Sicily Travel Tips from Antonio Carini, Sicilian Pizza Chef

Conversations with Locals

Antonio Carini is the chef behind Antica Pizzeria La Punta, the Sicilian restaurant by the Mediterranean Sea. Take a peek into his everyday life in Sicily on his Instagram account, which is a series of beach escapades, dough kneading and street explorations. We talk to Antonio about Italian pizzas, Sicily’s top beaches, and a secret bakery where the best desserts come from. 

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Photo: Antonio Carini

What’s Sicilian culture? 

The Sicilian culture is full of colour, historical art, traditions and customs. This is a result of the many previous civilisations that have ruled in the past. When you think of Sicily, good food, our unique dialect and simple, down-to-earth values come to mind right away. We have a big sense of belonging to this land, and place great importance to family, which is reflected in how we present ourselves to guests.

What do you feel defines Sicilian cuisine?

The Sicilian cuisine is undoubtedly the most complete of all the Mediterranean. Thanks to an ideal climate, our land offers a lot of excellent ingredients that offer inimitable flavours in the kitchen. Starting from typical street food, to delicious seafood that are combined with herbs from the countryside, to sweet ricotta accompanied by typical liqueur wines. The Sicilian cuisine is the taste of happiness! 

What are some local dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Sicily without trying? 

Everything is worth trying! My advice is to venture into the streets and try the pane con le panelle, pani ca meusa, arancini, sfincione, and finally a cannolo at any bar. 

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Pane cunzato. Photo: Antonio Carini

Where do you love to eat in Sicily?

It is often said that you don’t eat in a better place that at home. But in Sicily, you can feel at home even in restaurants, bars and taverns. Everything is prepared as if it were home cooked. My favourite place to eat is my pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria La Punta. I cook what I want at the moment. What else? When I eat out in Palermo, I choose Osteria Ballarò, FlaM, or FUD Bottega Sicula. For a good cappuccino at breakfast, Angelina’s Bakery is a good choice. 

What makes a good Italian pizza? 

The secret of a good pizza is choosing quality ingredients such as mozzarella, a perfect proofing technique, and lastly, cooking it in an oven typical of the oldest Italian pizzerias. A good Italian pizza must have strong aromatic flavours, a high cornice and is fluffy. In my pizzas, there is always fresh oregano and basil. Use your imagination to combine the ingredients – do not stop at the simple margherita. Try it with seafood, for example, and enjoy.

Name one best kept secret of Sicily

There is a nice little place hidden in Palermo’s historical center. It is called Cioccolateria Lorenzo. It is a café, but something more like a bakery. It is the perfect place to enjoy your coffee in peace, and to enjoy homemade sweets and cakes. In summer, it is possible to sit outdoors amidst potted plants and vintage trinkets. The watermelon granita is an absolute must try. 

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Cioccolateria Lorenzo. Photo: Antonio Carini

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Photo: Antonio Carini

What would you recommend travellers do to experience Sicily as a local? 

Understand Sicilians living habits – frequent the same places, walk in the city center everyday, choose a pub where they prepare the best appetiser at 7 pm. Hang out late at night with a group of friends. The tourists must live as if Sicily is their own home. Lastly, they must eat all day everyday! 

Name your favourite beaches in Sicily

My favourite beach is where I learned to swim, and there are some rocks from which I still love to dive from. It is right next to my workplace, so I frequent it everyday. It is called Santa Nicolicchia, Porticello in Palermo. Another favourite beach is I Francesi in Mongerbino. The Mondello beach of Palermo can’t be missed as well. There is also the San Vito Lo Capo, known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. 

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Photo: Antonio Carini

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Photo: Antonio Carini

Where can we go to see your favourite view in Italy?

My favorite view of Italy is from the majestic dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, in Rome. From up there, you can see all of Rome but it seems like you can see the ends of the earth.

 

WHERE TO EAT IN SICILY


Antica Pizzeria La Punta
Where: Vicolo San Nicolicchio, 21, 90017 Porticello, Santa Flavia PA, Italy
For: Pizzas

FlaM Osteria Contemporanea
Where: Via della Vetriera, 1, 90133 Palermo, Italy
For: Modern Sicilian cuisine

FUD Bottega Sicula
Where: Piazza Olivella, 4, 90133 Palermo, Italy
For: Italian burgers

Angelina’s Bakery
Where:  Via Valerio Villareale, 24, 90141 Palermo PA, Italy
For: Cappuccinos

Cioccolateria Lorenzo
Where: Via IV Aprile, 7, 90133 Palermo, Italy
For: Watermelon granita 

 

WHERE TO GO IN SICILY


Santa Nicolicchia
Where: Largo Santa Nicolicchia, 90017 Santa Flavia PA, Italy
For: Beaches

I Francesi
Where: Comunale Mongerbino, Bagheria PA, Italy
For: Beaches

Mondello
Where: Viale Regina Elena, Mondello, Palermo, Sicily, Italy
For: Beaches

San Vito Lo Capo
Where: San Vito Lo Capo, 91010 Province of Trapani, Italy
For: Beaches

London Travel Tips from Valeria Necchio, Italian Food Writer at Life Love Food

Conversations with Locals

Valeria Necchio is the author of the Italian food blog Life Love Food, where she shares her cooking and travel adventures. Raised in the countryside of Venice, she is now based in the city of London. We talk to Valeria about her favourite places in Italy for food, her love for English green asparagus, and her go-to places for gelato in London. 

