Picture the scene: underneath a viaduct located at the very center of Catania, in an extremely busy area next to the central market and the most congested intersection in town, there, below a bridge, a restaurant has been erected with plastic tables and chairs, and red and white gingham tablecloths where they serve grilled red peppers and artichokes, and raw and char-grilled seafood and fish. The temperature on December 31st, a sunny day as it was, as are most, was no impediment for this eatery, which was completely full. The same occurred on the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Here in Sicily it is considered customary, even common, to find an infinity of vendors or covered carts with people selling their harvest from the countryside, or any kind of merchandise for that matter.

Char-grilling is a norm on this large island. There’s a lofty establishment in Catania where, over hot embers, they char-grill delicacies chosen directly from the display by each client. The caponata, a mixed vegetable dish with eggplant similar to ratatouille, lightly acidic from the effect of the vinegar, enriched with capers, raisins and other personal touches: two giant red prawns, a “baby” squid weighing 300 grams and a beautiful slipper lobster – not to be confused with scampi, or Norway lobster – Menorca lobster, Mediterranean slipper lobster, etc., plus two casattas, a typical tart of the region, and a good local chardonnay brought the bill to 120 euros. In other words, a cornucopia of delicacies for 60 euros a person: Trattoria del Cavaliere, in the heart of the city (Tel: 095.310491). Reservations essential.

You can really eat astoundingly well for very cheap in Sicily. The prices are always accessible, except in the very touristic town of Taormina. There is so much waiting to be discovered here. Apart from the slipper lobster, Menorca lobster, and Mediterranean slipper lobster, though scarce, can be found fairly regularly in certain restaurants here, whereas in Spain, we have only had the pleasure of enjoying them on about 15 occasions thanks to various intense gastronomic endeavors taken up in the past 25 years, three of those times in Etxebarri, in Axpe (Basque country). This scant crustacean aside, excellent vegetables abound here as well. For example, what we found to be probably the best tomato in all of Europe. They produce enough oranges to supply the entire country with them. Their delicious pistachios can be found in both savory and sweet dishes of the region. Don’t miss out on the Cannoli Siciliani, a specialty that deserves highest honors. Even the wines, strengthened in the heights of Mt. Etna, 3350 meters in altitude, surpass expectations that one might have for a wine of such latitude. And, we repeat, the tuna, red mullet, gilthead, sea bass, grouper, prawns, slipper lobsters… all carry the distinction of being the finest Mediterranean fish available in the entire country.

And if Sicily is a refuge for superb products like capers, idiosyncrasy, populism, history, archaeology, vegetation, beaches… and extraordinary beauty, it’s also the paradise of oil. Make no mistake, Sicily is to olive oil what Bordeaux is to wine, no more, no less. Fifty “premiers crus” among which we will point out six names: Furgentini, Pianogrillo Particella 34, Felice Módica, Villa Zottopera, Angelicum and Primo de Agricoltura Biologica. They are the respective Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion… of olive juice.

Though there are numerous interesting restaurants available, including La Madia (+39.0922.771443) in Licata; Casa Grugno (+39.0942.21208), in Taormina and Katane Palace (+39.095.7470702), in Catania, the true representative of Sicilian cuisine is Duomo (+39.0932.651265), in the beautiful town of Ragusa. Ciccio Sultano reinvents gastronomic traditions with supreme talent, and he does it to such an extent that he has transformed himself into one of the most reputed chefs in the panorama of European cuisine. His spaghetti with fresh anchovy and tuna roe tartar and carrot juice, his gnocchi with squid and pork meatballs, his almond couscous with fish, seafood and soup, his teaspoon of caviar, sea bass, ricotta and honey… Sicily: a land of ancestral, original flavors.