I would like to set the record straight. For all those who think attending the Cous Cous Fest in San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily is the plum of all plum foodie assignments, and the comments on my Facebook page have let me know that you are many, I would like to point out a few things. First, with all the couscous I ate while fulfilling my duties as one of the official judges (12 couscous dishes in three days), I had trouble fitting in all the other culinary delights this part of Sicily has to offer. Second, in a twist of cruel irony I ended up in Hotel Panoramic with a panoramic view of nothing.
So with that out of the way we can get on with things. I’m back in Milan, back at my desk, but feeling a tad nostalgic about my couscous days in Sicily and more specifically about the wonderfully happy atmosphere in San Vito Lo Capo, to which I have pledged to return within the next 12 months come a national ban on couscous or a world pasta shortage.
For the week of the festival San Vito Lo Capo becomes the staging ground for what amounts to a sagra dedicated to the crafts, traditions, and most importantly foods (to name a few: long twisty pasta called busiata, prickly pears, cannoli, dozens of types of pesto, tuna in every possible incarnation) from the northwest corner of Sicily. Italy has many sagre (the plural of sagra), but this has got to be one of the most engaging because it is at the same time hyper-local and international; there are not too many sagre where you see women walking around in full traditional African garb.
About what I said concerning not being able to eat all the local foods because of my couscous commitments. I have a knack for finding my way out of trouble and consequently I did manage some non-couscous eating, and photographing.
Finding a good cannolo in Sicily is like stumbling on a cactus in the desert. You’re a bit blasé about it because it confirms your preconceptions, but at the same time it makes you oh so happy because it confirms your preconceptions.
For all those who think Liguria has a lock on Pesto, have a look at this place selling more than 20 types of pesto.
On a vaguely balmy September Sicilian evening, there is nothing quite like three fichi d’india, prickly pears, to refresh and recharge. Why doesn’t anybody eat these in the U.S.? There is even a fichi d’india sagra in Sicily, of course there is a fichi d’india sagra in Sicily. The lucky host is Roccapalumba, halfway between Palermo and Agrigento in the heart of western Sicily, which will have the 12th annual sagra on 14-16 October. A dream sagra for sure though my attendance will have to wait 2012.
In this part of Sicily the tuna and its every derivative are omnipresent, and that is not by accident. The tuna has been a staple here for millennia, dating back to when the Greeks roamed the island, and as such the fish is both revered and exploited. When I showed some surprise at a stand with a guy selling more than 25 tuna products he told me, “the tuna is like a pig, nothing gets wasted.” For the not-faint-of-heart, this video shows the way the tuna were traditionally caught off the coast near Trapani in what is called the mattanza.
It’s not a real sagra unless off on the fringes of the festivities there are some stands selling the most random of things that have nothing to do with anything local. The Cous Cous Fest confirms its credentials with just some of these stands selling frying pans, kitchen knives, cheap toys, and many other things you might want to pick up on your next trip through Sicily.