“They always build as if they expect to live for eternity; they always eat as if they expect to die the next day”
Plato on the Sicilian people, 5th century BC
Sicily’s strategic position in the heart of the Mediterranean has ensured a history of foreign conquest, including the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Spanish, Normans and French. Thousands of years of history have shaped Sicilian cuisine, now one of the most unique and ancient in existence. Learn more about the key periods of foreign occupation and how the island’s rich history has influenced Sicilian culinary traditions and ingredients. At Bar Idda, we continue to research and learn about this interesting and diverse cuisine in creating our menus.
8th Century BC
Almost 3000 years ago the ancient Greeks arrived and colonised the island from the first settlers, the Siculi, Sicani and Elymni people. Bringing with them the first key ingredients to shape Sicilian cuisine, we can thank the Greeks for wheat, walnuts, figs, pomegranates, olives and oil, grapes and wine, sheep and goats to make cheese and honey, the ancient sweetener of the world. The Greeks introduced agricultural method’s and crops flourished on this land of strong sun and mineral rich and fertile volcanic soil, which lead to a great deal of profitable trading. The abundance of wild produce they found growing in the hills was cultivated, including fennel, capers, thyme and thistle
3rd Century BC
The Punic Wars give control of Sicily to the Roman Empire. The Romans used Sicily as their breadbasket and cultivated wheat and grains for export to Rome. The island becomes known as the ‘Granary of Rome’. Cherries, plums and citron were imported from Asia.
The Arabs conquered the island and had the most influential impact on Sicilian gastronomy. Exotic new produce was introduced such as oranges, lemon, peaches, apricots, melons, date palms, mulberries, almonds, pistachios, eggplant, rice and couscous as well as new spices such and clove, cinnamon and jasmine. Sophisticated methods of irrigation were implemented and agriculture flourished. Sicily’s sweet tooth gets even sweeter with the introduction of sugar cane. Iconic Sicilian desserts date back to this period such as Cassata, Cannoli, Marzipan and Granita, which made excellent use of Mount Etna’s snow.
The Spanish arrived and bought squash, tomatoes, vanilla, peppers and potatoes as well as ancient Aztec chocolate making techniques that they discovered in Mexico. The barons on large feudal estates ate well and the ‘Cucina Baronale’ of the rich is interpreted by the servants at home with lower quality ingredients creating the original ‘Cucina Povera’.
The Royal court moved to Palermo, King Ferdinand 1 with his wife Maria Carolina. French chefs called Monsu were bought over to prepare sophisticated cutting edge French cuisine in the palaces of nobles and aristocrats using rabbit, quail, sole, capons, butter, cream and brandy. English Merchants arrived and began the mass production of local Marsala wine for export.