The Celebrity Chefs of Palermo – They’re Offal!

Do you eat offal? is it forbidden by your religion? Or do you just think it tastes like poop?

In Palermo, fast food sold in the streets is almost all made of offal.

One of the absolute classic dishes of Palermo is U pani ca meusa, which means, “bread with spleen”. I ususally give this to visiting foreign friends without telling them what it is, and reveal the offal truth after the last mouthful has been swallowed. They say it is delicious. If they knew what it was in advance, they would refuse to try it.

As I explained in my previous post, the offal at the heart of all Palermo’s fast food is a legacy of the now-vanished Jewish community, which handed it out to all the poor starving people who gathered round their doors. The roadside Offal Chefs of Palermo are celebrities. They don’t need to be on TV to be a celebrity chef in Sicily. You just need a loud voice, a deep fat fryer and the ability to cook 200 spleens a day without baptising your customers in boiling oil.

Check out this 3-minute documentary about Rocky, il Re della Vucciria (The King of the Vucciria Street Market), talking about the REAL “fasty food” like spleen sandwiches. Don’t mention junk-food like “MecDonal” to me, he warns. Who would want to eat a boring sandwich wrapped in polystyrene when they could have some tasty and wholesome fried offal, he wonders?

My favourite celebrity offal chef has sadly retired now. He was simply known as Gianfortuna the Stigghiolaro. A stigghiola is a sheep’s ileum wound tightly around the whole length of a spring onion and grilled on a street corner by the Stigghiolaro, a Sicilian word I can only translate as ‘Small intestine kebab chef’.

Stigghiolari are esteemed as folk heroes for their ability to spend twelve-hour working shifts inhaling smoke so thick and pungent it would make mere mortals need artificial resuscitation and maybe an oxygen mask. They tolerate a constant dousing by droplets of hot fat and, not least, they stay alive despite dining on small intestines for lunch and dinner almost every day of their lives.

Gianfortuna the Stigghiolaro was one of my husband’s old school friends. He was a cheerful and spherical fellow who lived inside an impenetrable column of smoke which rendered him invisible and rose to the stratosphere, where it spread out into an atomic mushroom shape, visible across the whole bay of Palermo and, on a good day, as far away as Sardinia.

The day he retired was a tragedy though his wife said it was great to wash his clothes once instead of three times. It was also good for his health. I nearly walked right past him the last time I saw him. He was unrecognisable. He actually had a neck.

Another major celebrity chef of Palermo is Nino u Ballerino (Nino the Dancer) – so named for his choreographic abilities to hold five bread rolls in one hand, whilst frying spleens, wringing two litres of oil out of them and launching them into the buns with the other hand. He does this all in 25 seconds. I timed him.

Home cooking in Sicily uses offal too. The Sicilians have a sweet-and-sour way of cooking liver that stops it tasting like poop. I’ll give you that recipe soon. It’s actually delicious.

Sometimes my husband tucks into a steaming plate of cow stomach soup, a dish so repulsive that I have to create a barricade of mineral water and condiment bottles along the centre of the table to make sure I cannot see his plate. I find the sight of him eating a stomach so stomach turning that, otherwise, I will end up going to bed with an empty stomach myself.

Hubby once ate a dish which I could only name “The inside of a goat”. His dinner plate had a trachea with one lung hanging off it, half a heart, a spleen, some really massive and rubbery arteries and a few other bits of interior anatomy which I declined to examine.

Give me a spleen sandwich any day. They are delicious. Honestly, I swear.



20 Comments Add yours

  1. Sweet and sour lung… one of my childhood faves… nobody to make it for me now 😦


    1. Brainstorm says:

      Don’t be sad dear! We in Southern Nigeria have a culture dedicated to offal. If you are in thee neighborhood any day, you could enjoy some offal peppersoup (contains the stomach, intestines, liver, LUNGS etc. of a cow or goat). 😉


      1. I’ll be sure to pop in! Keep a ladle or two for me… 😉


    2. My husband is a real expert at making Sicilian style sweet and sour liver. I won’t mention lung to him – he doesn’t need to be encouraged. 🙂
      If you ever visit Sicily I am sure he’d be happy to cook some for you!


      1. YES!!! Tossing items into my suitcase as I type….
        I do like it nice and chewy, tell him.


  2. Brainstorm says:

    I have always been a big fan of foods containing offal. It comes with growing up in Southern Nigeria. Where I come from, we use the liver, lungs, intestines, stomach, trachea etc. of cows and goats to prepare various delicacies. The most popular of these delicacies is known as pepper soup, a dish containing various hot spices and enough pepper to make your nose run. 😉 This dish goes down quite well with a bottle of bear. This probably accounts for the generous waistlines of most men from Southern Nigeria. 😉


    1. That sounds like a dream dinner for my husband, though I would have to hide while he ate it 🙂
      His rounded waistline disappeared recently and I am missing it, but this sounds like just the right recipe to bring it back again!!!!


  3. Expat Eye says:

    You’ve almost ruined my first bag of Maltesers in almost a year! Almost…


    1. Aw, nothing can spoil Maltesers. They’re like branston pickle – too perfect to be influenced by anything bad!!!!


  4. DrFrood says:

    Inside of a goat…sounds grim and yet I’m strangely hungry.


