How Sicily Put Dessert First (And Made It Breakfast)

June 3rd, 2022
How Sicily Put Dessert First (And Made It Breakfast)

One of the great joys of travel is encountering what feels to you like a really weird breakfast - a chance to have your expectations challenged, overturned, tidily cleaned away and replaced with something you’ve never thought of facing the day with. 

Being English, wherever I go it’s usually assumed by other folk that I’m wanting an English Breakfast, a big plate groaning with greasy, glistening protein and carbohydrates: sausage, mushroom, bacon, potato of some kind, fried tomato, beans, toast, and that eternal mystery to non-Brits, the slice of black pudding (pork or beef blood & fat - which actually ounds a lot wore than it tastes).

Traditional English Breakfast

Traditional English Breakfast

I’m very much in the minority with my fellow Brits, but to me, this is more a recipe for misery than one for breakfast. Loading yourself with a colossal calorie-bomb of a meal literally dripping with fat? What a fantastic way to spend the rest of the morning feeling like you’re made of concrete, and to nauseously perspire your way up even the most modest flight of stairs.

It could just be that I have a stomach made of tissue-paper. I know many highly active friends who will chow down a Full English and then happily sprint away to climb mountains or run marathons without visibly suffering in the way I always do. But - really? Is this going to be one of my country’s legacies - the breakfast that sits in your stomach like a cannonball and weighs you down during the most exciting part of the day? Can’t we find something better?

But when I started travelling and saw how other countries treat breakfast, I was delighted. The fresh orange juice and light tostadas, tortillas and bocadillos of Spain. The coffee & croissant (or tartine) of France. The apple pancakes & fresh rolls of Germany - no, I’ll pass on the sausage, maybe later, thank you. Or the common Dutch breakfast appetizer of sprinkles on toast, which…okay, that one’s just bonkers. Sorry, Netherlands.

But for me, the best breakfast is something light, fresh-tasting and sweet. Like dessert! Why don’t we all flip our menus around and start the day with something from the lightest corner of the evening meal’s sweet trolley, giving us a mild sugar rush to propel us out into the morning sunshine?

Thankfully, many places outside of the UK already think in this way - and one of them, to glorious effect, is Sicily. If you’re joining next year’s 29-day Liveaway stay in this region of Italy (the largest island in the entire Mediterranean), you’ll start with 2 weeks in the ancient town of Ortigia - and that means more than a dozen chances to have a proper Sicilian breakfast.

And by “breakfast,” I really mean what you’re recognise as “dessert.”

Granita

Granita

First, start with a granita.This is the Sicilian take on a sorbet, but it often has a much grainier texture, at least until it melts in your mouth). If you’re noticing it’s more crystalline than you’re used to eating, that’s the more traditional stuff. (The smoother varieties are often made in a gelato machine to save time, while the classic form is made from only occasionally stirring the mix and shaving the ice to keep its gritty texture.)   

There are as many varieties of granita as there are pizza, with granita di caffè being a popular way to squeeze your morning coffee into what you’re eating - but in most cases, it’s made with a purée of fresh fruit, sugar, lemon juice and of course lots and lots of ice. When it’s hot out, this is exactly the thirst-quenching, mouth-cooling breakfast you’ll want - and if you’re wanting something heavier, you can ask for a scoop or two of whipped cream on top (or almond paste or milk, if you’re going non-dairy).

Next, stuff yourself with a Sicilian broche. It’s a staple side-dish with most other things you’ll be able to order, and works much the same way as bread rolls elsewhere - except, these are deliciously sweet (that’ll be the honey alongside the usual milk, yeast, flour, salt, sugar, eggs and butter). 

This is the properly satisfying version of those often disappointing foil-wrapped sweet bread rolls you’ll inevitably be served in a European “continental breakfast” - without the unidentifiable creamy goo in the middle. The variety called brioche col tuppo is recognisable from its ‘hat’ - a rounded top, perched on the much larger bun base. (If you want to look like a proper local, it’s apparently a thing to break the hat off and eat that first. 

This kind of breakfast is nice & light (no cannonballs here). But please, make sure you leave room for the best available dish on offer - and the most dessert-like. 

Sicilian Cannoli

Sicilian Cannoli

It’s no secret that Italians are mad for gelato. But Sicily takes this one step further: how about a gelato sandwich? Not in the way that ice-cream sandwiches have crept into the dessert or snack freezer sections of Western supermarkets. This is ice-cream in normal, everyday bread - specifically, stuffed into a Sicilian brioche. 

You can eat a brioche con gelato at any time, so hey, why not do that? But it’s very much a popular breakfast option in most Sicilian towns. To quote Atlas Obscura:

“You can eat it like a sandwich, biting through the solid mass, or scoop off bites with a small spoon. A combination of the two methods seems to work best. Classic flavors include pistachio, hazelnut, and stracciatella, but you can also find unusual gelato varieties such as tiramisu or cannoli. Some shops will offer panna, a thick whipped cream, to top off the gelato encased in sweet bread. As you chip away at this behemoth, the gelato melts and soaks into the eggy bread, making each bite better than the last.”

Does that sound ridiculously awesome, or does that sound *completely* awesome? The best way to answer this would be to test it at length, say, over two relentless weeks of eating great food. Please report back with your findings - and good luck! 

Join Wheel & Anchor’s Sicily LiveAway in March 2023, for two weeks on the stunning east coast of Sicily. More details here.

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