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Sicilian Arancini

Across the planet certain foods are recognisable on every plate. The most humble ingredient of rice is no exception. When you are visiting Sicily, right from the offset at the airports on the Eastern coast Catania or the west coast Palermo, the 'arancini' , rice balls hold premium spot on the food counters of the rotisseries. Street food globally has a lot in common, and the most basic of ingredients found in abundance in most countries - rice, tomato, bread - are transformed in various culinary ways to create national dishes that are unique to each culture. Arancini is no exception.

Sicilian Arancini Street Food

One island that can be recognised as one of the most bastardised, is Sicily, not only for the language but for its food 'traditions' where multi cultural influences are clearly visible in the end results. The humble Arancini (literally meaning Oranges due to their shape) is a testament to this historic cross cultural creativity.

Sicilian Arancini Rice Balls - left over Carnaroli rice
Sicilian Arancini Rice Balls - left over Carnaroli rice

Nearer to Africa than Rome, Sicily has been dominated by the Arabians to the east, and centuries later their legacy remains strong. The strong influence of the Arabian diet came to this Mediterranean island and as with most food history, the staple ingredients of rice and meat have been transformed into what is now one of Sicily's most famous products.

Rice and meat as a dish known as 'Urz bi-l la 7m' was popular across the Arabian region and also the Mahhrebian African culture. Along the course of history the Arancini was developed from not one but several cultural influences, whereby the Normans who later conquered the island of Sicily put the final touches on the what is now known to be 'arancini'.

Left over short form rice from meals were turned into ball shapes and filled with left over meat and gravy, or ragu as we call that now. The tomato in the ragu came later, as did the placement of mozzarella cheese in the centre of the rice balls. It was not until the Normans arrived that this then almost formed creation of the arancini was then given the magic ingredient...


The breading of the ball is what has made the simple dish of rice and meat into one of Sicily's most famous street foods. Breadcrumbs are also substitute for cheese on this considered poorer island of Sicily, where many pasta dishes rely on breadcrumbs as an essential ingredient which are not part of the food culture in the richer northern Italian territories.

Sicilian Arancini street food

In rotisseries across the island many variations of the arancini can be seen. Ragu is the classic. Ham and white sauce, pistachio, butter (burro) and more. The rice used is usually Carnaroli and on the western side of the island the rice appears yellow in colour where saffron has been added. The Catania shaped arancini is pointed, some say in the shape of Mount Etna volcano. At the end of the day, the shape must always resemble an orange - it's all in the name.

Top tip for eating a pointed arancini: hold it with the pointed part facing the ground and the juicy bigger part of the arancini upwards. You wont be disappointed taking your first bite and neither will it collapse in your hands in this way.

Eat like a local.



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