Via Plebiscito is the home of the horse. It’s also a fine place to go if you want to get a taste of the, at times, shockingly real Sicily. If you are a ferocious carnivore and prefer generous amounts of meat on your plate, then here you will get your satisfaction.
Catania is at least two cities, the first being the clean, elegant and impeccable, via Etnea and its surrounds. The second is an anomaly of sorts – a dangerous, run-down, exciting, noisy but very authentic city. A horse of another colour, if you will.
Via Plebiscito runs from the Pescheria or fish market, behind Piazza Duomo around in a semi circle to near Piazza Stesicoro. It covers a large area of the west of the city where scooters zoom by at high speed and the atmosphere is one of uncertainty. The food prices decrease the further you stray from the centre and here an arancino or a pizza slice can be found for one euro (bargain!).
Horse meat (carne di cavallo) and Horse burgers (polpette) on the left, Involtini on the right, Salsicce and Cipollate at the back
The famous crossroads to eat such wonders as horse burgers (known as polpette) or horse steaks, is near to Piazza Stesicoro. It’s best as a tourist or a red head, to not stray any further down via Plebiscito, lest you take your life in your hands.
One of my students advertised his going to one horse meat establishment – ‘I’m going this evening with friends to eat horse meat. I will eat a plate “this big”.’ He made an expansive gesture with his hands.
‘You’re a dark horse,’ I told him.
‘It’s probably the most delicious meat I’ve ever tasted! You have to try it. Come with me sometime,’ he suggested.
‘No way, you’re flogging a dead horse.’
‘Do you buy horse meat at the market?’ I asked Federica, a local.
‘No, never! At the panineria always. To get the real feel of a panino con carne di cavallo, it must be eaten on the street,’ she told me.
‘It is not eaten in the north,’ one local said.
‘It is not even eaten in Palermo,’ said another, ‘it’s unique to Catania.’ To deduce its popularity is easy – it is loved, raved about even. There you have it – straight from the horse’s mouth.
As my father bred show-jumpers, I can’t stand the smell or even the sight of the stuff.
I went to what seemed like a popular panino house near the port. The fat old woman advertised her sausages as the best I might find. She made the buona hand gesture, which is a finger pointed at the cheek and twisted. I asked for a chicken or a pork panino. Nothing doing.
‘Only cavallo!’ she declared. Many burly, ravenous men entered in a mini stampede, eager for a horse fix.
‘Hold your horses!’ I wanted to say to them.
Down at ‘Horse Corner’ as I call it, you can also eat involtini, a delicious mix of chicken, cheese and ham or aubergine, cheese and ham, which is wrapped together and thrown on the grill. The pork sausages (salsicce) are also magnificent, some are mixed with tomato, fennel, cheese or onion. Cipollate is spring onions wrapped in pancetta and although extremely fatty are also delicious. Afterwards you’ll be as strong as a horse.
At Horse Corner, my comrades asked if I might not reconsider and try the celebrated meat.
‘Well, you can bring a horse to water…’
Nearby: Partial list of swear words in Sicilian language/dialect.