Food in Sicily: Tavola Calda

Gianni told me: “If you eat arancini every day, you go directly to the doctor!”

Tavola Calda is the speciality of Sicily. It could involve pastry, cheese, tomato, meat, rice, mushrooms, egg, little pizzas called pizzette, balls of breaded rice and ragu which are deep fried. The list goes on. All are fantastic, really filling and deplorably cheap.


Starting from the bottom: arancini burre, arancini al ragu. Middle: pizzette. Top: panzerotti, cornetti (these last two fall into the category of colazione/breakfast)

The arancini, (little oranges) as mentioned above, are balls of rice mixed with either ragu meat sauce, aubergine or spinach and ham.  All come with a healthy slab of mozzerella and golden breadcrumbs.  If that wasn’t enough they put the damn things into a deep fat fryer and stew them there to absorb plenty of oil before presenting them to you at the generous price of €1.70.  Some places do them for as little as €1 and laugh as you come back day after day spelling destruction to your fading hopes of keeping in shape.

The pizzette are just small heavy pizzas.  One intrepid recent visitor to Catania bravely ate an arancino followed by a pizzette.  The poor man was in no mood for pasta that night.

From the top: cipolline, bombe.

The cipollina is a vile creation which focuses on onions.  It leaves the consumer with a feeling of disgust similar to finding out that you had eaten road kill.  Not that I recommend trying that either!

The bomba, on the other hand, is good old honest ham and cheese which fills and satisfies.

From the top: pizzette, cartocciate with egg.  Bottom: cartocciate with sausage, with ham and cheese, and with mushroom.

The cartocciate with egg will set you up nicely if you plan to stay up until 6am, climb Mount Etna or carry an elephant around on your back for the day.  The others are tasty and filling also except for the mushroom one which seems to only promote hunger.

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter: are they safe to eat all the time?

No, definitely not.

One Catanese told me that he might indulge in an arancino once a week, another hearing the first insisted that they were safe only once a month.  Gianni said they will send you “directly” to the doctor.

So, basically they are fast food, although they are incredibly good fast food.  They are available in almost every bar and bread shop in the entire city.  This means you can’t walk for 30 seconds without smelling them, and of course wanting them.  Then caving in and eating them with the unrestrained zeal of a hungry tiger.

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4 thoughts on “Food in Sicily: Tavola Calda

  • May 31, 2013 at 22:30

    WOW! What a great article, thanks for the info. Despite heart attack risks from all of this ‘hard to resist’ fast food, I am thinking of spending some time in Sicily with a view to buying. I am thinking you recommend it?!!

    • June 7, 2013 at 03:10

      Can you buy me a house too? Just asking like… Yeah stay away from the arancini if you want to keep in an acceptable state of health!

  • June 29, 2013 at 15:26

    are you joking? Do you think arancini are more dangerous for your health than english/us fast food? Rice, saffron, peas, cheese, meat, tomato… never killed anyone. Trust me! I don’t eat one each day, of course, and my cholesterol is under control. I think you had a bad experience. Please, don’t create panic and don’t exagerate!…

    • July 2, 2013 at 00:48

      Ivano, thanks for your comment! I merely meant that arancini are available all over here and are presented as seemingly innocuous lunchtime fare when in fact they are deep-fried and totally unhealthy. We need stats on the fat content. Don’t get me wrong I eat them once in a while. Are you a regular arancini eater?


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