“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 long and rich history of foreign conquest from the island’s neighbours. The Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Spanish, Normans and French all occupied at some point, leaving behind influences that have helped shape Sicilian cuisine and make it one of the most unique, ancient and diverse in existence. In designing our Sicilian inspired menu, we continue to research and learn from these influences, and the thousands of years of history that has made this cuisine so interesting.
Learn more about the key periods of foreign occupation in Sicily and how they have influenced island’s culinary traditions and ingredients.
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 as well as honey, the ancient sweetener of the world. The Greeks introduced agricultural methods and crops flourished on this land of strong sun and mineral-rich fertile volcanic soil. This lead to a great deal of profitable trading for Magna Grecia. 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 gave 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 became 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, lemons, 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 got 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 was interpreted by their 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. They incorporated rabbit, quail, sole, capons, butter, cream and brandy in their elaborate banquets. English merchants arrived and began the mass production of local Marsala wine for export.