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Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

What do you feel defines Italian cuisine?

Quality raw ingredients, seasonality, simple flavours and regional differences.

What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about Italian food? 

That it’s always the same stuff – pizza, lasagne, spaghetti – from North to South. I will never stress this enough: every region has some amazing dishes and specialities that are unique to that area and are worth trying. Be adventurous and ask the locals!

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Sfogliatelle, a type of pastry filled with ricotta cream and sweet citrus, that can be found in Naples. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

In your opinion, which parts of Italy has the best food? 

It would be really hard to pick one, because there are so very many regional differences, and every region has such great food! I am of course fond of the food of my origins – Venice and the surrounding countryside – with its abundance of seafood and its focus on great seasonal produce.

Yet, if I had to pick one, Sicily would be my second region of choice – their granite, fresh ricotta and range of great seafood is truly hard to beat.

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Pane cunzato, a Sicilian sandwich made from a loaf of bread. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

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Freshly caught seafood in Sicily. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

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Panini in Sicily. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

What are some Venetian dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Venice without trying?

Squid ink risotto is a great classic, but also baccalà mantecato (a sort of cream made with stockfish), and sarde in saor are great examples of Venetian cuisine. The latter is a dish made of fried sardines topped with cooked slices of sweet and sour white onion, often punctuated with pine nuts and raisins. It is served as a cold starter or bite-size snack in many traditional restaurants or osterie in the city – it’s my absolute favourite.

As a Venetian, what do you feel most travellers miss out on when they are visiting Venice? 

The city offers hidden gems to whoever dares to venture beyond the beaten path, without the fear of getting lost. The real charm of Venice is in its decadent beauty made of crumbling walls and empty small squares. Sure enough, the big attractions are worth seeing, but there is so much more to the city than St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.

Now that you are based in London, can you share with us your thoughts on the difference between British food and Italian food?

Italy, perhaps because of its location and its favourable climate, has a broader variety of raw ingredients available throughout the seasons. This leads to a cuisine that is varied and deeply seasonal, changing from one month to the other. Britain seems to have less of this variety – at least from a consumer perspective. It also has less regional differences. In this sense, a typical dish usually plays around the theme of ‘meat and two veg’.

That said, there is a great generation of British chefs who are changing the way people eat, and exploring new routes while making local ingredients shine.

Could you share with us some of the English food you fell in love with while you are living in London?

English green asparagus are just on a league of their own – the best asparagus I have ever tasted. There are also some truly outstanding cheese makers producing some fantastic artisan cheese, most of which can be found at Neal’s Yard Dairy.

Where are your favourite restaurants or cafés in London for Italian food?

I love Artusi in Peckham – straightforward, well-thought seasonal Italian food with great wines to pair. The River Cafe is, of course, an institution in the city, and the best place to treat yourself to a quintessential, simple-yet-sophisticated Italian meal.

Where are your favourite spots in London for a good gelato?

Gelupo serves some delicious gelato – my favourite being the seasonal and ever-changing fruit flavours. For ice cream, La Grotta Ices in Bermondsey is plain delicious.

Where are your favourite food markets in London?

Spa Terminus in Bermondsey on a Saturday morning – the best food artisans in the area open their warehouses and sell their goods to a crown of food lovers. You can find cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables, beer, gin, honey, etc. It feels a bit like a treasure hunt.

 

WHERE TO EAT IN LONDON


Artusi
Where: 161 Bellenden Road, Peckham, London SE15 4DH
For: Seasonal Italian food

River Cafe
Where: Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd, London W6 9HA
For: Simple and sophisticated Italian food

Gelupo
Where: No 1 Cambridge Circus London, WC2H 8AP
For: Gelato

La Grotta Ices
Where: Arch 5, Voyager South, London SE16 4RP
For: Ice cream

Neal’s Yard Dairy
Where: Unit 6 Dockley, Dockley Road, London, SE16 3SF (and more)
For: Cheese

 

WHERE TO GO IN LONDON


Spa Terminus
Where: Dockley Road Industrial Estate, Dockley Rd, London SE16 3SF
For: A food market