Sfincione, Sicilian Pizza or Tomato Pie? Explaining what the Sfincione is to those who have never lived in Palermo is not as simple as it might seem; most of these will fall into a trivial but legitimate mistake, by exchanging this Sicilian speciality for a Pizza, therefore the name Sicilian Pizza. Actually, there are similarities, as the aspect of Sfincione reminds that of a pizza, maybe just a little ‘more rustic. Giving it a closer look, however, you will notice that its dough is not thin, but thick, and the consistency is softer than that of a pizza, it is way more spongy; the Sfinciuni name derives precisely from the resemblance between its dough and a sponge, in Latin language called “spongia”, which in Sicilian became “sfincia”.

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This substantial difference can be perceived by anyone who tastes for the first time a sfincione, realizing how this is different from a pizza. But the sfincione is not just this. It is not only a culinary delicacy with an unmistakable flavour but also – and above all – culture.

For a Palermitan it is impossible to think of the sfincione without feeling in his head the echo of the voice of the street vendor who shouts: << chisti sunnu così ra bella vieru! Chi ciavuru! >> which means, more or less: << These are really beautiful things! What a fragrance!>>. This “abbanniata”, that is the scream of the ambulant to promote its product, has become historical because it was recorded many many years ago and today it is used by all the sfincionari, who reproduce it through the megaphone on top of their own “lapino” – the typical Ape Piaggio – around for the city. Even the New York Times talked about this in 1995.

It would be impossible for a non-palermitan to understand the link between the banter of the sfincionaro and the immediate and irrepressible desire for sfincione that provokes in whoever is listening. It does not matter if, as the recorded voice of the abbanniata says, the sfincione in question is << scaissu r’uogghiu and chinu i pruvulazzu! >>, that is << with little oil and full of dust >>, as if to emphasize the fact that it’s street food.

 

The sfincione is not just and exclusively a typical product of the street food of the Sicilian capital and its province, but it is also among the unfailing courses of the Christmas holidays; according to tradition, the recipe was created by the nuns of the convent of San Vito, in Palermo, and then spread as a Christmas dish among the poorest people in the city, who at least for parties did not want to eat the usual “pani schiettu”, simple bread . For someone born and raised in Palermo, therefore, to think of the sfincione inevitably refers to the Christmas holidays and the family.

So how to explain the sfincione to a non-palermitan? How to tell the profound meaning it has for our culture? Perhaps explaining all of this is not possible, but if you are visiting Palermo, do not miss the chance to taste a slice of sfincione in the city where it was born, otherwise, you can try to prepare it yourself by following our recipe here – and if you want to make it simple,  yes, you can still refer to it as a Sicilian Pizza!