Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lunch with two Norwegian girls in an Albanian speaking village in Sicily

We met Kjersti and Susann at the end of June at Trattoria San Giovanni in Piana degli Albanesi, western Sicily. It was lunchtime. We popped in during a weekend entirely devoted to visit wineries, farms and relais de charme around Palermo countryside. Kjersti and Susan were sitting on a table in the terrace enjoying their typical home-made Sicilian meal, happily satisfied. We sat in a table nearby while Gina, the owner and co-chef of the trattoria, was trying to talk to them in Italian with a certain Tuscany inflexion, the two girls keeping smiling at her nodding politely in assent but with their eyes wondering "what?", the opposite table with thr
ee local gentlemen speaking a strange dialect, no way to understand it even for us, native-Sicilians.

That's how we met the two happy Norwegian girls having their two week holiday in Sicily, who happened for chance at the trattoria while driving south to visit Corleone (I guess for its appeal related to The Godfather trilogy and everything connected with the mafia, poor us!)
Those were funny circumstances. Except the two girls, none spoke Norwegian. They did not speak Italian, Gina - the affable owner - did not speak English but somehow they could understand each other. We speak English so we could enjoy a nice talk with Kjesrti ans Susann providing them with some tips for the rest of their fly and drive voyage in Sicily. We did not speak that strange language the gentlemen nearby were spoken but they could speak and understand Italian.
So, what language were the gentlemen speaking? Believe or not, ancient Alb
anian! They were Piana degli Albanesi natives. This is a small town in the countryside of Palermo where an Albanian community lives and still maintains its native language, although mixed with some Sicilian influence, since the end of the XV century when they arrived in Sicily after the invasion of the Balkan peninsula by the Ottomans. Along its street you can read road and traffic signs both in Italian and Albanian so I learnt that the Italian word Municipio (Town Hall) becomes Berska in Albanian.
For those travelling in Sicily, Piana degli Albanesi is worth a visit mostly during Easter time for its fascinating and picturesque Ortodox Easter procession with traditional Albanian costumes attracting visitors from all over. In Piana, you can easily see people eating a cannolo, as this typical Sicilian kind of pastry, an engaging and surpirisng dessert filled with ricotta cheese, is absolutely the quality trademark for this village. So, keep in mind to have one while visiting (and one is more than enough!).
Piana degli Albanesi is also famous for several important events in the history of Sicily and Italy and alas! for the sanguinary massacre at Portella della Ginestra by a gang of bandits lead by Salvatore Giuliano: on May 1st, 1947 they killed a mass of defenceless people celebrating Labour Day. The story of the bandit Salvatore Giuliano is very interesting and is worth more investigation for being him the first promoting the independence of Sicily. But this is another story.

Lets' keep back at our main one. Don't forget to have your meal at Trattoria San Giovanni welcomed by Gina and Vincenzo, wife and husband, running together the place with their home-made cuisine rich of Sicilian flavour and ingredients. This amiable Tuscan lady moved to Piana degli Albanesi 45 years ago, to follow her love for Vincenzo. Isn't this such an old-style romance?

As first course we had superbe home-made fresh pasta dishes: panzotti di ricotta al finnocchietto selvatico con pomodoro a pezzi, melanzane e ricotta salata (panzotti pasta filled with ricotta cheese favoured with wild fennel with rustic tomato sauce, fried aubergines and salty ricotta cheese) and tagliatelle al pistacchio (tagliatelle pasta with pistachio sauce). They use an extra-virgin olive oil which is so smelly and pure you can enjoy it simply with their fresh bread.

As second course we had involtini di melanzane arrostite con mortadella, sottilette e foglie di alloro (roasted aubergine rolls filled with mortadella cut and cheese and flavoured with laurel leaves) and salsiccia locale arrosto con finocchetto selvatico (local roasted sausages flavoured with wild fennel).

What a delight for our senses! The whole meal was so simple and so perfect in taste you could not ask for anything else. There is no need for haute-cuisine or Michelin star restaurants when you experience such a local delicious food!

1 comment:

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