What Sicilians Drink
Cosa si Beve
The most popular and preferred drink in all
parts of Sicily is water.
It can be the water coming from the kitchen
faucet or mineral bottled water either sparkling or natural made by one of the many local producers, or imported
from far away places.
However spring water that is fetched from the
source is the real favored drink!
Everyone has his secret source, either a
well, a natural spring or a fountain; everyone clams that the water they go and get is the best in the world for
certain specific qualities beneficial to one or more healthy conditions and because it contains minerals or
substances helpful to the normal functions of the body. Some travel to the countryside to their secret spot to
guaranty they and their family top quality water. Water is transported in large containers and used for drinking
Some get the water from the local fountain where our ancestors were carrying it home before the installation of the
plumbing facilities in the house; the water is carried home in large glass bottles and prized for the drinking
qualities and used unfailingly to make coffee.
In Palermo, my preferred water was the spring water at the
fountain near the church of San Francesco, in the homonym square.
At one time, in the many kiosks, in the local
stalls or from street vendors, a glass of water could be bought with a few drops of a solution called zammu’ or zambu’, morphed from zanbucu
or sammucu, the sambuco or elderberry flower.
Originally zammu was an infusion of elderberry flowers with alcohol and sugar; today
zammu is made with anice seeds.
Now there are a few kiosks left only in the
center of the old Palermo, in
Piazza Massimo, Piazza Politeama and in Via Ruggero Settimo.
In those kiosks bright colored syrups made
with almonds, cherries, strawberries and mint are served along with fresh fruits juices.
The popular drinks of the old days are
replaced with Coke, Pepsi, and 7up.
The long-established “gazusa” or gassosa, are hardly
available. The gassosa al limone is a carbonated drink made with
lemon juice, whereas the aranciata is made with orange
The spumante is also a carbonated drink made with real coffee, put in a seltzer
bottle and dispensed with a lot of foam. I loved it!
Most of the Sicilians drink two types of
coffee: the one made in the moka machine at home and the espresso at the bar.
The espresso is usually drunk at the bar
counter standing up, during a work break and at times when you invite a friend to join you for a fast coffee.
When I left Palermo, in the fifties, there were many latterie, milk
stores selling milk, butter, ice cream and other dairy. In the morning they served acqua di gramigna, an infusion made with couch grass and believed to be the
best remedy for renal problems in addition to relieve fever and also marba, an infusion made with malva,
(the mallow), considered the best therapy for coughing, bronchitis and chronic catarrh.
The price was very reasonable; it was served
separately or in combination with a bit of milk. In via Alloro, across the street of
the church of La Gancia, near my home, there was a latteria
where every morning there was a long line of customers to drink the couch grass tea or the mallow
An old specialty that Sicilians used to drink on the hot days, before the coming of the refrigerators,
was called sciala cori – joy of the heart- which consisted
of ice and at one time the snow from the Etna or Nebrodi Mountains, mixed either with milk and
honey or lemon juice and honey.
Another drink no longer consumed was called
cabbasisata. It was a drink considered an effective remedy for lung
pleurisy, excellent tonic for the urinary system and an aphrodisiac. The cabbasisi, called the dado della tigre or
mandorle di terra, in English tiger nut or earth almonds, were
processed like almond and a milk like liquid was extracted and mixed with water.
Today when people refer to cabasisi…it is a different story: because of the unique shape of the tiger
nuts, the cabasisi the Sicilian expression ”non mi rompere i cabasisi”, means
“don’t break my… chops”.
Wine is a
beverage that has been present on almost every dinner table going back to prehistoric
For many thousands of years, wine has been
produced in large quantities all over the island of Sicily. Wines are
served in every Sicilian household, and some exported yearly to Tuscany, the Venetian provinces, and to
France to fortify and give more body to their
Presently there has been a revaluation of the
local varietals and many wineries have been producing fabulous red and white wines.
Marsala wine, Malvasia from Lipari and Moscato form Pantelleria are
premium dessert wines produced exclusively in Sicily.
See chapters about Sicilian
Rosolio, homemade liquor is still made in
some households and offered with pride to friend and guests. Lately rosolio of excellent quality is produced by
small local artisan companies and available in liquor stores.
Refer to the rosolio for additional
The Amaro Averna, a bitter drink known world wide is prepared in Caltanissetta, the geographic center of Sicily, This very famous and popular liquor is produced from the original recipe with
an infusion of herbs, roots and citrus, dulcified with caramel syrup to create a gentle bitter-sweet
after-dinner drink to conclude generous meal and to ease the digestion.