Saturday, May 24, 2014

{travel} getting to know my sicilian roots in catania

One of the things that makes me so proud to be an American is how diverse we are as nation. I love that we are one huge country filled with immigrants from all over the world, which now means that our citizens are more and more often made up from a big ol' melting pot of genes. I am the perfect example of a new age American. My mom's parents emigrated from China to California in the late 1940s, after they were arranged into a marriage, in search for a better future for their growing family. My dad's dad claims a Scotch-Irish ancestry, but his family had been settled in the USA for as long as we can trace back. My dad's mom's parents, however, emigrated from Sicily to an Italian settlement in New Jersey in the 1920s in order to get away from the ever imposing Mafia. It's safe to say that my family's history is prettttty darn cool. 

Needless to say, when we were trying to decide where else to go besides Rome during our Italy trip, we knew that we were going to have to include Sicily in our itinerary. The whole time that we were in Rome I was getting really excited to finally hop on a plane to visit the fiercely independent island where the Midili family originated from. My parents decided to make Catania our home base in Sicily. I had no idea what to expect before we arrived, and quickly learned that Catania was going to be unlike any other Italian city I had visited before. But more on that later.

Sights & Activities: We sadly didn't spend quite as much time exploring Catania as we would have liked because we tried to make the most of our 4 days and 4 nights in Sicily by seeing a few other cities around the island. But we did still make time to sightsee a little bit!

Roman Amphitheatre: This amphitheatre might not seem like much from the street, but that's only because you can't see much of it until you walk through the lobby area due to the fact that it is surrounded by apartment buildings. This Roman amphitheatre was built in the 2nd century. During its glory years it held about 16,000 spectators, and was second only to the Colosseum in Rome. But this theater wasn't unearthed until 1904, when construction workers discovered it while building new housing. People in existing buildings in the area were actually forced to move from their homes after it was discovered so that they could unearth more of the theater. There was a little exhibit in the amphitheatre showing an example of how connected the "modern" 18th century buildings were to the amphitheatre. Yes, I'm sorry sir. You're going to have to move your entire family out of this apartment because you are living on top of one of the most important archaeological finds in Catania. Thanks!

Piazza Duomo: This plaza is right in the heart of the historic district of Catania. The most unique fixture in the Baroque piazza is the curious elephant statue and fountain. The elephant is known as the symbol of Catania and was sculpted from volcanic rock from Mount Etna, the active volcanic mountain on Sicily. You can enjoy the view of the cool elefanti, some gorgeous baroque buildings, and the Catania Cathedral from one of the cafes around the square.

The Catania Fish MarketWalking through the Catania fish market is by far one of the most awesome things I've done in Europe thus far. It is so much more than a market. It's the epicenter for all things culinary in Catania. The social heart of the city, and more importantly a way of life. Everywhere you turn you will see Italian grandmothers elbowing huge, macho men out of the way to get the best fish from their favorite fishmonger. Look down and you will be able to watch the writhing octopuses and squid attempt to make a great escape from their buckets. You will see groups of old men with their Paddy caps lined up watching the action from above, and fishmongers measure out portions of shrimp, clams, and other sea creatures a mile a minute, all while holding a still lit cigarette firmly between their lips. Of course, there is more to the market than just fish, although that is the most exciting section. But the addition of the gorgeous produce stands and the wide variety of cheese, olives, and meat available pretty much cements down this market’s label as a food lover’s paradise. If I could just buy all of my groceries from this market for the rest of my life, I would be the happiest girl in the entire world.

Here's a little video I took of the fish market! Obsessed.

Eats & Drinks: Catania's cuisine is inspired by the plethora of seafood available in the waters surrounding the island, and also by the different groups of people who have invaded Sicily throughout the years. Some typical dishes you will see on most menus in Catania include pasta alla norma: pasta with eggplant, basil, & parmesan cheese, pesce spada: swordfish, arancinis: fried risotto rice balls that are stuffed with a variety of things, cannoli di ricotta: ricotta cannoli, caponata: eggplant ratatouille, and cassatas: sponge cake with ricotta and other fillings. Are you hungry yet?

Prestipino: Prestipino is one of the most famous bakeries in Catania, but they also serve up some pretty delicious pasta alla norma and caponata. We ate lunch at the location in Piazza del Duomo. Bonus points for this place: they gave us three cannoli for free at the end of our lunch. I could get used to that.

Pescheria Fratelli Vittorio: After we checked into our apartment our lovely landlady, Rosaria, walked us around and showed us her favorite restaurants and cafes nearby. She said to go to Fratelli Vittorio for the freshest fish due to its proximity to the fish market. Yeah... it's located right in the middle of the market. Can't get any fresher than that! We ordered a sampler appetizer plate which included a variety of salads like caponata, as well as some delishhh little snails. Then we chowed down on some mussels and a platter of grilled fish. (RIP fishies.) We washed it all down with a crisp white Sicilian wine called Branciforti dei Bordonaro.

Propaganda: We stumbled upon this store when searching for some cheese to snack on at home while we cooked dinner. The two owners, Alessandro and Tamara, were absolutely lovely. They told us that they had only been open for a few weeks. Their goal was to become a craft beer bar that also offered quality cheese platters and other such snacks.

Ambiance: With a view of Mount Etna looming in the distance from almost every location in the city, it's easy to see how Catania has been covered in lava almost 17 times throughout its history as a city. Due to the volcanic eruptions, Catania has had to rebuild from scratch multiple times. This is why so much Baroque architecture can be found all over such an ancient city. Just like Porto, the thing I loved most about Catania was the lived-in feel of the city. A little bit gritty and completely full of character, Catania is the perfect match for its fiercely independent (Sicilan first, Italian second) residents.

Keep being you, Catania. Linking up with Travel Tuesday today!

xx, Jen

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