’s also guaranteed to boost your cholesterol to new heights.

To pay homage to this fruit, the chefs of Sicily have created dozens of variations… guess what.

You guessed it! When you get back home, you’re gonna say the cannolo was to die for. This delicacy is never to be forgotten. You’ll always remember its appearance and its flavorful filling of fresh ewe’s ricotta sprinkled with sugar (the ricotta, not the ewe) both ends stopped with pistachio and powdered sugar to finish it off.

When you get your teeth on cannolo you’ll feel that alone justifies the trip to Catania.

But if you can stay a little longer…

You’ll discover Catania has an infinite array of sweetness just waiting to tempt even the most jaded visitor.

And you’ll come home telling everyone that Catania was a trip everyone should take on their next vacation.

The cassata is a Sicilian dessert that approaches something like a religious experience. It must be savored in silent contemplation. And then there‘s the frutta martorana and the cassatella di Saint’Agatha – just a couple more exquisite desserts to tempt your tastebuds.

minne-di-santagata

And…I’d suggest you do like the locals do: go have breakfast at the Piazza del Duomo or in Via Etnea with a granita (a Sicilian dish something like semi-frozen flavors) and a brioche.

Here’s a little-known fact from Don Tano:

The citizens of Catania and Palermo not only dispute the spelling of arancino(a), but they like to fight over the origin of cannolo as well.

I don’t want to get involved in this hot topic, so let me just say that in Catania this dish is much more elaborate and sometimes sprinkled with pistachio crumbs atop.

On the other hand the typical Palermo cannolo consists of crust and ricotta alone. Personally, I like both of them so I can’t take sides.

3. Seafood

Seafood in Catania

Another treat is a stroll in the morning down to La Pescheria, Catania’s famous fish market. You’ll be utterly amazed at the seemingly infinite variety of seafood you’ll see on exhibit.

Oysters, Octopus, Clams, Telline, Smoother clams, Amirutti di mare, Razor shells Ormers…These very fresh seafoods that should be eaten raw or combined with one of Catania’s flavorful pasta dishes.

And if you can stay just a bit longer…

As evening approaches, La Pescheria suddenly fills with restaurant tables.

You can dine on beautiful, fresh and toothsome examples of swordfish and red tuna.

As we would say, there are some “special” dishes.

There’s the sarde al beccafico, the typical (but slightly illegal) polpettine di neonati (newborn meatballs), and of course, there’s an endless variety of mollusks and crustaceans that never disappoint.

You’ll soon find that Catania has a great deal more in the way of culinary delights to offer, all of which should be savored at least once.

Here’s a little-known fact from Don Tano:

Another fact, little known outside Catania, is that certain species of fish are prohibited.

But we Sicilians don’t let rules and laws interfere too much with our lives and the things we like. The down side is our independent way of driving cars, so …look out!

4. Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla norma

What dish could be more typical of Catania than Pasta alla Norma? Actually, « pasta alla norma » simply means “pasta” in Catania.

The art of turning plain dried pasta (usually macaroni or spaghetti) into a gustatory masterpiece is made possible through the judicious use of our tastiest Mediterranean ingredients.

Fresh tomato, basil, fried aubergines (eggplant) especially the round and lightly violet aubergines, and plenty of savory ricotta, ah….!

And if you can stay just a bit longer…

Spend a little time in the city. You can taste other famous first courses such as squid-ink pasta, pistachio nut pasta, pasta with swordfish and spaghetti allo scoglio.

This is really a summer dish.

And to make you a really happy camper, don’t overlook the local appetizers. There’s orange salad, a parmigiana and above all, you gotta try a healthy portion of caponata.

You’ll enjoy the opportunity to discover the flavor of this dish prepared in 37 different ways, and every one a culinary masterpiece.

Here’s a little-known fact from Don Tano:

Pasta alla Norma celebrates not only with its name and divine inspiration, the opera of the same name created by the famous beloved Catanian composer, Vincenzo Bellini.

If you don’t try Pasta alla Norma I’m sorry to say you’e gonna regret it forever!

5. Horsemeat

Horsemeat

In Catania the mention of horsemeat makes panicky vegans run. But at the same time it’s like bees and honey to omnivores.

Horsemeat is a traditional dish in Catania. It’s the very taste of Catania. Horsemeat comprises its traditions; its very soul.

Take any size cut or shape – anything from meatballs to sausages – horsemeat is the king of «arrusti e mangia» “roast and eat”, a highly popular street food in Catania.

Okay, even if you thought you’d never see the day when you plunged your teeth into a delicious cut of equine meat, I invite you to take a little walk along the Via Plebiscito, (a street that surrounds the city center, and try this wonderful and unique tradition.

street food in Catania

But wait! Stick around for just a little longer, and…

While it’s true that vegan restaurants are becoming more and more famous as they spread a glowing halo of health over the city, Catania is still plenty carnivorous, believe me.

In Catania you’re gonna find every way of presenting this tender, spicy and roasted meat.

If you’re the sort of happy-go-lucky person who loves animal proteins pouring out fat and flavor, then the cipollata won’t disappoint. You’ll be asking how a simple roll of bacon and roasted onion can send you into an ecstatic trance.

Here’s a little-known fact from Don Tano:

Many generations of families in Catania have made their living serving grilled horse meat and meatballs for centuries and there always plenty of competition among them.

It’s nearly impossible to say who’s the best. I can’t. They’re all great.

Of course this isn’t a complete list of culinary delicacies you should try while you’re in Catania.

I couldn’t possibly list every one in such a short article, and I’d no doubt forget something or someone and I’d have to hear about it from some angry street-food vendor who I forgot to mention.

And I have to bear in mind that on a short visit to Catania you simply wouldn’t have time to discover every delicacy this city has to offer. That’s why I limited my list to five.

I hope you can try each and maybe a little more.

A final note: If you haven’t already done so, take a look at my guide to Catania. I wrote this especially for you so that you can get the most from your visit.

Arrivederci,

Don Tano

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About Don Tano

I’m full-blooded Sicilian born from the noise of the Vucciria market and the gentle sound of the waves of Mondello. I grew up eating “pane e panelle” and “pasta con le sarde”. But most of all, I grew up with an awareness: Palermo is a beautiful city to live intensely and to love without question!