Walking around Catania felt like falling in love.
I woke up early on a hot summer Sicilian day, strolling through Piazza Duomo in search of a brioche and granita. I chose a bar bustling with people and the seat I chose was in the shade.
My brioche and granita Mandorla (almond) came quickly and I savored the taste of the cold Italian ice on my tongue- still feeling a little naughty for having ice cream for breakfast even though it was the Sicilian way.
A man with an accordion who had a lonesome face and skin like leather stood in the corner playing the same song over and over again as I ordered an espresso and paid the bill – 4 euro for a satisfying meal.
Me in my natural habitat
My days in Italy were filled with food and I now understood why, after many years of moving and immigration, my family name came to mean “the family that eats.” The food in Sicily was my favorite thing about my trip because you could eat and drink and live so cheaply and so well.
I strolled in search of local cuisine for several hours, stopping only to pop into a local grocery store for a l’acqua frizzante and helping myself to a bottle of red wine that only cost a euro.
I couldn’t help but think that the man who rang me up belonged on the cover of a magazine instead of behind a register with his green eyes and dark features. I wanted to tell him that but I didn’t know how so I just bought my wine and went.
I walked past the fish market, the smell of the sea filling my senses with the syncopated rhythm of men with cleavers slamming down on heads of halibut and tails of tuna, the blue kind. One man argued loudly in Italian with another- or maybe they were having pleasant conversation. In the fish market, I couldn’t tell.
If you’re ever in Catania and looking for a true Sicilian lunch, stop by Trattoria Da Andrea, nestled on via Vittoria Emmanuelle Orlando, 89/90.
It’s a hotspot for locals but I wouldn’t recommend going there if you can’t speak at least basic Italian.
The waiter, a tall man who reminded me a bit of an Italian Hagrid with his fluffy hair and kind eyes greeted me and I ordered a vino bianco and fixed menu courses alla casa. They change every day, so what you are in for will always be a pleasant surprise.
“Where are you from?” Italian Hagrid asked me in Italian. I told him New York and he gasped in surprise, “Your Italian is quite good.”
“Un poco,” I said, smiling.
I had only been in Italy for a few days, flying here only knowing how to say “hello” and “I am a girl,” so I was proud that I had learned to order (almost) like a local in such a short period of time.
Primo was a penne pasta with fresh eggplant and tomato sauce. It didn’t even need much Parmigiano because the flavor burst in my mouth reminiscent of something long ago and was filled with the bright freshness of fragrant simple spices and I could have eaten it forever and almost could not stop. Why can’t life be this simple?
For Secondi, I wasn’t quite sure what I ordered because I was in the mood for meat and hadn’t really studied how to say meat dishes in Italian other than carne and pollo. I picked something he said because I figured I couldn’t go wrong along with another vino bianco.
It turned out to be something like a burger patty except drizzled in olive oil and garlic, which I soon found out was actually horse meat– a surprising delicacy in Southern Italy. It tasted incredible, like the horse had lived in the backyard and had lived a full and happy life, and once I had gotten over the fact that it was horse, I wanted at least another helping.
Even the insalate was flavorful, despite being a simple mix of lettuce, tomatoes, potato and carrots.
The place soon filled up after I got my second course and the restaurant fluttered with life and came alive with the smells of food and wine.
The waiter brought me a plate of watermelon- which I’m not sure was custom or just because he was surprised and happy that I had spoken to him so well. It was fresh, as was everything else and I ordered a cappuccino and watched the people around me talking with their hands and speaking loudly and I felt at home.
The Italian Hagrid asked me if I wanted dessert and I said that I couldn’t but he said that I should so I complied and he brought me my favorite thing in the world- a small plate of tiramisu
. It was light and fluffy like a cloud and I had only had tiramisu this good at my favorite Italian restaurant
in New York, but of course this was Italy so it was better by association.
He gave me a biscotti for the road, this time definitely on the house, as I didn’t see him do it for anyone else.
As I paid the bill (a simple 17 euro) and walked out, full and my dress feeling a bit tighter, I was filled with the overwhelming feeling of falling in love.
I had fallen in love with Catania the way that you fell in love with someone whom you knew was too good, too pure for someone like you but you loved them anyway so there I was.
I walked down the street then in search of more adventure, with my heart warm and my stomach full.