Mercato II – Palermo
My last farm stay was in Campania. I worked in the vegetable garden, picked olives, made gnocchi and wood fired pizza and chopped wood and ate really well. I haven’t told you about the wood fired pizza yet because it’s all a bit blurry (memory and photos). But I might be able to piece together a post on that soon. I won’t bother to tell you about what it was like for me to chop wood. I’m not very strong and I get blisters easily and are you bored yet? So, after all that hard work was done – the most enjoyable hard work I’ve done in a long time – it was time for a holiday! I was meeting my boyfriend in Rome and we were flying to Sicily. First stop Palermo.
Palermo is a city of street markets. There are four big ones from my understanding – Capo, Ballaro, Vucciria and Borgo Vecchio. They aren’t properly marked on maps: we either accidentally stumbled upon them or knew that one was in the general vicinity and then just walked around until we found it. They aren’t really hard to find since they are bustling and raucous and large. All four of the markets are in the historical center. Three of the four, the Capo, Ballaro and Vucchiria markets, are arranged somewhat close to the Quattro Canti, the historic intersection of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda that divides the old city of Palermo into its four quadrants.
We first stumbled into the Capo market by pure chance. This vendor with tons of fruit and vegetables on the street alerted us that perhaps we have found a street market. There are no official signs saying you are entering the market, just look for the vendors. I’m pretty sure (but not 100%) that she’s at the intersection of Via Porta Carini and Via Volturno but if you go and look around that area you can’t miss it. From this intersection, the Capo market meandered down Via Porta Carini, a narrow and winding street. Most of the market vendors were on this main artery but there was enough overflow of vendors that they spilled out onto the side streets off of Via Porta Carini. Customers came on foot, on bicycles and on motorinos. Everyone made room for everyone else and no one begrudged the motorinos trying to noisily maneuver and inch by everyone else that wasn’t motorized. For a second I was outraged that this noisy motorino was in a pedestrian area ( it really wasn’t a pedestrian area) and who did he think he is and then I looked around and realized that I was the only one who cared. I relaxed my North American indignation. But no matter what your transport is, you are not allowed to touch the goods. The vendor will take care of that for you. You’ve been warned.
Just west of the intersection of Via Roma and Corso Vittorio Emanuele is the the Vucciria market. It seemed small compared to the Capo; it was just one narrow street. Maybe we didn’t find the rest of it? Not sure. Capo market had more bustle, more vendors and better food on display all around. But I hear that the Vucchiria market has great street food stalls that open up after dark.
Last market we tried was the Ballaro. This one is south east of the Quattro Canti. We accessed it from Via Del Bosco. Lots of students hanging out in cafes around Via Del Bosco; makes me wonder what it’s like being a student in Palermo. It sounds like lots of cigarettes and excitement. The Ballaro is bigger than the Vucciria and about the same size of the Capo. There is lots of street food in the Ballaro. I hear there’s also lots of street food in the Capo but I wasn’t hungry when I went there so I didn’t bother trying any. Amateur move.
But I did work up an appetite by the time I walked to the Ballaro Market. I’m a fan of deep fried things and starch. In Palermo, they serve pane e panelle: deep fried chickpea patties sprinkled with salt when pulled right out of the hot oil and served on a sesame seed bun. You can also get a sandwich made with deep fried potato croquettes. Or, if you can handle it, you can get both on a sandwich. Yes, this sandwich is a whole lot of beige. But it is salty, starchy and deep fried and completely satisfying. Oh and don’t forget the spritz of lemon just to give it some brightness and vitamins. A cold beer on the side is mandatory. Just look for a cauldron of hot oil on the street and there you will find some potato croquettes and chickpea fritters being fried up. And then you’ll find some seriously happy people (like me!) biting off more than they can chew.