Capo Market, Palermo

One of my favorite parts of traveling (after eating, of course) is going to food markets.

In Paris, we discovered that one could buy a whole rabbit at the local markets and have it skinned and gutted right before your eyes. At the corner of a meat stand, there’d be a pile of pelts and a box of entrails.

Bologna was the first place I saw horse meat for sale.

But the Sicilian city of Palermo has more food markets than any other place I’ve visited. There are four markets every day, almost all within walking distance of each other. We were closest to the Capo Market, considered one of the largest and more vibrant, and marked by the one of the old city gates.


There were the Italian grandmothers crossing themselves as they passed the many churches on the bustling market street. But Italian grandmothers are a common sight all over Italy.

What made Palermo stand out was the Islamic influence: the women in headscarves, the men in caftans, and little boys wearing crocheted caps. It felt like it could have been a market in Morocco or Turkey.

There were dogs in the markets (and throughout the city) and none begged for food.

The ever-present Italian scooters pushed their way through the narrow, pedestrian-filled streets.

Vendors called out their wares, pulled open a fish at the gills to show a shopper that it was fresh and smoked cigarettes – sometimes all at the same time.


Most of the produce was familiar to us – grapes, plums, pears, tomatoes, cranberry beans, string beans, eggplants. Pumpkin-sized squash was sold by the slice. Crates of produce were tied up with ribbon like a birthday present. One vendor sold boiled potatoes out of a giant metal pot, and roasted peppers and onions were available on a nearby tray.

But the meat stands were full of things I’d never seen before. There was something that looked like a wand of twine that I have to assume was intestines wrapped into a stick-like shape. At one meat stand, a man matter-of-factly chopped round red orbs into two clean pieces and we realized suddenly that what he was chopping was the head of an animal.

We turned a corner and found this man singing to himself as he skinned a goat.


We were probably in market just 10 minutes before I turned to Mr. WholeHog and said, “This is the most foreign place I’ve ever been.”


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