Two of Palermo’s finest local eateries are at just a stone’s throw from the station: an unmissable street food experience for every traveler in transit.
Suppose you are due to get a train in Palermo and are hanging out by the station or just got off a bus there on an empty stomach. Let us tell you right off the bat: do yourself a favour and avoid the Mc Donald’s. Instead, head down to the Antica Friggitoria for some panelle (deep fried chickpea patties) and crocché (potato croquettes) or, for the most daring, to the Chioschetto in Corso dei Mille for pane ca meusa (calf spleen sandwich).
“My name is Salvatore”. “And my name is Salvo!”. “Isn’t it the same name?”. “Yes, but this way we know who’s who when they call us!”. It was after WWII that Salvo’s father first towed a little cart with his donkey by the station to sell his panelle. “Experience is everything. Many sicculieddi (newbies, or, literally, scrawny youngsters) think they can run a friggitoria. I’m afraid that’s not true”.
Often bustling with locals, Antica Friggitoria’s parsley-free panelle and croquettes can be eaten alone or together, on a plate or in a bun, with or without a squeeze of lemon. You can also try other friggitoria classics like the fritturiedda (fried fish) or the rascatura (the leftovers from the frying of panelle and crocché). Chat up the owners or other customers licking their oily fingers: they love some chatter with their pane e panelle!
Let’s face it, as much as the pani ca meusa, the spleen sandwich, is perhaps Palermo’s most iconic street food, some may find it best to refrain from being too inquisitive about what’s in it before they try. Its story dates back to over a thousand years ago, when jewish butchers invented it as a means to turn a profit from the entrails of slaughtered animals. The Viviano family, who runs the Chioschetto (literally, ‘little kiosk’ in italian) are among the most able contemporary interpreters of this tradition.
“It’s not just the spleen but the lungs and the windpipe of cows, which we collect from slaughterhouses for the sandwiches. We boil it and slow-cook it in lard, according to tradition”. Mr Viviano parts from his copper cauldron for a minute to show me a freshly-boiled lung and a half spleen. “My grandfather drove a little cart to the Cala near Porta Carbone and sold pani ca meusa to the fishermen and passers-by. 34 years ago we moved here in Corso dei Mille”, says Mr Viviano pointing to a couple of black and white pictures on the wall.
I’m still curious as to what makes the meusa I’m eating so special (I’ve been coming to the Chioschetto for as long as I can remember) “We boil the meat just before we serve it and only use the best lard, made by Ingra-Brozzi in Modena. Simple”. The purists eat their meusa “schitta”, that is, simply with a squeese of lemon and a pinch of salt, others like it ‘maritata’ (which literally means ‘married’), with caciocavallo cheese and/or ricotta.