Wowf**k. Excuse my brusque way of describing my state of mind when I first touched down in the city of Catania. Incredibly overwhelmed and in disbelief of the beautiful city that ringed around me, that the only words traversing both my brain and mouth were ‘wow’ and ‘f**k’. Wowf**k!
Situated on the east coast of Sicily (Italy’s biggest Island), Catania is notorious for it’s energetic nightlife and vibrant culture. Catania is also known for it’s stunning Catholic architecture, predominantly a blend of baroque and urban style.
A (Totally Brief ) History Lesson
Mount Etna, the most major currently active volcano in Europe acts as a beautiful backdrop for the city. Tragedy struck in 1669 when Etna violently erupted and engulfed the entire city in molten lava. But from the ashes, arose the monumental city that stands today, and I mean literally! Much of Catania was rebuilt using the lava stone that rained on the city, and now it is the second largest city in Sicily. Catania flourished thanks to the fertile volcanic soil which has aided agriculture since Catania came under Roman reign, and has made growing fresh produce an influential trade in the area.
In 1434, Catania founded the first university in Sicily, Università degli Studi di Catania (The University of Catania). Now with a population of over 65,000 students, it is the main university in Sicily, attracting many young people and enlivening the city and it’s active nightlife.
Catania, with hundreds of bars, clubs and eateries that caters for the fun loving (largely student) population is a midnight playground for people of all ages. Predominantly on a Saturday night, the centre of Catania floods with frisky folk looking for great food, great company and of course, a great drinkery!
In my first week of having moved half way across the world, I went to a social session at an awesome bistro called Papè in the centre of Catania to meet with other daring people like myself who have moved abroad and have interests in learning other languages. A very funky place for food, wine, beer, cocktails, live music, and social events, which I highly recommend.
However, if you want to party, the Piazza Teatro Massimo is the place to start. The square packed full of beautiful Sicilian youngsters, the atmosphere is like a nightclub only the rough lava stone pavement makes walking in heels an absolute mission! You’ll find yourself lost for choices of pubs, cocktail bars, restaurants, pizzerias and friendly locals to show you how it’s done in Catania. But ladies, watch your purse!!!
Sicilian cuisine showcases the cultures that established themselves on the Island from the last two thousand years. Although very similar to common Italian cuisine, Sicilian food shows traces of Greek, Spanish, French and Arab influences. Screw your diet and come try some of the most mouthwatering food that has not only touched my tastebuds, but my soul!
I fleetingly toured Catania’s famous seafood market La Pescheria, which takes over the streets every workday morning with captivating street theatre. For what deceptively seems like miles around is a jungle of vibrant produce, from decapitated swordfish to trays of clams, mussels and sea urchins. Fishmongers gut metallic sapphire tuna over rancid pools of seawater and chum, while poised housewives listen through the raucous to hear the best deals from the merchants who fight audibly (in Sicilian lingo) for your cash. The atmosphere is absolutely riveting! Although, the briny stench seems to linger even after you’ve left the market.
Taking only a few steps from the fish market into the Piazza del Duomo, I indulged in one of Catania’s most notorious dishes. Pasta alla Norma is among Sicily’s most historic and iconic foods. It is prepared with tomatoes, fried aubergine, generously grated ricotta cheese and basil and is rich in flavour. This specialty is a tribute to the fine work of the famous composer Vincenzo Bellini. I also had a phenomenal view of the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata (a Catholic Cathedral dedicated to Catania’s Saint Agatha) while I ate. Bellissima!
Arancini is one of Sicily’s influential delicacies. It is derived from the Arab cuisine, a rice ball stuffed with meat in a tomato sauce and mozzarella, then is coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Arancini is a traditional food for the feast of Santa Lucia on the 13th of December, when pasta and bread are not eaten. This feast memorialises a grain shipment that relieved a severe famine in 1646. Nowadays, the popular snack is apart of modern Italian food culture, and no surprise because they’re divine! You can find them in most Sicilian cafes.
Coming from pint-sized New Zealand, where we eat a lot of fish and seafood anyways, I was somewhat shocked at how common it is for the people of Catania to eat swordfish. And even more surprised about how much I actually enjoyed it! After making some Italian friends for life, they took me to this primo restaurant called Caffè Epoca right on the coastline, and advised me to order the Pasta Pesce Spada e Pomodorini (pasta with swordfish and cherry tomatoes). A little apprehensive because of the swordfish but was convinced by my pals it was the leading dish on the menu. You eat with your eyes first, and I was infatuated just by the presentation! It not only looked stunning but was so nectarous, I weighed on the idea of licking the plate clean.
I can barely keep it together I’m so excited to share with you the most divine sample of matter to ever grace my palette. The Sicilian’s were clearly culinary geniuses because yes this too was originally cooked-up in Sicily. The connolo is a fried pastry dough rolled into a crispy tube and jammed full of a sweet ricotta cream. Savia Pasticceria is a world renown pastry boutique with the best connoli in the world, they even export them all around the world! Savia is located in the centre of Catania, so I’d have to be crazy not to investigate. I’ll still dream of connoli from Savia until the day I die. As well as the crispy shell and lusciously creamy ricotta, they’ve incorporated dark chocolate chips and crushed pistachios. It’s nothing less than heavenly!
Your eyes, tastebuds and soul will thank you for visiting this beautiful city that will always have a special place in my heart. Although, your tightest pair of jeans may not feel the same way, as they may be shoved to the back of the wardrobe until you can wean yourself off the connoli.