• Eddie learns to fish without a pole (SBS Food)Source: SBS Food
Huang’s World tackles refugee politics over the dinner table.
Shane Cubis

13 Apr 2017 - 10:02 AM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2017 - 10:02 AM

You can make a claim that most iconic national cuisines were in some ways inspired by the neighbouring cultures they interacted with, but Sicilian food has to be a special case.  That island off the toe of Italy’s boot has been invaded and dominated over and over again for centuries... but only colonised at the table. Waves of external cultures have shaped the way Sicilians eat, making their food distinct from what you’ll find in other parts of Italy. And it’s a process that’s still happening today. 

“This is where racial stereotypes work in your favour,” says Eddie Hunag when he visits (catch the episode this Sunday 8.30 pm on SBS VICELAND), in response to locals calling him Bruce Lee. The backdrop to his visit is the humanitarian crisis caused by refugees coming into Europe via Lampedusa, an island in southern Italy. Mostly from countries such as Gambia and Senegal, they are bringing their own table traditions to the community, including their continental spin on Ramadan’s fast-breaking evening feast, iftar. In addition, young Gambian chefs are sharing their skills at Catania restaurant 1Eleven, run by social worker Barbara Sidoti, where they serve Eddie vegetable couscous with almonds and raisins alongside an attractive sardine pie.   

But that’s jumping ahead. As usual, Eddie wolfs his way through a cultural history of influences, from the North Africans who brought arancini, pistachios and couscous (albeit made here with fish rather than Tunisian mutton) to the Spanish introduction of horse meat – which Eddie enjoys in the form of a barbecue platter starring horse steak, horse filet, pork belly wrapped around scallions and pistachio meatballs – and so, so many sardines. Add in Greek, Norman and Arabian inflections, and the island is close to a literal melting pot.

Eddie Huang eating with Paolo Ayeo

This is arguably more important to Sicilian politics than it would be in other countries, thanks to the very Italian idea summed up by food historian and sardine enthusiast Paolo Ayeo, who takes Eddie to seafood restaurant Al Pesciolino D’Oro for a range of sardine-laced dishes: “When I eat with you at the table, I live with you.” It’s very difficult to turn your nose up at other cultures when eateries like Arancine d’Autore are proudly boasting that their arancini balls are “inspired by the Arab ancient recipe”. (Eddie opts for a piping-hot, delicious-looking arancini with an eggplant centre.)

That’s why far-right group Forza Nuova’s arguments are hotly debated, claiming as they do that Sicilian food is way, way more influenced by the presumably more nobly blooded “Greek, Roman and Spanish” than Arabian pirates. A pair of game representatives agree to sit down and discuss their position with Eddie (as long as he doesn’t make them go to a Chinese restaurant, they hasten to add), but just as the delicious-looking food arrives at their table outside Bar Aluia, a passerby starts arguing with them and Forza Nuova storm off. Politics at the table.

If reading this makes you feel like arancini...

But the final word has to go to Palermo’s Mayor Leoluca Orlando, who glad-hands his way through a food market while Eddie tries to get a word in edgeways, before making this speech: “Palermo is not a painting. Palermo is a mosaic. Made by different pieces of stones of different colours, of different dimensions, comes the framework. And the framework is the respect of human beings, of human rights. 

"I know that you have an interest to know how this condition of the city does influence the food. Because even the table where Palermitans eat is like a mosaic. You can find fish and meat. You can find salt and sweet. With different piees of colours, it looks like a rainbow.” 

Pass the sardines.

Watch Huang’s World  8.30pm Sundays on SBS VICELAND and then on SBS On Demand.

Sicilian cooking
Mary’s spaghetti with mussels

“Sicilians love a bowl of beautiful pasta. Simple is the key word here: they take two or three ingredients, flash them in the pan with the pasta and bang, it delivers every time. There are two essential elements to Sicilian food: it has to be local and it has to be in season. That’s why this dish would only be cooked in the warmer months, when cherry tomatoes are at their best. This recipe comes from Mary Taylor Simeti, who has lived in Palermo for about 50 years and is much loved here because she wrote the first cookbook about Sicilian food in English.″ Ainsley Harriott, Ainsley Harriott’s Street Food

Braised artichoke, broad beans and peas (frittedda)

Try to find tender, young baby artichokes that only need halving. If unavailable, cut larger artichokes into quarters. It’s best to use tender young broad beans for this recipe, too.


This is Josie and Salvatore Politini's recipe for arancini, which they serve at their salami-making workshops.