Fast Food Sicilian Style

I love Italy for an infinite number of reasons, but the cuisine definitely tops the list. Italians know how to enjoy life and they definitely know how to eat. Living with a host family has given me the opportunity to dine like a true Italian every evening. We sit around the table together, taking our time to relish in the meal and each other’s company. Each dish demonstrates the cultural value of food—not only made with fresh, local, and in-season ingredients, but also with love and respect.

However, not everyone has time to sit down to a multi-course feast for every meal everyday. For this reason, Sicilian fast food—called Tavola Calda—comes into play. Yes, I said fast food, but don’t even begin to allow yourself to picture an American fast food chain. You find the best Tavola Calda in small shops run by friendly Sicilian families. Customers cram inside to fight for a view of the glass counter that houses a variety of enticing options. My stomach grumbles at the several different styles of pizza and bread, but I can never seem to resist ordering arancini. Rice, cheese, and meats or veggies merge to create this heavenly fried snack. Choosing between the countless flavors feels impossible, but you simply can’t go wrong. Whether you decide on a baseball shaped al burro, football shaped melanzane, or cone-shaped ragu, you will surely feel satisfied.

Nothing compares to the first bite of an arancino. With it cupped carefully in the palm of your hand, you lift it towards your mouth, and take a bite. The moment that you break through the thin golden shell, the arancino lets out a long breath of steam. The exterior touches your tongue first. The casing—made of buttery breadcrumbs—has a crispy texture yet somehow melts when you chew it. With this, the heavenly interior of the arancino is revealed—never failing to trigger a smile.

Rice cooked perfectly al dente forms this next layer of the arancino. It retains great texture—neither mushy nor crunchy. You chew it softly, in disbelief of the amount of flavor that it has. Finally, the core touches your tongue and a surge of euphoria passes through you. In that moment you realize that the breadcrumb crust and rice only exist to swaddle the creamy, cheesy, and salty melting core of the arancino. The center of an arancino depends on what type you order. But no matter what kind you choose, you will be met with oozing cheesy bliss.

While eating an arancino, I heard someone say, “This is why American fast food doesn’t work in Italy.” I smiled and nodded in agreement. How could anyone choose processed French fries when they could devour a delicious arancino?

Emily Nagle is a student at Marist College and an official API Student Blogger. Emily is studying abroad with API in Taormina, Italy.

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