OH MA MA! CHE LA SICILAN FOOD TOUR

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By Roger Plastow

 

 

How far would you travel for a good feed? Well, for one NORTHSIDER, 34,000kms was just about far enough. Our regular contributor, Roger Plastow, decided that instead of hitting the usual culinary pleasures of the Northside’s Lygon Street, he would pack his bags and head straight to the source – Sicily.

 

I just flew 34,000kms, give or take, for a five-day food tour in Sicily. Yes, it was a long way to go for a few good feeds, but someone had to do it.

 

I flew from Brisbane to Scoglitti, a little fishing village in southern Sicily, and eight days later was back in Brisbane, with an empty wallet and a full stomach.

 

Twelve of us did the tour organised by former Sydney restaurateur Carmel Ruggeri. Carmel still lives in Sydney and does food tours there (I tried asking why anyone would want to live in Sydney, but I couldn’t get a coherent, plausible answer).

 

 The Sicily food tour was an absolute hoot from start to finish. Carmel is a passionate Sicilian Aussie, quite mad, very loud.”

 

The Sicily food tour was an absolute hoot from start to finish. Carmel is a passionate Sicilian Aussie, quite mad, very loud, and a delightful host if you are prepared to expect the unexpected.

 

Any Sicilian tour led by Carmel will not be a manicured program. It will be meticulously organised but chaotic; well designed but rough around the edges; relaxing but oh so loud (you haven’t heard a noisy conversation until you have heard a Sicilian family conversation); tiring but really, really enjoyable. More importantly, it will be memorable.

 

We dined at fashionable restaurants – one had a Michelin star -and speciality food outlets, roadside stalls, quaint bars and, best of all, accompanied by the extended family. They were beautiful, friendly, welcoming people – gracious hosts with no pretence, just genuine smiles and lots of kisses. Both cheeks – left first.

 

You’ve seen the movies and the shows on TV – big families sitting around a long table piled high with delicious food and plenty of red wine. Well that’s exactly what it was like. More food than you could possibly eat, more noise than you could possibly imagine, and, never-fading memories.

 

The food throughout the tour was varied and unpredictable. I loved some of it and enjoyed most of it. It goes without saying that the exquisitely prepared and presented fare at Ragusa Ilba’s ‘star’ Il Duomo Restaurant, was unforgettable.

 

It proved that no matter where you go in the world, food always tastes better if you have the right company.”

 

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To me, the food prepared in the family kitchen by family members was just as memorable. It proved that no matter where you go in the world, food always tastes better if you have the right company.

 

Another highlight was the visit to Sicily’s award-winning butcher, Massimiliano Castro. That bloke can make salami sing. He dished up a smorgasbord of cheeses, olives, and meats that left more of an impression on me than the food at Il Duomo.

 

I love meat but I didn’t realise what could be done with it until I tasted Massimiliano”s masterpieces. We even ate donkey. In a couple of forms – salami style and a more simple, blended type of sausage – and loved it.

 

I have never been a fan of ricotta but in Sicily I ate it most days – on the farm, fresh and warm from the vat at 9am, washed down with a cheeky little red wine; in absolutely delectable homemade sweets, pan or deep-fried and in several other forms. Ricotta and I are now friends.

 

We visited an organic tomato farm that blew me away, not just with the size of the operation but by the taste and quality of the fruit. We strolled up and down the trellised rows picking and eating tomatoes as though they were apples. The taste buds are still tingling. We even met the bees, which are worth one euro each and dead in a month, that are used to propagate the plants.

 

In Queensland we pride ourselves on the quality of our fruit and vegetables. However, the fresh food they produce in Sicily, and the way they dish it up takes it to a new level. One that has to be tasted to be believed.

 

It may seem a bit of a distance, but the food, the wine, and the company made the long trip for a short stay, well worth the while.

 

If you do get the chance, go on a Sicilian Food Tour with Carmel. But be sure you talk to her about booking (Yes, I know that means talking to someone from Sydney – but Sydney is at least north of the river). A Sicilian tour with Carmel is not for everyone. It’s not five-star luxury but it’s not far behind and it’s great value for money. And best of all, it leaves you with great sense of family and precious memories.

 

One piece of advice: when you do go, make sure when you pack your sense of humour. You will need it.

 

 

 

Roger Plastow is a freelance journalist – a poor but passionate, bald but beautiful ‘young’ man, who sometimes handles the truth somewhat carelessly and has plans to become a centenarian so he can get a letter from the Queen. He is a true-blue Queenslander with strong Melbourne connections.

 

 

PULL OUT BOX

 

With spring well and truly here, most of use are thinking about travel and possibly a culinary tour or two. Well for those who can’t manage a trip to Sicily this year, we have dug up some fantastic food experiences that are right on your doorstep.

 

The Foodies Tour of North Melbourne

Local food identity Carmel McNally will lead you on an exploration of the streets and laneways of North Melbourne, sampling some tasty treats along the way.

$135.00 – Concession: $131.00

 

Turkish Trails

Explore the some of Melbourne’s oldest Turkish restaurants on Sydney Rd, in bustling Brunswick. Tour through the flavours of the Middle East by trying authentic pide, dolma and pilaf, as well as sample the sumptuously sweet Baklava and Muhallebi (a traditional milk pudding).

Adults $125

Under 12’s $55

 

Coffee and Chocolate

Indulge in two guilty pleasures by visiting the teams at Campos Coffee in Carlton and Koko Black in Brunswick, to learn about the production processes behind coffee and chocolate. A coffee tasting session and chocolate dessert degustation are included.

$135

 

Lygon St and Carlton

Explore Melbourne’s ‘Little Italy’ with radio host and guide Cameron Smith. Meet the storekeepers, taste Italian specialities and learn about the history of the area, while visiting iconic venues such as Brunetti’s, D.O.C and Baker D. Chirico.

$100

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