Sicilian arancini, rice balls stuffed with sauce and peas, are one of the best-loved Sicilian snacks and street foods (Sicilian street food and snacks), and they have become increasingly popular throughout Italy and worldwide. Who knows and loves Sicily, cannot but appreciate the arancini of rice, one of the most typical examples of Sicilian street food and of the gastronomic tradition of the island. These are small rice timbales, round or cone-shaped, usually filled with ragù sauce with peas and cheese, breaded and then fried, but there are several other types of fillings including pistachios, mushrooms, prosciutto and mozzarella, spinach and more.
Sicilian Arancini: a bit of history
The history and origin of this delicacy are not certain. Some people believe that Sicilian arancini date back to the Muslim domination because in that period the custom of eating rice and saffron seasoned with herbs and meat was first introduced in Sicily. Others, however, think that this traditional Sicilian food was born in Sicily during the Saracen domination when during the banquets there was the habit of having at the centre of the table a rich tray of rice flavoured with saffron and accompanied by vegetables and meat.
The ragù filling is traced back to Norman domination, while it seems that the invention of breading in the tradition can be traced back to the court of Frederick II of Swabia, when it was useful to transport spicy rice during journeys and hunting trips to facilitate its preservation and not deteriorate rice and seasoning. According to this theory, Sicilian arancini can be defined as a very happy synthesis of the various historical influences on this warm and welcoming island.
Arancino or Arancina? The origins of the name
Sicilian Arancini are thought to owe their name to the analogy, in shape and colour, with the orange fruit. Traditionally, Sicilians do not compromise on food. They often eat only what they are accustomed to, they are devoted to their favourite dishes cooked by their relatives and related to their hometown, the Sicilians are proud of their heritage, loyal to their regions and attached to their mothers. Sicilian Arancini, for example, are the cause of a dispute: not only Sicilians disagree about their essential ingredients and their proper shape, depending on their region, they even argue about their gender, which determines how their name is spelt and pronounced.
Now, we kindly ask you to read the following lines with great attention since we are entering one of the most sensitive Sicilian language issues.
The island of Sicily is facing a tasty civil war for ages and the cause of it it’s a simple vowel. In fact, for the gender of the noun, there is a sort of rift that divides Sicily in two: in the western part it is called arancina, and it takes a round shape, while, in the eastern part it is called arancino, masculine, and it can be round or pointed. So, in Palermo the name of this traditional Sicilian food is female: it is called arancina because it is nothing other than the diminutive of “orange”, from which it borrows the spherical shape.
In Messina and Catania instead, the name is masculine, the arancino has the shape of a cone and someone claims that it symbolizes the volcano Etna. What everyone agrees on is the goodness of this popular symbol of Sicilian street food.
Sicilian arancini: where to eat them
Throughout southern Italy, it’s quite common to find street vendors who sell them from carts – still warm and dripping with oil. Sicilian arancini can be found in a panificio (a bakery which makes bread), in a pastry shop, in a rotisserie or in a friggitoria (which sells predominantly fried food). For the festival of Saint Lucia, which takes place on December 13th in Palermo, during which bread and pasta are not consumed, the city fills up with stands, carts and frying kiosks with the aroma of hundreds of Sicilian arancini that are prepared for the occasion. For this holiday many even make them in a sweet version, covered with sugar and cacao.
We can assure you that every Messinese who left his city has jealously guarded in his heart the ritual of buying and eating an arancino on the ferry, as he approaches the shore of Sicily, while he returns home. Moreover, the rotisserie Famulari, located in the centre of Messina, a few hundred meters from the port and in front of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Messina, is one of the most popular places where you can eat delicious arancini. Here you can find currently 50 types of arancini in addition to other typical Sicilian dishes. Instead, if you are planning a trip to Taormina you cannot miss Sicilian arancini at l’Arco or Da Cristina.