Sure, you can feel this way after a few days of travelling throughout the rest of Italy, but there’s something about living and breathing a culture that you just can’t get from being a tourist.
I had to make sure I said Sicily and not “Italy” because the island has a rather different culture than the rest of the mainland. In fact, you can never really lump all regions of “Italy” into one category or description. Every place has its own distinct culture, dialect, cuisine, jurisdictions and history. But this is an entirely different blog post. I’ll save it for when I have more time and more wine.
Comunque, living in Sicily certainly has it’s ups and downs, but spend a little time here and you’re bound to fall in love with these 9 things:
1. Caffè al Ginseng.
I’d never heard of this sweet espresso beverage before coming to Italy, and even then, it took me months to try it. I love regular coffee (Italian or American), so why fix something that’s not broken? Wrong. Cafè al Ginseng is a blended espresso substitute obviously made with dreams Ginseng extract. It’s supposed to have natural awakening properties, is served slightly sweetened and has a lovely nutty taste.
People warned me about the magical properties of real Italian pasta: “I ate pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a month” or “their pasta is totally different than ours” . I laughed along, but never really expected anything special. However, since arriving in Sicily five months ago, I can confirm the Italians have invented and perfected the art of pasta-making. Truly and honestly, we [non-Italians] overcook and over-complicate our pasta. The best pastas I’ve tried only had a few ingredients and rarely involved any meat at all.
3. Vino Nero D’Avola.
I’m not saying I’m a wine connoisseur, but I’ve definitely never seen this on the shelves of the LCBO back in Canada. It’s a beautifully aromatic, easy-drinking, crowd-pleasing dark-red that’s only grown in Sicily. Plus, it’s super affordable with great bottles being priced as low as 2eur a pop!
4. Standing breakfasts.
If you’re like me, you’ve been carefully raised in the North American/British principle that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and should be composed of the right balance of “good carbs” and protein. Low in sugar. High in fiber. Involve vegetables if possible. Peanut butter.*
For those of us coming from this mentality, the Italian breakfast is a real shock. It is literally the opposite of everything we’ve ever learned. It consists of a simple cornetto (there are many different kinds but is usually some variety of a French croissant and sugar-coated donut’s chocolate- or Nutella-filled baby), is always sweet and is often taken standing up at a bar (aka Italian coffee shop) with a bitter espresso or, if you’re feeling fancy, a cappuccino.
I have a friend who literally eats a couple cookies for breakfast. While I still refuse to eat this way every day, it’s said to be better on our digestive system and far more delicious to do the traditional Italian colazione once and a while!
*Peanut butter is a staple in my diet but it’s impossible to find in Sicily. Italians visibly hate peanut butter and actually think it’s made from, like, cow butter.
5. La Passagiata.
This cherished Italian tradition is simply a leisurely stroll through town. Families and groups of friends walk together, talking and keeping this age-old practice alive. I firmly believe it’s one of the reasons why Italians stay so skinny. In the evening, before and/or after dinner, the generations embark on a relaxing promenade throughout town as a way to socialize, see and be seen. After living in Italy, you’ll forever be begging your non-Italian friends and family to go for walks with you!
There are so many unexpected Italian foods I’d never heard about until I started living here – pizzolo is one of them, and apparently Sortino is the best place to get it. .
Sortino is a relatively unremarkable Sicilian town not far from my home in Siracusa, but the people of this region make it a sort of “special night out” for friends and family. Once, I went with a group of no less than 14 people. We didn’t get seated until 10:00 and didn’t eat until 10:30 at night. Instead of going out dancing or to a pub like most people our age in the rest of the world, we spent standard Sicilian Saturday night out eating copious amounts of delicious pizzolo (decidedly favourite variety: pumpkin and prosciutto) and drinking house red. It was madness. I loved it.
BTW we went to Le Monache that night, which is said to be one of the best.
Simply put, Sicily is small-town. It’s the traditionally part of the farming communities of “Southern Italy”, whereas “Northern Italy” is considered the more wealthy and “modern” region. I’m not saying I agree or disagree, but I do know for a fact that Sicilians are some of the warmest and most genuine people you’ll meet. They might not all speak English, but they’re willing to try until they can help you. They love sharing their culture, food, and homes without expecting anything in return. They’ll surely restore your faith in humanity!
8. The Market.
The fiere, better described as open-air markets in English, are an experience in Sicily. Firsly, you can buy absolutely anything. Sure, vendors sell what you’d expect – like delicious-looking fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses – but they also sell cheap (and stylish!) shoes, knock-off designer bags, household items, small electronics, make-up, the freshest fish and shellfish you’ve ever seen, flowers, clothes … ANYTHING!
Shopping at the market (especially in Catania) is an event in itself. It’s here you will see the hordes of Sicilian women bustling through the tents as they jockey for a good deal or collect the ingredients for Sunday lunch, the illegal (sorry) immigrants selling knock-off anything who WILL harass you as you walk by, and of course, the young male vendors yelling, barking and singing (yes) bargains into the crowd as if this is 1925 and they don’t do this every freakin’ day.
For an English speaker, it’s a little uncomfortable when everyone’s yelling “SOLO UN EURO! UN EURO! UN EURO! DIE! DIE! DIE!”* while you’re shopping for oranges. But you get used to it, then you start to love it.
*Actually, it’s written “dai, dai, dai” and essentially means “come on, come on, come on!”
9. Italian hand gestures.
You cannot fully understand the complete power of Italian hand-gestures until you’ve lived in Italy. When you start learning Italian, they might as well just have an entire course on hand-gestures because you can get almost as far on just body language. My Italian is quite severely poor, but I can get my message across pretty clearly when I use a few carefully chosen gestures.
So there you have it! Nine things you’ll, like me, truly come to love from living in Sicily. I bet after I click publish I’ll be able to think of 9 more.
Ever lived in Sicily or Italy?