Fish Market Catania, Sicily

The first thing I noticed when I woke up this morning was a soft glow reflecting on the window shutters. Could it be the sun? Sunrises don’t last long, so again I jumped out of bed to check. Yes, we had a sunrise, but Mt. Etna was still shrouded in clouds. Actually this was a blessing because we really didn’t have time this morning to go to both Mt. Etna and the Catania fish market, and didn’t want to feel like we were missing out on Etna if we went to the market.

Parking in Catania

Driving into Catania was the typical Sicilian traffic hassle we were expecting, roads not clearly marked, chaotic drivers and so forth. We finally made it downtown, miraculously ending up on the street we wanted to be on, and found parking at the very end of the street near the water.

After two weeks of driving in Sicily we think we have finally figured out the color coded parking system. I asked a traffic cop writing tickets the last piece of the puzzle. “So what do the yellow lines mean?” Along roads where you can park there are lines drawn out in the street big enough for a parking space. White lines mean free parking, although there may be a time limit, in which case, you use a little cardboard clock in your front window indicating the time you arrived. Blue lines mean you have to pay, buying hour parking cards at the nearest tobacco shop and again marking the time that you arrived. Yellow lines, according to the traffic cop, mean the parking is restricted and certainly not intended for us!

Fish Market

The Catania fish market was everything I was hoping it would be.  As we walked past the Fountain of the Elephant in the Piazza del Duomo, from which the market is just down a side street, you could hear the cries of the fish mongers selling their catch of the day. Each one had a table of varying sizes selling different selections of fish and shellfish. I imagine whatever they happened to catch that morning.

I wanted to find seppia (cuttlefish) to make the dish I love, Pasta al nero. I picked the right dish. People were buying seppia that morning with the fish mongers carefully separating the precious ink sacks from the bodies. We found a fish monger we liked and asked for enough seppia to make two servings. While his assistant was preparing my seppia the monger was dead set on selling us some shrimp to grill. He had a fresh shrimp peeled and in my mouth before I could shut it. We hedged a little but in the end, of course, we bought the shrimp.

The market was filled with amazing things, all kinds of sea creatures – eels, baby sharks, more kinds of fish than I have ever seen anywhere. The rest of the food market was almost as interesting with all kinds of meat vendors selling all kinds of parts and carcasses you don’t really want to know about.

And then there were the specialty items such as snails and sea urchin that you could eat raw on the spot.  Sea urchin lover that I am, I had to try one; not very meaty but pretty sandy. I think I’ll stick to my uni sushi.

To finish the shopping for our dinner we swung through the vegetable section to pick up some tomatoes for the squid ink sauce and some squash. The beautiful crystal blue sky shining over Catania only made the morning more perfect. What traffic?

Lunch at Porcino in Zafferana

For a change of pace we dined out for lunch at Il Porcino in Zafferana, at the base of Mt. Etna, which turned out to be another nearly empty restaurant. This is porcini season and we were both anxious to try some of the fresh local product.

We tasted the tagliatelle and the scaloppini, both with basically the same very buttery and salty sauce with lots of fresh porcini. Unfortunately, the delicate flavor the mushroom was completely overwhelmed by the salty rich sauce. Truly a disgrace to their name. The bread at least was good, fresh crusty semolina Sicilian bread with a soft chewy center. Too bad the sauce wasn’t worth soaking up.


In the afternoon we went back to Taormina, where I started this Sicilian language and food adventure. Not five minutes after we had left the car, I hear “Debbie”, I turn around and there is Mirta, my Elton-John-in-the-pouring-rain buddy, standing on a staircase above the street. She was on her way to see the Greek Theater in the daylight having previously only seen it at concerts in the dark. Neither Don nor I had seen it in light and so we accompanied her to the theater. Seemed fitting after our evening in the pouring rain.

The sky was still a little dark, but you could see how this theater has the most impressive view of all the ruins in Sicily. The structure itself has more brick than the carved stone we had seen in Siracusa, probably resulting from a Roman restoration.

It was great catching up with Mirta and practicing bad student Italian. She was studying in Taormina for another two weeks before returning to Switzerland.

There were fewer students at the school now, and everyone has been complaining about the weather. It had also rained in Taormina for the past five days and according to the teachers, this was not normal Sicilian weather. As we talked about the weather gazing at the coastline and sea to the south, the sky was mostly clear except for a patch at the base of Mt. Etna where it was raining. I explained to her that under that cloud was where we had rented a house.

Don and I had a little bit of shopping to do, so we said good bye to Mirta.  I wanted to buy a small ceramic wall plate of the Sicilian symbol, a head with three legs symbolizing the three points that form the triangular shape of the island Sicily.

As we were leaving the ceramic shop a person comes running at us, scaring us at first until we realize it is Maya, the young woman we drank wine with our last night in Taormina two weeks ago. This was her last day and she was sitting with some friends from the school drinking coffee. We stopped to join them – Tatsu the Japanese guy from my class and a new older student Lisa from Switzerland.

Lisa and Maya were drinking café correto – an espresso with grappa – and Tatsu was drinking, or rather eating with a spoon, a chocolate drink with hot chili. I tried the café correto, much better than either espresso or grappa drunk individually. Together they mellow each other out. We slipped into our typical language school chatter, discussing the simplest of things and laughing, helping each other out with vocabulary and verb conjugation. The conversation was simple enough that Don could follow the thread and laugh along with the rest of us.

Maya’s Italian had improved so much since we last saw her last. Two weeks ago she was barely putting complete sentences together and having only the simplest of conversations with everyone that she met – where are you from, do you like Taormina and so forth. Now she could actually make herself understood on a variety of topics using complete sentences and everything! It just goes to show what lots of uninhibited practice can do for you. Congratulations Maya!


Back at home, under our rain cloud – it had rained while we were gone – we had one last meal to prepare, pasta al nero di seppia, grilled shrimp, and zucca gialla con l’agghiata (a yellow squash, something like pumpkin, in a garlic sweet and sour sauce).

Perparing the nero pasta sauce was a bit worried that I wouldn’t have enough ink. The little cup they had put the ink sacks in had a hole in the bottom and some of it had dripped out into the bag. Plus there was ink everywhere; on the cuttlefish, my hands, the bags. Was there still enough for the sauce? It turns out that the ink sacks really aren’t just one ink sack per cuttlefish, but a cluster of sacks. In fact I was afraid I wasn’t getting them all open, so I put the sack cluster in with the sauce, opening them later as they swelled in the hot sauce and I could find them. For the sauce we also used to the rest of the estratto and some very ripe tomatoes we had bought at the market. It came out great, the sauce rich and inky (even though I forgot to put in the extra olive oil at the end) and the pieces of cuttlefish were nice and tender. The grilled shrimp were also a success, very fresh and perfectly grilled.

The zucca was not as successful, probably too much vinegar. I still haven’t quite gotten the agrodolce (sweet and sour sauce) down very well. The dishes we’ve made this week with this sauce have all been a bit strong the day we made them but mellowed overnight and were quite tasty the next day.

To go with our lovely seafood, we picked up a bottle of you guessed it, Etna Rosso by Murgo, not as expensive as some of the others, but a very good value and tasty, full fruit, not quite as tannic and less of a finish.

And so ends the cooking phase of this adventure. Next stop Rome for a few more restaurants and, of course, the catacombs.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Sicily page.

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