We are staying in Ortigia, in the south east corner of Sicily, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a tiny island joined to Siracusa by a bridge. It is filled with narrow laneways lined with ancient sandstone coloured houses with ornate balconies; piazzas with baroque churches and has cobalt blue shorelines. It feels like a village with lots of artisans working in open doorways and nonnas peering down at you from their balconies as you walk past.

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Ortigia also has a daily market. One thing I love about the lifestyle in small towns in Italy is daily shopping for food. Imagine walking to the market every day to buy what ingredients you need for your meals on that day only, sourcing only what is fresh and in season. This assumes you have plenty of time available each day – but wouldn’t it be perfect?

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We have been staying in an apartment here so I have a kitchen to prepare whatever takes my fancy at the market. Apart from fruit and vegetables, there are fantastic delicatessens at the market and being surrounded by sea, plenty of fish. It is so difficult to choose what to buy but when you realise you will be back again tomorrow, it suddenly becomes easier. What you don’t buy today, you can buy tomorrow.

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There is so much lovely summer fruit here – the figs looked especially luscious. The prickly pears (fichi d’india) were called “bastardi” – I imagine they are cross bred? They grow wild everywhere here and look beautiful on the roadside as they grow, though I am yet to try them.

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Having the Mediterranean at your doorstep means that there is plenty of seafood, with swordfish being a speciality. I don’t generally eat swordfish in Australia, as it is overfished however I would be happy to buy a steak which the pescivendolo would slice off the slab of whole fish. Sardines are also plentiful and there were trays of filleted ones for only 5 Euros a kilo. How perfect they would be with fennel, pinenuts and lemon zest on some spaghetti.

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Ricotta is another local speciality – fresh, baked or salted. It is made with sheep’s milk and the fresh type is soft and creamy and the freshest I have ever found (apart from making it myself). The mounds of baked ricotta looked so colourful.

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The tomatoes were, as expected, plentiful, inexpensive (50 cents per kilo) and super ripe. You know they had been picked when ripe so they taste rich, sweet and slightly acidic just as they should. Bunches of wild asparagus were tied up with coloured string and I imagined how wonderful they would taste in an omelette. Fresh herbs were scattered on a bench – they were so fragrant and the basil looked tempting. There was so much to choose from!

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You know what they say, the simple things are often the best. I went back to the apartment armed with tomatoes, a bunch of basil, a tub of fresh ricotta and a ciabatta loaf. All I needed was some extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Sicilian sea salt, and it was a perfect lunch at home – ricotta on bread and a tomato and basil salad. And that glass of 2012 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Bianco of course!

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14 Comments

  • Lisa (Vannalisa) says:

    OMG I so wish I was there again. Born in northern Italy and have managed to go back a few times and this makes my SOOOOO ready to go again
    Lisa

  • Albert says:

    What a gorgeous place! And the calamaretti, my mouth is watering just looking at your photos!

  • Maria says:

    Thank you for the gorgeous photos. They trigger wonderful memories. It’s amazing how a simple dish of tomato and basil triggers the biggest smile.

  • Brilliant series of photographs that captures the essence of the culture. Great work. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

  • Denise says:

    Was in Ortigia 5 years ago and one of my favourite moments was buying similar ingredients and sitting under the trees along the waterfront and having a picnic. Unfortunately we only had a crappy hotel room and couldn’t cook, but I loved wandering through the market. I yearn to return to Sicily. Are you going to the western part? I went to a little village Scopello and loved it. Enjoy your holiday.

  • I have been to Sicily and spent 2 weeks staying in the south and a week in Scopello. My heart was was taken by this beautiful country but didnot unfortunately make it to Ortigia but we will be coming back for sure and it will be the first town we visit.

  • Elena Molinaro says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article-brings me back to when I went to Italy the very first time over 30 years ago and I accompanied my dear aunt every morning to the market place to purchase “lunch” and “dinner” and then going back home to cook it all up before zio and the children came home for lunch!! It was a great experience!

  • Pecora Nera says:

    Dear Paola this is Pecora Nera’s wife, aka Mrs Sensible.

    My husband was peeking through your blog and I was doing some marking; then his phone rang and…one glance to this was enough to make me stop working…

    I grew up in Siracusa and did all my schooling there. Reading your post and watching your beautiful pictures made my heart pound very fast and my eyes water, and I’m not a particularly emotional person…

    My parents regularly shopped at the market you showed, that is twice a week on average, although we used to live in Via Torino, in the largest part of town, mainland; the freshest fish is sold there and once you get to know a fishmonger he’ll do you deals, sell you the best fish and at a lower price.

    I’ve lived in many places, including Yorkshire, England, but if there is one town I’d like to retire one day, it’s Siracusa. That place is magic, although, sadly, I only realized that once I’d left….

    Thank you very much for sharing.

    • Dear Mrs Sensible, that you very much for taking the time to look at this post and to write such a lovely comment. You have lovely memories of this beautiful part of the world. Even though I am from the very top of the Italian boot, I found myself drawn to Siracusa and in particular Ortigia. I keep looking at houses to buy, dreaming of a life there where I could shop at the market every day.. Ahh dreams. I do hope you achieve your dreams of retirement there – I could not think of a more beautiful place to spend one’s time

  • […] of Siracusa, in the south east corner of Sicily. I look back at the blog posts I wrote about the market in Ortigia and the town of Modica and dream. A few months ago, New Zealand based author Nicky Pellegrino […]

  • browney237 says:

    After three weeks in Siracusa and maybe 20 plus visits to the market I still see something new everyday.
    The Brocoli Ramanescue, the cactus fruit, seafood of all kinds we’d. It’s all so fresh and inviting.
    It is a true highlight of Siracusa.

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