History of “Panelle”, a street food dish that originated with the Arabs

One of the undisputed symbols of Palermo, the Sicilian capital, are certainly panelle, a single dish with a delicate flavor that has bewitched its inhabitants and tourists since ancient times with its particular flavor and aroma. These are chickpea flour fritters seasoned with parsley and fried in boiling oil, a poor dish of the popular tradition that is easy to prepare but tasty and nutritious.

It is, today, a symbol of Palermo street food. Panelle are a dish that unites all palates and that can be offered in different variations from the most modern and gourmet to the most classic, thus combining tradition and modernity.

Sicily has been the subject of numerous dominations which over time have influenced and contaminated its cultural and culinary customs and traditions. the origin of the panelle has to be found in the ancient past of the island, between the ninth and eleventh centuries during the period of Arab domination when the use of chickpea flour was introduced, it was cooked with water.

However it is also true that this is not the only evidence of the use of this type of flour in the culinary tradition of the island and Palermo particularly. Indeed, the use of chickpea flour is a legacy of the most ancient Roman and Greek traditions. during that period the chickpea flour mixture was rolled out and took the characteristic square shape and then was subsequently baked in vertical ovens.

Panelle are therefore not just a dish, but a real tradition that today still delights the palates and inebriates senses with the particular flavor and smell. From the Arab domination panelle have become the typical street food and also a delicious appetizer. a snack or even a complete meal if associated with the typical potato croquettes (crocchè) flavored with mint or served as filling for soft sesame sandwiches.

In the latter case panelle are often seasoned with a splash of lemon juice and salt to enhance the flavor. It is possible to taste this specialty in any typical Palermo fry shop, frequently even walking through the streets of the city. It is not uncommon to have the opportunity to consume panelle also in the provinces of Agrigento, Trapani and Caltanissetta.

The “Panellaro”

Those who make panelle on the street in palermo are called “panellaro“. In the past, the “panellaro” was standing on street corners with his cart. Inside was a stove and a large casserole filled with oil used for frying. He serves them with the classic Palermo bread (mafalda or moffoletta).

panella in Palermo is now an institution, It can be found in different areas and in different fry shops. Ideal for a lunch, snack or dinner. For St. Lucy’s Day, Dec. 13, they are also prepared in a sweet version, filled with Pastry cream and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

During the heartfelt feast of Santa Rosalia in Palermo, one cannot miss the stalls of bread and panelle also eaten with “crocchè“, little balls of potatoes that are also fried. this chickpea fritter over the centuries has become the queen of street food, feeding and enthusing everyone, even such illustrious customers as Luigi Pirandello, Leonardo Sciascia, and Renato Guttuso.

If you want to prepare panelle at home we give you our original Sicilian recipe!

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