Sicily and Thanksgiving: A Glorified Food Blog

Well, if I’m a little cranky during this post, I apologize. I was awoken much earlier than I anticipated because a man outside in my street was bellowing–some kind folks might say “singing”–opera this morning.  Jesus, Italy.  Be more Italian.

Since I last posted, I’ve been to Sicily, had my first ever Thanksgiving outside of the US, and, more than likely, signed on as a backup QB with the Jets.  (My competition is Sanchez and Tebow–I’m pretty confident that I’ll be starting soon.)  So, it’s been a bit of a wild week and a half; let’s jump right into the details.

I briefly considered doing another side-by-side breakdown of Venice with Sicily, as I did previously with Venice and Florence.  But then I realized that there’s barely a single category Venice could steal from Sicily.  Food, drink, signature desserts, signature dishes, views, prices, nightlife, helpful people, references to the Godfather, casual racism, implicit racism, overt racism, racism on trains and racism on planes–Sicily outclasses Venice across the board.

(Really, though–Italian striker Mario Balotelli, who is black, hails from Sicily, and I don’t know why he would willingly play for this country.  I’m pretty sure only one country has had a national newspaper depict him as King Kong, and that country was The Boot.  Even George Wallace thinks Italy should tone it down a bit.)

But if you’re not familiar with Sicilian foods, here’s the one word you need to know: arancini.  Arancini (that’s the plural form, because there’s no way in hell you’ll only be getting one of these fellas) are harmless looking fried cones, the type of food you wouldn’t be shocked to see being served in an elementary school cafeteria after they’ve run out of hash browns.  Even when you look inside one, it doesn’t look that appetizing–it looks a little like spat-up baby food, a little like a dissection during a biology lab.  But the worst thing you can do when it comes to eating arancini is think twice.  As Sean Connery (as the incomparable John Mason) says in The Rock, “You must never hesitate.”

“Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and eat an entire tray of these things.”

Because, once you dive into that warm ball of goodness, you may experience vertigo, dizziness, numbness, an inability to speak, and other telltale signs of a stroke.  Don’t worry, you’re not actually having a stroke: the arancini is just so good that your brain is–LITERALLY–unable to function, as it’s too busy processing this delicious insanity.

What’s in arancini? Well, the typical combination is fried rice, meat sauce (the preferred term is ragu), tomato sauce, mozzarella, and peas, a combination which is both modern and legendary. Most of the flavors are similar to pizza flavors (i.e. 4 seasons, 4 cheeses, veggies only, something something prosciutto), but I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to get my fix through Domino’s next semester.  I honestly don’t know if arancini exist in America, because they hardly exist in the northern parts of Italy, but the first man to emigrate from Sicily and bring his cookbook with him will make a fortune. (Perhaps they’ll emigrate because of unbearable racism, Mario Balotelli? Chef Balotelli has a nice ring to it.  Come play ball and cook in America–most of the racist parts of our country don’t even have soccer.)

I don’t mean to exaggerate, guys, but a late-night arancini place on a college campus would literally make McDonald’s obsolete.

Besides eating insane amounts of this, as well as granitas and cannoli, Sicily was great.  Palermo definitely doesn’t make you feel safe, or necessarily clean, but it’s a very interesting and cheap city.  We spent the rest of the weekend in Taormina, which is on the other side of the island, and if you can stomach the 6 hour train ride to get there (without a reserved seat, which means you may be standing for the trip), you absolutely should go for it.  It’s the most beautiful place in the world that I’ve seen, and I’ve been to some nice places, such as Detroit, Aroostook County, Maine, and the Baltimore airport.

Finally, on Thursday we had an awesome Thanksgiving celebration at our professor’s apartment.  And, I must say, I think pumpkin pie may be overrated.  We had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner–turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, green beans…the works, really.  A full, classy spread, with a hint of Italian mixed in, as we not only had wine but prosecco to drink.

However, in lieu of pumpkin pie–apparently pumpkins aren’t a thing in Italy? WEIRD–we had tiramisu, a mixed fruit cake (frutta di bosco, as they say), and another cake whose flavors were indecipherable but whose quality was top-notch.  Point is…I didn’t really miss pumpkin pie, even with the added incentive of whipped cream.  As far as pies go, pumpkin is behind apple, and definitely behind blueberry, so it’s barely still on the pie depth chart.  Maybe it needs a change of scenery (pumpkin bread, pumpkin spiced latte, now we’re talking), but right now, I’m flashing a weak SELL for pumpkin right now.

(And yes, that was three mixed metaphors in a two sentence span.)

(Also, I was going to make a predictable joke here, but then I discovered that there’s a Trail of Tears Indian Pumpkin Ale beer, which sounds deliciously offensive.  Probably the best thing to come out of Arkansas since Darren McFadden.)

Anyway, Thanksgiving in Italy is a different experience: it’s not a holiday (Venice actually had the day before off for La Festa Della Salute), finding a turkey takes longer than preparing it, and there’s no football to watch before eating because of the time difference.  But still, it’s a great time, and although we mostly didn’t know anyone else at the table at the start of the semester, there still was a wonderful, strong community–partially the power of the Holidays, but mostly due, I think, to the unifying power of study abroad.  Most of all, though, Thanksgiving was a success because no one felt obligated to step into the role of the crazy uncle who rants about Obama and spreads his Tea Party beliefs.  For that, and so much more this semester and this season, I’m thankful.

Next week, I go to Colorado.  Whoops, I meant Amsterdam.  If you need to tell the two places apart, you can either look for Peyton Manning jerseys or Mormons.


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