PALERMO, Italy -- The taxi driver wove through the traffic of
modern Palermo, then along the waterfront and through the oldest
part of the Sicilian city, all the way listing the top sites: the
Palazzo dei Normanni, with its beautiful mosaics; the cathedral,
once an Arab mosque; and the Teatro Massimo, the city's grand opera
But as we sped to my hotel, I was more intrigued by an area of
narrow streets full of people, thousands of little dancing lights
and red-orange canopies.
"Il Mercato della Vucciria," the driver said.
The next morning, I decided to leave the must-sees of Palermo
for later and make the Vucciria street market my first stop.
From the Hotel Villa Archirafi, a clean, attractive two-star
property, it was a 10-minute walk to the old Arab quarter of
Palermo, where Vucciria covers about a half-mile of winding alleys
near Piazza San Domenico.
The open-air market, open Tuesday through Saturday until 2 p.m.,
was in full gear at 10 a.m., with smells of fish and spices and the
sounds of fishmongers hawking their catch.
Stall after stall sold mountains of shiny eggplants,
long-stemmed artichokes, slabs of swordfish, cheeses such as
caciocavallo and ricotta, spices, blood oranges and other
Other stalls offered preserved vegetables, dried fruit and
regional specialties such as panelle (chickpea fritters) to nibble
Smoke rose from grills lined with octopus and squid, which were
slapped on warm fresh bread for take-away snacks.
The frenetic atmosphere was more reminiscent of the casbahs of
Morocco and Cairo than of modern-day Italy.
In fact, the quarter is a relic of Sicily's Arab past, built by
10th century Muslim rulers as their administrative and military
seat; it later attracted fishermen and sailors because of its
proximity to the port.
Vucciria is Palermo's most famous street market, but there are
others, such as Ballaro and Capo. Both are 10-minute walks from
Vucciria and are just as colorful and delightful.
Dawn Bosco, president of Amelia International, a Sicily
specialist in Hicksville, N.Y., said many U.S. travelers are
fascinated by Palermo's markets, "considered the best food markets
Amelia International, which handles travel for the Culinary
Institute of America, offers guided tours of Vucciria, Ballaro and
Capo as part of independent programs.
"We can include tours of the markets with a guide who knows the
history and knows the food of Sicily well," Bosco said.
Bosco recommends travelers visit the markets early in the
morning for the most lively atmosphere -- when fishmongers and
butchers start their sing-song chants to entice customers.
For more information, contact Amelia International at (800)
742-4591 or visit www.ameliainternational.com.