Drippy Goodness in Palermo

When visiting a region, Melissa and I rarely travel in a straight line. The slow road usually ends up being a very zig-zag path. That was the case in Sicily. After spending time in Siracusa in the southeast of the island, we visited a couple of hill towns nearby that are famous for their Baroque-style architecture. Unfortunately, we lost one of the camera’s memory cards before we could download the pictures that were on it, so we don’t have any photos of those pretty towns to show you. (If you’re interested, Google “Modica,” “Scicli,” and “Palazzo Santa Rosalia” in Modica to see where we were.)

After that, it would have made sense to continue along Sicily’s southeastern coast to some other interesting places. But instead we took a bus—which at times followed a very zig-zag path indeed—for five hours through the rugged, rural interior of Sicily to the capital city of Palermo on the northwestern coast. What drew us across most of the width and half of the length of Sicily with such insistence? Ice cream, of course.

While planning her visit, AJ read about an artisan gelato festival in Palermo. For four nights in September, the main streets in Palermo’s Quattro Canti (“four corners”) district are cordoned off and turned over to some of th best ice cream makers in Sicily and in Italy at large, plus a few from even farther away, such as Northern Europe and North America. That sounded too wonderful to miss, so we booked a rental apartment a few blocks from the center of the festival and gave over our evenings to ice creamy goodness.

After the hot days in Palermo, it was heaven to stroll in the cooler night air, stopping at the ice cream makers’ booths. Each booth served only one or two flavors throughout the festival, either creamy gelato, fruity smooth sorbet (made with ice rather than milk), or granita (a Sicilian specialty like sorbet but with ice crystals for a crunchy texture—what morphed in the United States into “Italian ice”). Six euros bought a punch card good for two small cups and four “mini-conos.” With only about 25 to 30 booths, we got to try all of the flavors and then go back night after night for the best ones.

Our favorites included grape sorbet, tart lemon granita, chocolate and pistachio gelato (you can’t beat ice cream made from Sicilian pistachios during pistachio season!), and a German gelato that tasted exactly like apple strudel. The crowd was mostly local: families with kids, young couples, teenagers hanging out, some of them listening to indifferent bands and others just enjoying the balmy evening with a cup of drippy deliciousness. Alas, our photos of the gelato festival were on that same lost memory card from the camera. But luckily, AJ took a couple of pictures with her phone, so we have something to illustrate this post.

We love going in other countries to the kind of street festival we’d go to at home. It feels fun and a little familiar, but with the pleasant sense of exoticness that comes from being far away.

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