#1 Pasta with Sardines in Taormina & Noto
This national dish is a great example of Sicilian’s trademark resourcefulness. Legend holds that the sweet and sour mix of pasta, sardines and wild fennel with North African flavors like saffron, pine nuts, and dried fruit, came about when Arabs first arrived in Sicily in the 900s. The new creation, blending local ingredients with those stashed aboard the ship, served as a Eureka moment that would live on long past the Arab’s 250-year reign.
You’ll find it on menus across the island, with some regions adding personalized touches—such as tomatoes in cities like Taormina. At the base of Iblean Mountains in the town of Noto, Michelin-star Ristorante Crocifisso serves an unforgettable recipe using a rustic casarecce pasta and saffron sauce. No matter what ingredients are thrown in, sardines are always a must and come in many forms. During a cooking class with a duchess in an 18th-century palazzo, you can try your hand rolling butterflied sardines that you buy from Capo market to make a peasant-fisherman favorite, sarde beccafico, filled with breadcrumbs, dried fruit, and fresh herbs.
#2 Stuffed Beef Roll in Palermo
One hearty dish that has stood the test of time is traditional beef or veal farsu magru. A lean cut of meat is stuffed with minced meat or ham, breadcrumbs, cheeses, spices and boiled eggs, then rolled to appear more like a roast. Most locals in Palermo will tell you, this recipe needs no refining and old-school favorite Trattoria Ai Cascinari doesn’t mess with tradition. If you want to try a more modern take on the dish, head over to Salmoriglio. This Palermo eatery has a younger, hipper vibe and prides itself on using only traced and certified Sicilian breeders. On the menu, you’ll also find Cinisara sausage, made from a breed of beef cattle originating from a province near Palermo that’s able to withstand Sicily’s hot summers.
#3 Sicilian Black Swine in Ragusa
Sicily’s indigenous black swine originates from the Nebrodi Mountains in northeast Sicily. In 1993, Sicily designated just over 300 square miles (777 sq. km.) a national park, now the island’s largest—a decision that would help the animal make a comeback from near extinction. You can visit farms dedicated to raising mailino nero, where pastures studded with acorns, olives, and carobs make for sausage with sensational flavor. Since production is strictly controlled, this heritage meat is an A-list item on gourmand menus and in elite butcher shops.
Skip the sticker shock while still savoring Sicilian black pork on par with the famed two-Michelin-star restaurant, Duomo, in Ragusa, by getting a table at chef Ciccio Sultano’s other project: the nearby I Banchi in Palazzo di Quattro. Here Sicilian black pork is served Chiaramonte style—ribs stuffed with garlic, onion, salami, tomato, parsley, oregano, bread crumbs and just enough of Ragusa’s local cheese.
#4 Swordfish Rolls in Scoglitti
The tales accompanying this dish are almost as fascinating as it is delicious. Pesce spada or swordfish are mostly caught in the Strait of Messina, Malta Channel, and Sicilian Channel. Fishermen spend summers catching these deep-sea fish in pairs—with the male refusing to ever leave the side of the female. Songs and stories of this love tragedy accompany the traditional dish, in which the swordfish is rolled and stuffed with pine nuts, raisins, breadcrumbs and one of Sicily’s other fish specialties, anchovies. You can find this on the starter menu of just about every seafood venue on the island, but many foodies swear by the ones regularly served up at Viri Ku Cè in Scoglitti, where you eat an assortment of whatever was hauled in that morning.
#5 Easter Lamb in Siracusa
While lamb is a popular staple in Sicily, it’s an especially important part of food culture during the Easter season. In Italy, this religious holiday lasts an entire week, marked by the procession of thousands of monks in Enna to commemorate Good Friday, Saturdays filled with pupu cu l’ova (bread baked with colorful eggs) and countless festivities in small villages and big towns alike. Holy Week coincides with spring equinox and the arrival of favas, artichokes, and asparagus, making food experiences extra fresh. This is also the time of the year when lambs are born, the traditional centerpiece found on just about every Sicilian’s Easter-dinner table.
Even if you’re not lucky enough to be invited to the grandmother’s house of a local, you can still enjoy Sicily’s lamb specialties. The quaint family-owned eatery Ristorante Don Camillo in Siracusa is constructed from the remains of a church destroyed in the earthquake of 1693, and the lamb chops in a potato crust and spicy sauce with spring onion and saffron are exceptional—especially when paired with a bottle from the restaurant’s massive wine cellar boasting more than 800 labels.
#6 Sicilian Rabbit in San Vito lo Capo & Caltagirone
Hunting rabbit was once the pastime of Sicilian aristocrats and while it isn’t exactly the noble outing it used to be, some chefs still try to replicate its wild flavor. Presentations of coniglio, or rabbit, range from regal to rustic and is often marinated in a sweet and sour mix of red vinegar sauce with onions, green olives and capers known as agrodolce. Perhaps the most decadent topping is the famed chocolate of Modica—an Aztecan recipe brought by the Spanish during the 16th century.
Not surprisingly, rabbit’s front of mind at namesake Bianconiglio in San Vito Lo Capo. Named after the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, this restaurant strives to break convention, serving exclusively meat, one of them being rabbit medallions prepared with a secret recipe of the chef. Another restaurant that claims to do “rabbit our way” is Ristorante Andrea, located in the heart of UNESCO World Heritage Site Palazzolo Acreide. But to combine rabbit with another Sicilian specialty, order maccheroncino at Michelin-star Ristorante Coria in Caltagirone, where the dish is served with pasta and tenerumi, the tender leaves of the lanky Sicilian zucchini called cucuzza.
#7 Couscous with Fish in Trapani
Morocco, not Sicily, might first come to mind when thinking about the best destination to find tiny pearls of pasta known as couscous. But Sicilians possess such pride for the dish that every year they hold a world championship known as Couscous Fest in the western coastal province of Trapani. After exploring the area's famous salt flats and the pebble-beaches of Zingaro Nature Reserve, make your way to the festival location, San Vito Lo Capo. Even if you’re not there when the chefs from ten different countries face off, the Arab-Sicilian dish can be found at nearly every trattoria in town and the churches are incredible examples of Sicily’s Arab-Norman architecture.
No surprise that the favorite way for this coastal Mediterranean region to serve couscous is heaped with a mix of local seafood. Make your way to the region’s namesake town of Trapani. Not far from the port where boats head out to the Egadi Islands you’ll find Hosteria San Pietro, a no-nonsense restaurant known for their authentic Sicilian couscous, teeming with fresh seafood, shellfish, saffron, and almonds.