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For a week I stayed with my father’s cousin and his family in the very small town of Mascali, an hour north of Catania. It’s clear that in the south of Italy, the economy is not as good as it is in the north, money is tight and jobs are very hard to find. However, in Sicily, Italian hospitality is at its height, and Sicilian food raises the bar. Very high.

The jolly fisherman

When I arrived and was driven through the old, narrow streets of Giarre I was captivated. From the outside, it’s easy to see that the houses have a complete history. From the peeling cracked walls to rickety faded wooded doors, and abandoned houses with broken windows, the area is alive with history. Not all good either as it lives at the base of the very active Mount Etna.

Behind the doors of a Sicilian family’s house you will be welcomed in with open arms, a table already set and a cake made especially for you. Hopefully you arrived with an empty stomach. Oh, and also the ability to say no when you can not eat any more. As I was travelling by myself, the already busy family did their best to fit me into their plans and show me some of the area. My first day there, I was driven around Riposto, a laid back port town directly parallel to Giarre, and taken to the local pescheria where the family buy their fish. Here I had a conversation with a jolly looking fisherman about how his cousins in Australia (either Sydney or Melbourne, he couldn’t remember) want him to visit, but *insert hand signal* it is very far away.

Along with the pescharia and the pretty little port town, I was also shown where my grandfather’s sister was buried. I had never been into an Italian cemetery, and to see our family name on a grave on the opposite side of the world was moving. I had a similar feeling when I was taken to visit my grandmother’s brother, very old, but still with vivid memories of his sister who he hadn’t seen for more than sixty years. In quick Sicilian dialect he told emotional stories about my grandmother.

The family prepared everything from scratch. Meals were prepared throughout the day with all family members giving a helping hand. Specific meat was cooked a particular way because it was “better”, jam was handmade over summer and frozen because it tastes “better”, the sausage was cooked over coals instead of the oven (taking longer), and the lemon rind for the sweets was cut from fresh lemons. Always  because it is “better”. Basically I learnt that food preparation wasn’t a necessity, not even a priority, it was just a way of life. Not matter how busy they were, there would always be time to prepare a great tasting meal, and then, to enjoy it.

If you get the chance to visit Italy, go to Sicily, don’t even think twice. To me, it’s the heart of Italy, in most parts, money is scarce, but it is clear that passion for life, family, friends and food is not. And well, isn’t that what life is all about?

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