Catania’s cafes and bars are the perfect place to indulge in a cup of coffee and a cannolo when the sightseeing begins to take its toll. There are some gems when it comes to Catania’s cafes; chock full of character, charm and full of dazzling displays of the best Sicilian patisserie. Sicily takes the sugar rush to a whole new level.
Cannoli in Sicily
Our first morning in Catania we stopped off at Caffè del Duomo on Piazza Duomo and I couldn’t wait to try Sicily’s most famous pastry – Cannoli. In the film ‘The Godfather’ there’s a classic line ‘Leave the gun. Take the cannoli’. And after tasting one I can see why. Holy Cannoli! A crisp tube of fried dough is filled with rich, fresh, ricotta, sweetened with honey and sprinkled with ground pistachios – or if you prefer, chocolate shavings or candied fruit. Worth every single calorie! We sat outside overlooking the square while I indulged in my creamy, dreamy cannolo and a cup of coffee at a reasonable €4.50. Cannoli is the plural in case you were wondering.
The Caffè del Duomo has tables out on the square under shady awnings but don’t just use the waiter service – go inside and check out the interior which has a Belle Époque feel to it. Built in the 1800s, the walls are lined with curved shelves holding brightly coloured liqueurs; a bank of frosted glass lights cast a glow over a red marble counter and at the back of the café the curves continue with a stunning red marble spiral staircase. In most cafes it’s cheaper to stand and drink your coffee at the bar so if you’re just in the market for a quick Espresso out of the sun then head for the bar. Savoury snacks are available on the hot buffet table ‘tavola calda’ if you’ve not got a sweet tooth.
Best Catania Cafe – Prestipino
The following day, during our tour of Catania’s La Pescheria and marketplace, our guide took us to the café next door to Caffe del Duomo. I hadn’t even noticed it the day before – probably too busy swooning over my cannolo. Prestipino Boutique is the smaller of two Prestipino cafes and my favourite of all that we visited. A tiny place but big on taste. On entering I was presented with a ‘Biscotti con Mandorla’ a small, swirled almond biscuit. Light and delicate on the outside, the swirls were slightly crisped on the outer edges but as I bit through the crispness I was surprised by a delectable marzipan paste flavoured with pistachio. It was so good it actually brought tears to my eyes. It really did!
A glass cabinet takes up most of the space in the café containing shelf upon shelf of deliciousness. Fruits of Martorane are miniature works of art. The marzipan fruits and vegetables are so perfect it seems wrong to bite into one.
Olives de Sant Agata
There’s a tray overflowing with Olives de Sant Agata; small, green, marzipan olives to commemorate Catania’s patron saint and the olive tree she sheltered beneath. Saint Agatha was a chaste young virgin who resisted the advances of an ardent suitor, a magistrate. As punishment he had her horribly tortured including the severing of her breasts and her body rolled in hot coals. Minni di Sant’ Agata are individual Cassata cakes made to resemble breasts (complete with cherry nipple) alluding to Saint Agatha’s tortuous fate.
Don’t let the gruesome tale put you off, they’re actually delicious sponge cakes laced with liqueur and layered with ricotta cheese and a chocolate or vanilla cream. A large savoury selection is also available at Prestipino Boutique and I hear their Pasta Alla Norma is a winner.
Organic Ice Lolly
Not strictly a café but a tiny shop with a counter onto Via Etnea sold me the best ice lolly I’ve ever had. Sublime, natural, organic fruit ice-lollies and crushed ice drinks were on sale in every fruit flavour imaginable. I chose my favourite fruit – raspberry. A really healthy way to keep cool. Well, until you have it dipped in white chocolate! That lolly was Out. Of. This. World.
Catania Cafes have a very welcome savoury tradition which we discovered on ordering a late afternoon drink. Aperol Spritz is a bright orange aperitif made with Prosecco, Aperol (a bit like Campari) and soda water. Gin can be added for extra kick.
The Spritz cost about €6 each and came with a host of tasty nibbles; potato crisps, tomatoes, mini pizza dough balls, savoury biscuits and, of course, the Sicilian speciality Arancini (meaning ‘little oranges’ due to their colour and shape). Arancini are deep-fried rice balls stuffed with meat or mozzarella and tomato sauce or cheese and ham and are totally yummy. When we ordered we thought the drinks were a little pricey but with all those tasty treats thrown in they turned out to be great value.
Our Catania hotel was the Una Hotel on Via Etnea which, along with many of the bars in the city, offer a whole buffet of nibbles which you could help yourself to during the 2-3 aperitivo hours. In fact you could have skipped dinner altogether with the amount of food on offer; heaps of different canapés, salads, salami and cheeses. Perfect with a glass of Prosecco and the fabulous view from the hotel’s roof top terrace.
So, there you have it, Catania’s bar and café culture on a plate and there’s lots to like. Are you a cafe person? Which country’s café culture is your favourite?
Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises for hosting my visit to Catania. All views, opinions and new found love for cannoli are, as always, entirely my own.