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Ortigia Traditional, Modern or Fusion Foods?

A traditional 'cornetti di mandorle' almond croissant and espresso - no milk here
A traditional 'cornetti di mandorle' almond croissant and espresso - no milk here

When one thinks of Sicily, seafood, fresh salads and wine at local prices, on warm summer days or nights, the sound of the sea in the background. Well, if you came to Ortigia, Sicily ten years ago then you wouldn’t be disappointed. As with many towns and cities across the globe, a rise in cheap airfares and Air B&B accommodation models, has encouraged a growth in tourism leading to every man and his dog to open up their home as a B&B and or a place to eat.

Sicily is no different.

Ortigia back in 2012 was a charming old town offering a limited selection of traditional restaurants and cafes. Today however, the charm is still present but the once small island that is part of Siracusa, has become a maze of touristy restaurants, eateries, food bars and cafes. Competition, they say created better business, however if you are looking for a quiet Mediterranean meal here then off peak, low season would be the best option. Sicily benefits from warm climates year round and mild winters, where there has been only one case snowfall in the past decade in Siracusa.

Foodies come in all forms. ‘The traditionalist’ who appreciates the cuisines of the country, ‘The Fusionist’ preferring a bastardised dish of ingredients from a mix of culinary locations and then there is ’The Modernist’ who loves a meal to be decidedly unrecognisable by the traditionalist where modern takes on traditional classics are appreciated. With a history deep in food culture, Sicilian dishes are not to be tampered with according to most locals. Specific ingredients in every specific dish.


The thought of modernising dishes or adding ‘foreign’ ingredients in a fusion style, leaves a bitter taste on the tongues of many Sicilian people. Arancini with ragu and Cannolli with Ricotta cheese and no other way.

Even though the island has seen many cultures come and go, bringing once foreign foods that now make up the ‘traditional’ foods, like the arabs bringing lemons and pistachios, the idea of adding or bringing changes to these everyday Sicilian or Italian meals is just not the done thing, even with a culture of fusion and change.

Then the tourist came in…

In the past decade, fishmongers, grandmas and even young Sicilians who spent time in London or New York began to see opportunities and have created many new places to eat but with foods that have been modernised or offering widely differing ethic, regional or cooking styles believed to appeal to the foreign palate and mind. The charm of traditional Sicilian foods, where both ingredients and cooking methods are concerned, altered.

More frying, more frozen fish and less simplicity.

The expansion of foods listed on menus in Ortigia especially, compared to Siracusa where mostly traditional restaurants and eateries are in the majority, range from donuts, muffins and milkshakes from The USA, ‘Fish and Chips’ and egg on toast from The UK along with ginger and coriander from Asia. Dishes that are tasty but definitely not Sicilian. To the unaware tourist, these foods could be considered Sicilian as they are being offered in abundance and restaurants/cafes increasing exponentially as each year passes.

The Ortigian restaurants do come in many shapes and sizes now and booking a table at least a day or even a week in advance is recommended for fine dining ones during peak season. Here traditional Sicilian foods can be found along with impeccable service where the service staff know their wines, food pairings and general dining etiquette.

If you are looking for a less ‘classic’, but nevertheless wonderful place to eat then there are many offered along the never-ending side streets in Ortigia. The service and food is offered with genuine love but as drinking culture is not common here, it won’t be unheard of for the service staff, young and often the family of the owner, to pour you a brandy or liquor in a wine glass or an extremely large measure.

'Cedro' a citrus fruit eaten as salad with salt and oil.
'Cedro' a citrus fruit eaten as salad with salt and oil.

The growth of places to eat has led to a wonderful assortment of choice but on the other hand, a loss in traditional foods and service, but if not important to you on a holiday, then a bonus.

Fresh salads and fish together are actually not a common dish in Sicily. Food is eaten separately mostly with dishes only being a mix of a few ingredients, and not all on one plate as in the UK and USA. Salads are eaten after the meal, especially to cleanse the palate and stomach. Even items like carrots which are harder to digest will not be part of a Siracusans after meal, cleansing salad. Leaves or fresh fennel bulb, if in season, dressed with salt and oil is as classic as it gets. Lemon squeezed over fish? A no no here. Taste the fresh fish not the lemon, unless its hiding the taste of old fish...

The local market is a delight for both locals and tourists. Seasonal and fresh foods in abundance along with now an endless number of places to eat. Market ’street food’ is what people are listing online and social media, gorgeously presented daily street foods. The term becoming more and more popular and being used to entice both tourist and locals alike. A certain panino maker in the market offering amazing filled rolls, marketed as a ‘local’ place with elaborately filled breads which are extremely moreish, even if not classically Sicilian. The operate ingredients are out of this world however, especially the mozzarella. A few doors along is a family, father and son, who own a herb and spice stall that has now also become a restaurant offering ‘street food’ but the real diamond in this place are the old traditional techniques of grinding herbs and mixes of traditional ingredients for health benefits that the elderly father offers. Featured in the photo above, Antonio's knowledge of all things traditional and the 'drogeria' inside the shop is a must. Sadly the family saw the market becoming more and more like a ‘restaurant road’ and decided to set up theirs, even if the quality of the food is not as charming and traditional as the original ingredients and products to be found inside. However, saying this, Sicilian food no matter what category or set up is simply wonderful and tasty, so decide whether you are a tourist looking for traditional food or one who is looking for modern twist or fusion from lands far and wide - there is something for everyone!

Hotel Algilia Ortigia Charme situate opposite the sea & 5 mins on foot to the market area

If you are a guest at our hotel Algilà Ortigia Charme in Ortigia, please ask a member of our reception team for further information on restaurants, booking tables or food experiences.


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