Semifreddo and gelato are all well and good, but for serious chilling out, Sicilians have another trick up their sleeves – granita! Unlike the icy-confection found elsewhere, Sicilian granita’s intensely pure, crystalline texture is far more divine than anything found off-island.
Other Italian cities tout granita, but typically their goods are sad imitations of the real deal. To begin with, granita in Sicily is not a beverage. It is served in a glass or something akin to an ice cream sundae dish with a spoon, not a straw. There are absolutely no artificial syrups. Fruit flavors are flavored with actual fruit, such as limone (lemon), fragole (strawberries), pesca (peach), and gelsi (mulberries). The tastes are seasonal and in reputable bars you won’t be served mulberry granita until the mulberry tree bears her fruit. However, fresh fruit flavors aren’t the only contenders. Other island favorites include caffé (coffee), mandorla (almond), pistacchio (pistachio), and in Catania, cioccolato (chocolate).
Mix and match your flavors just as you would when ordering gelato. Limone and gelsi make an excellent combination of tart and sweet. Go native with a dollop of panna (cream) and a warm buttery brioche for breakfast. That’s right, I said breakfast. Come summer people in Sicily forgo their caffé e cornetto (coffee and croissant) routine in favor of a granita e brioche. Trust me, for granita the way it was intended, you’ll need to leave the mainland – and their glorified 7-11 Slurpees – far behind.
Three Great Granita Stops
For fabulous granita and patio seating in Catania visit Al Caprice on Via Etnea near Piazza Duomo. They also serve up quick lunches and excellent pastries. In the baroque World Heritage Site of Noto foodies in the know head for cult favorite Caffé Sicilia. Here gelato master Corrado Assenza creates unlikely (strawberry and tomato?), yet delicious flavor combinations. In Palermo, break away from the city chaos at Antico Caffé Spinnato along the pedestrian only Via Principe di Belmonte.
Al Caprice, 30-32-34, Via Etnea, Catania, Tel. + 39 095-32-0555
Caffè Sicilia Pasticceria Gelateria, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Noto, Tel. + 39 0931 835013
Antico Caffé Spinnato, Via Principe di Belmonte, 115, Palermo, Tel. + 39 091 583231
The author of this post, Karen Landes, spent two years exploring Sicily. Read more about her island discoveries in her new book, In Etna’s Shadow: Culinary Adventures from Eastern Sicily. Today she and her family live outside of Naples, Italy. She can be found online at www.inetnasshadow.com and www.southofrome.com.
Photographs in this post are by Karen Landes. Top photo – Mix and match granita flavors like this one, mandarin orange and mulberry. Bottom photo – To sample more than one, order the granita tasting at Caffé Sicilia in Noto. Shown here: Mandarin Orange, Mulberry, and Strawberry Tomato.