Palermo | In Garibaldi’s Footsteps

When in Palermo do what everyone else does: try out the Antica Focacceria San Francesco. You may have to battle your way through the crowd, but Sicily’s best-known, most-celebrated and probably oldest eating house, bang in the heart of historical Palermo, is a must-do.

The Antica Focacceria is as proud of its history as of the strictly Sicilian specialities it serves. It dates back to 1834, when a noble family ceded a disused chapel to their cook in payment of arrears. The cook set up shop there, and soon acquired a host of devotees among the nobility and intellectuals of the time. They say several kings have dined there, as well as statesmen and literary figures; Garibaldi himself is supposed to have stopped by for a snack.

He probably ordered a slice of sfincione, or a pani cà meusa – a thick focaccia with onions and cheese or a panino with offal to the uninitiated. For this is what the Antica Focacceria is all about: authentic local recipes, the plain, simple food of Palermo’s past and Sicilian tradition.

Focaccia is street food, and at street level you can get some to take out or sit and order from a limited menu of ready dishes. Upstairs are two floors of restaurant proper, where preparation of some of the legendary dishes is a slower and more serious business. There are modern revisitations added to the time-honoured fare; but if it’s your first time stick to the originals such as pasta with sardines, and try to leave room for acclaimed local desserts.

Needless to add that exclusively Sicilian bottles populate a long wine list..

Thanks to Tito di Maggio for the idea.