What Sicilians Drink
Che Cosa si
Beve in Sicilia
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 or cooking.
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
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
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
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
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 wines.
Presently there has been a
revaluation of the local varietals and many wineries have been producing fabulous red and white
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.