Taormina: a guide to the gastronomic scene

10 July 2024
Written by
Teresa Cremona

Discover the culinary delicacies of the city

A short distance separates Mount Etna from Taormina; from Adrano in the Etna Park southwest of the volcano to the beaches of Taormina, it’s about 55km, but there are many different aspects of the territories you pass through along the way, both morphologically and landscape-wise, as well as microclimatically, and for the variety of habits, customs, and traditions encountered at the table. You pass from the lunar environment of Mount Etna to the crystal-clear sea of Taormina, a city nestled atop the highest point of the Ionian coast. Small, artistically precious, it is an essential Sicilian stop, a draw for tourists from all over the world. In Taormina, the gastronomic traditions that represent the area include swordfish rolls, arancini with pistachio, cuzzole, pasta alla Norma, and Caponata, just to name a few. But of course, we can’t not quote bambar for a refreshing granita.

The journey begins from Mount Etna, 3,330 meters above sea level, located near the coast at the southernmost edge of the Peloritani and Nebrodi, the highest active volcano in Europe. Visible from land and sea with the plume of smoke rising from the summit craters. The combination of volcanic soil and climate allows for enogastronomic products with unique organoleptic characteristics of savoriness, sweetness, and aromaticity.

In this environment, declared a Natural Park of Mount Etna and a UNESCO Site, cultivars thrive that enrich Sicilian cuisine such as the Bronte green pistachio, elongated in shape and olive-sized, the salads and prickly pears of Adrano, the sweet and fragrant strawberries of Maletto, rich in mineral salts, growing on terraces alternating with wooded areas of chestnuts, pines, and oaks. Additionally, the cherries of St. Alfio, annually celebrated with a festival coinciding with the folkloric event of the flower festival that sees flowers and fruit together.

Think about those blood-red oranges of Sicily: tarocco, sanguinello, and moro as varieties, which among the designated territories include the province of Catania. The cola apple and the ice cream apple from Etna, growing only on the massif of the volcano, with its characteristic acidic pulp; mushrooms, saffron from Maletto, the highest commune on Etna, honey from Zafferana Etnea, nicknamed “Etna gold,” used to prepare the ‘Biscotto dello Sciatore’, created by a local pastry chef for Alpine Club skiers looking to fill up with energy. Also in Zafferana Etnea, Sicilian-style fried pizza is prepared, whose original recipe is shrouded in mystery. Liquors from Santa Venerina distilled with volcanic herbs, to be bought at the historic Russo distillery, dating back to 1870. Then the cheeses, which already in tasting have the ability to bring out the richness of local pastures, like the DOP Sicilian Pecorino, with which Etna Spaghetti cacio e pepe and the typical Tummala, an Arab-origin rice timbale, are prepared.

Also a must on the table (especially for an aperitivo rinforzato) is baked ricotta, canestrato cheese, fellata (native Nebrodi pig salami), and Nebrodi capocollo and caciocavallo, all to be enjoyed with DOC Etna wines based on nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio grapes (most grapes grow on terraces supported by dry stone walls in lava stone that are UNESCO World Heritage Elements), accompanied by black bread by Nocolosi and by that of semolina of hard wheat with the seasoning of Monte Etna DOP extra virgin olive oil. The rich basket of Etna, in Taormina, integrates with the blue fish and the many fish species that come from local markets.

Typical Sicilian summer landscape in the Nebrodi park near the Catafurco waterfalls, Italy

In the Nebrodi Park, the largest natural area in Sicily, with a rich and complex faunal community, Bronte, a city of Arab origin, is located on a steep slope overlooking the Simeto River Valley, and is the city of the prized Bronte green pistachio, with over three thousand hectares of cultivation, the fruit of which grows on rugged scree, deriving nourishment from lava stone and ash. The Pistacchio company, by Alfio Corica, is among the most accredited for the artisanal processing of the fruit. To fully experience the wild volcanic nature, there is the Oro Verde Agriturismo in Bronte, which has made rural tourism its mission. The cuisine is peasant-inspired, with legumes, cured meats, and cheeses filling the plate, along with pistachios. To taste: ‘a minestra bugghiùta and cavuricelli omelettes.

In Contrada Piano Palo-Difesa lies the Fucina di Vulcano Resort, with elegantly furnished rooms offering breathtaking views of Mount Etna. Inside the structure, the fine dining restaurant, Cult, showcases Sicilian cuisine with local ingredients, creativity, and refinement.

Fucina di Vulcano Resort

Linguaglossa is the village nestled between Mount Etna and the sea, a hub for summer and winter tourism on the northern slope of the volcano, providing access to its craters. It is renowned for producing Etna DOC wines, DOP extra virgin olive oil, and hazelnuts, alongside craftsmanship in woodworking. Among the local specialties served at the table is sasizza or cippu, a black pig sausage seasoned with wild fennel, available at the Bottega dell’Etna gastronomy, where excellent arancini with ragù can also be found. Outside the town center, Villa Neri Resort & Spa offers tranquility amidst wellness paths and spa facilities. This luxury hotel is built according to bio-architecture principles and utilises renewable energy sources. The Restaurant Le Dodici Fontane within the villa is led by Chef Elia Russo, bringing the flavours of Mount Etna to the table with creativity, using local ingredients.

The medieval village of Randazzo, known as the city of 100 churches, is centrally located among three protected areas: Mount Etna Park, Nebrodi Park, and the Alcantara River Park. Amidst vineyard and forest vistas interspersed with lava deserts and caves, there exists a rich gastronomic biodiversity. For gelato enthusiasts, a stop at Pasticceria Musumeci is a must for the Pirandello gelato with almond and lemon zest, which was crowned the best gelato at a national festival held in Cefalù a few years ago. Five minutes from the village, Agriturismo Quota Mille, a restored ancient millstone, offers strictly local rural cuisine.

Randazzo is also a wine town, and Donnafugata was among the first wineries to invest in this area, producing mountain, volcanic, and Mediterranean wines from 36 hectares divided into 6 districts, cultivating grapes using traditional bush-trained systems. Wine tastings at the winery are highly recommended.

As you move towards the coast, the air changes gradually, revealing citrus groves, particularly lemon trees of the Zagara bianca and Monachello varieties. A worthwhile detour is to Acireale, situated on a lava plateau, renowned for its numerous baroque buildings surrounding the Piazza del Duomo, where the Cathedral dating back to the 15th century with its magnificent neo-Gothic façade also overlooks. Among its beauties lies the Timpa, a nature reserve that protects, preserves, and enhances geological, naturalistic, and scenic heritage. A visit to Acireale means savoring the famous Sicilian granita in almond, coffee, and mulberry flavors, as well as cannoli and rice zeppole. For tasting traditional sweets, the historic Caffè Cipriani is a must-visit. For dining, venture to the Sabir Gourmanderie Restaurant, where Chef Sabir offers a true volcanic sensory journey.

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