  5. Oh my gosh, with every post, Sicily becomes more and more of an intriguing place! Had a good laugh at your expense! Great post!


  6. Diane C says:

    Not commenting on something offal, but something nice (get the pun, get the pun?) Here goes… (playing two long skinny trumpetty things)
    In keeping with the community values of WordPress, I want to pass on the “I am Part of the WordPress Family Award” nomination that was so kindly passed on to me by Goldy @ You have moved me, made me laugh out loud and given me lots to think about. Thanks for your support. Keep blogging because I (and others) will keep reading!
    Seriously. If you stopped blogging I think I would cry!


    1. Thank you so much for the award nomination!
      I am very excited. I’ll look into passing it on to another nominee once I am back home. Meanwhile congrats on getting the award yourself! 🙂


  7. Pecora Nera says:

    You have just helped me to lose a little bit of weight, I think I might miss dinner tonight 😦

    (I didn’t know about the offal burgers etc. I will quiz Mrs Sensible when she finishes her siesta):)


  8. konoron says:

    “In Palermo, fast food sold in the streets is almost all made of offal.”

    I must visit Palermo! In my home town — Foggia in Puglia — a traditional street food is roasted rolled intestines (of I can’t remember what beast) with spices. They are called “torcinelli”. Can you imagine a “dirtier” dish than that? I remember my grandmother patiently cutting intestines and washing them. And cow stomach with salsa is a traditional dish in my home town, too. Saving for intestines, I can’t understand why many people are repelled by offal. It must be because of one’s upbringing. I don’t think you would find any person from my home town that dislikes torcinelli out of disgust. And did you know that offal is the first part of their prey that lions eat? The true lion’s share.


    1. That’s interesting about lions going straight for the offal. I do know it has a much wider variety of nutrients than meat, inclulding carbohydrates. I did read once that you can live on offal even if you cannot get any fruit or vegetables at all…. not that I would want to try!
      Those torcinelli do sound slightly similar to stigghiola.
      I am starting to think perhaps offal may be a siginificant part of the diet all over Italy… yet one which is kept at home, so foreigners who eat in Italian restaurants remain unaware of it. I certainly had no idea about it until fairly recently. I do remember visiting my sister in Milan some years back and having a cab driver to the airport who told me, in raptures of mouthwatering delight, how delicious tripe is, and gave me about 15 tripe recipes all the way to the airport.
      What do you think? Have you heard of people in other regions of Italy liking offal?


      1. konoron says:

        I thought that lions preferred offal because of its higher fat content, but your guess about its wider variety of nutrients is interesting, too. After all, a lion needs to keep its mane fluffy and shiny to keep the ladies attracted 😉

        I had read that we can survive on fatty meat, but not lean one, as the latter would lead to protein poisoning. According to Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s biography, he lived for a year on meat and entrails only:

        I haven’t traveled across Italy extensively enough to answer your question. My perception, based on what I’ve seen in Apulia, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy, is that Italians do eat offal, but selectively, according to their region. Liver and kidneys are widespread, but other kinds of offal are falling out of fashion, unless there is a tradition that keeps people accustomed to them, like it happens with torcinelli. I’ve seen tripe and heart on sale, too, but the other stuff that was in your husband’s plate is something I’ve never either eaten or seen. I think modern generations have grown up accustomed with “sharp-looking” cuts of meat. Just today, I’ve discovered that tripe was widespread in the UK as well:

        In a documentary on the UK meat industry, I’ve learned that heart is considered a waste product. What a loss… I’m talking about Italy as well, for I discovered it by chance, and I had never eaten it at home. If you can overcome your repulsion, I recommend that you try it: it has got a satisfying chewy texture.

        Because of the economic crisis, people complain that they have a hard time in filling their shopping trolley, but I believe that they don’t even consider going for such cheaper parts as an option. I wonder what would people think today about making a broth with chicken legs, like my grandmother used to do.


      2. I eat heart regularly as it is still much appreciated in Sicily, and I find it very palatable. I am not so sure if I could tuck into chicken legs, though…
        I think you’re right that offal is generally falling out of fashion, and has pretty much comepletely done so in the UK.
        My supposition about the reason lions go for offal first was mainly based on reading about some early explorers overland in north America, who suffered severe muscle wasting and almost died of starvation because they only wanted meat, whilst their Indian guides who happily ate their offal leftovers were fit as fiddles. They were travelling for a long time over winter without any fruit or veg. and the Indians eventually ended up carrying them on on stretchers. I wish for the life of me I could remember the names of these two fellows.
        The account I read suggested the prevention of wasting was because offal has carbohydrates, whilst muscle only has protein and fat. Eating just protein and fat is of course the principle behind the Atkins diet, which I have done myself, so I can confirm that it definitely has this effect.


  9. debwylde says:

    I am embarrassed to say it. but my mother used to cook us tripe and onions and I loved it! There aren’t many people I will admit that to! She would saute loads of onions, make a white sauce in the same pan and poach some tripe in it. Lovely on a plate of mashed spuds. I still make liver and onions, cutting the liver into thin strips then sauteeing for a few minutes only, otherwise it goes like rubber!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My husband would love to tuck into a plate of tripe or liver with you!! I’m sorry to way I am not adventurous enough (or perhaps I’m scarred by having to eat steak and kidney pie at school?) and I’m just too scared to try it!


So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s