Palermo is the ideal destination for foodies. As you stroll around, a thousand aromas will reach your nostrils, tempting you to stop on every corner to try the local street food or to sit in one of the numerous eateries in the old town.
You’ll have already read my tips for all pockets, but you may fancy something indulgent and less filling, or perhaps an aperitif and an appetiser before dinner itself.
You’ll know that timings are quite relaxed on the Mediterranean: dinner is eaten fairly late and the ritual of the aperitivo rinforzato, (literally ‘reinforced appetiser’) between the hours of 7pm and 9.30pm has now become a must. In Palermo we don’t joke about serious matters and the appetiser, or aperitivo, is certainly serious business: it’s pointless to say it, but booking is essential almost everywhere.
Do you want to try the best appetisers in town? Read on for all the tips on where to go for an appetiser in Palermo!
The best appetiser in Palermo: MOODDICA!
There’s no question; in my view it’s the best appetiser in Palermo in terms of quality and quantity, in fact at Mooddica I’m almost at home along with so many of my friends!
We’re right in the heart of the old town, on Via Bottai, a narrow pedestrian street full of wine bars off the lower stretch of Cassaro: there’s a lively vibe here, with background music that’s not invasive and allows you to have a nice relaxing chat as you enjoy a drink and a bite to eat. The perfect place both at weekends and on weekdays, Mooddica welcomes you into its charming little venue with the warmth that only a thousand bottles of wine can exude!
Choose their platters of excellent cheeses and charcuterie, which are quite sought after and strictly Sicilian, accompanied by artisan jams and preserves, complemented by little rice or pasta timbales, potato and vegetable flans, omelettes, bruschetta with pâté and “pane cunzato” (homemade seasoned bread, typically with primosale cheese, tomato, oregano, anchovies, perhaps marinated, oil and salt). The vegetarian dishes are also delicious, with gluten-free options available too. Wash it all down with some great artisan beers and wines, mainly local to the region, or with a classic cocktail. There’s no shortage of fine wines from other parts of Italy either, knowledgeably selected by Gianni, the owner, who’s also a sommelier.
And what are you thinking of? Aren’t you going to try their amazing cannolo filled to order after your platter?!
FERRAMENTA, the chic appetiser in Palermo
I also love the dishes at this well-known wine bar and restaurant, extremely popular with the locals.
In what was once the historic ironmongers Ferramenta D’Arpa, Buffa e Figli in Piazza Meli, Ferramenta has been created in the vein of making use of former family-run concerns and following the rule of never throwing anything away, but to recycle, now a trend in many old shops in the centre of Palermo. The same drawers, the same Billiemi stone floors, the same tuff walls and the same sign to maintain the continuity and individuality of the place. Luckily, though, you won’t find any nails or spanners on the shelves; today, Ferramenta treats you to some wonderful moments with Bacchus!
The venue is run by expert sommeliers, and this is reflected in the excellent selection of wines, from both national and international wineries, as well as cocktails and beers to accompany your appetisers: you can pick your own selection from the menu of antipasti, mini pizzas and charcuterie to create your favourite surf & turf combo. There are also starters and mains on the menu.
As it’s à la carte, this is definitely not a cheap appetiser, but it’s certainly worth it due to the quality of the dishes and the vibrant atmosphere, thanks to the square that’s also packed with people standing around just having a drink, a custom typical of Palermo.
For a partying appetiser in Palermo, let’s all go to CANTAVESPRI!
Cantavespri is a cert for those of us who love a good drink and some live music: there’s live music here almost every evening and a definite party atmosphere. The square and the venue itself fill up from appetiser time, and these are even more substantial (or “reinforced”) thanks to the new chef, who has devised a proper restaurant-style menu, established for some years now. And last but not least, the style of the furnishings is wonderful, with the details and colours blending well within the context of the splendid neo-gothic palace in the district of Kalsa, where Cantavespri is located.
You can opt for their tasting platter, which includes pasta, fried food, mini pizzas, mini burgers, charcuterie and finger food, or for individual dishes.
It’s very easy to spend the whole evening here: the live music normally starts between 9.30pm and 10pm, just after the appetiser, with a different band every night, after which one of the city’s top DJs takes over. To burn off a few calories after your appetisers, you can (and should) dance late into the night: definitely an evening to be had if you want to experience some Palermo nightlife!
PASQUALINO, THE LITTLE TAVERN FOR A GOOD DRINK: casual but substantial appetisers
Here’s something more authentic, to nourish your soul, but especially your stomach. On Via Magliocco, near the Teatro Massimo, you’ll find Pasqualino. Here you can have a nice drink, but the real ace up its sleeve is its legendary platter of local “carnazza” (meat), carefully selected by inland producers. Sicilian involtini (rolled meats), arrosto panato (beef in breadcrumbs), spare ribs and, a dish more typical of Palermo it’s impossible to find, sasizza (Palermo-style sausage with fennel seeds) and mangia e bevi (spring onions wrapped in pancetta and chargrilled) are served on a board that includes charcuterie, cheeses, bruschetta, potatoes and vegetables; you can also order vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free versions.
Often, so as not to refute the reputation of the Palermo foodie and to honour them, with friends we also order some pinze (a flat kind of focaccia) some filled flatbreads or cunzati bread for sharing, another of their specialities. You can eat outside in the square, but there’s also plenty of room to sit inside. A relaxed atmosphere, an extremely nice and approachable owner, customers “inebriated by the dishes”: this will all make you feel at home and ready to spend a few hours here!
The historic appetiser in Palermo? IL VESPA!
I’m staying in the Theatre area to tell you about a venue that has created the history of the appetiser in Palermo and where I’ve spent many an evening in great company and, I would add, also without all my faculties by the end of the evening! On Via dell’Orologio, a narrow pedestrian street packed with bars and restaurants, just off Piazza Verdi, you can enjoy the forerunner of the sharing platters at what was once the Vespa Café, now simply Il Vespa.
The formula is simple, but plentiful and good quality, mainly based on a variety of dishes where, to everyone’s delight, there are lots of carbohydrates: bruschetta, mini burgers, savoury croissants, small portions of pasta, vegetables in batter, potatoes and tastings of schiacciate and sfincione, a kind of focaccia with tomato, onion, oregano, anchovies and caciocavallo cheese from Palermo. (Pleeeease don’t call it pizza!)
Il Vespa is very popular with the locals and it’s not easy to find a space. There are tables inside and just a few on the street. The joyful atmosphere of the venue will put you in a weekend mood six days out of seven, perfectly described by a phrase written on one of its walls: “Better a Vespa today than a car tomorrow”.
For an unconventional appetiser, try SABIR
Let’s move on to the area of the Teatro Politeama, that’s to say, the more elegant and residential part of central Palermo, just a few steps from the old town.
Here, on Via Quintino Sella, which with Via La Lumia and the adjacent side streets forms a rectangle bursting with Palermo nightlife, you’ll find Sabir, a very special wine bar, where the appetiser is a little journey along the shores of the Mediterranean. This indoor-only venue is strikingly charming, deliciously inspired by Turkish cafés and hammams. Their appetiser plate offers a series of snacks that will immerse you in the flavours of the Mediterranean. From Lebanese couscous -but obviously Sicilian too-, to Palestinian hummus, potato and Greek feta flan, bruschetta with Tunisian mechouia, Sicilian caponata, Andalusian-style chicken, beef kebab with mint ayran and various Sicilian bruschettas.
Their real forte is combining the dishes with carefully created cocktails, making ample use of herbs, these also inspired by Mediterranean flavours. If you’re looking for an appetiser that’s a bit out of the ordinary and are maybe open to the idea of trying a hookah, Sabir is definitely the place for you!
By now it’s clear: in Palermo there’s plenty to enjoy, especially in the old town; you just need to choose… or simply try all the best places for an appetiser! The sacred ritual of Happy Hour will be a time to get together, enjoy yourself, as well as a chance to see how in Palermo “you never die of hunger or thirst”!
Forget about the diet and satisfy your eyes and your appetite, and fly to Palermo now!