Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but normal food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with what is produced from good old terra firma is what makes the world go around.
The island’s history stretches far back before the Greeks and Romans in a tangled web of myths and legends which are intrinsically linked to the island’s culture and geography.
Everywhere one goes, one comes across myths:
There is the myth about the three nymphs who gathered the best things from all around the world (earth, fruit, stones) and flung them into the clear blue sea which lit up like a rainbow and subsequently gave rise to the three peaks from which the island of Sicily was born.
The son of Zeus sowed an unfamiliar plant near Taormina that became Sicily’s first vineyard.
Hephaestus, the Greek god of blacksmiths, had a forge on Mount Etna!
Then there is the one of the handsome shepherd, Aci, and his love for Galatea, the mermaid. Overcome with jealousy, the Cyclops’ Polyphemus decided to take the two lovers by surprise and hurled a boulder at Aci, killing him. To keep her love alive, Galatea transformed his blood into the source of a river which, when it flowed into the sea, would ensure the constant union of the two lovers.
There are so many myths about the rough sea, the Fountain of Arethusa, the rocks and boulders along the shoreline… ahhhh… intriguing Sicily! Even the flag has an intriguing motif. Due to the island’s distinct triangular shape, the symbol has been adopted by the Sicilian government. This symbol of Sicily can be seen just about everywhere; the symbol has a face and three legs.
Three legs – A “triskele” is a motif consisting of a triple spiral exhibiting rotational symmetry. The spiral design can be based on interlocking Archimedean spirals, or represent three bent human legs. – Wikipedia.
The “triskelion” symbol appears in many early cultures (Malta - 4400–3600 BCE / Ireland 3200 BCE /Mycenaean vessels) it also appears as a heraldic emblem on warriors' shields depicted on Greek pottery.
Face - The “gorgon” in Greek mythology is a mythical creature, the term commonly refers to any of three sisters who had hair made of living, venomous snakes, as well as a horrifying visage that turned those who beheld her to stone. Traditionally, while two of the Gorgons were immortal, Stheno and Euryale, their sister Medusa was not, and she was slain by the demigod and hero Perseus. ~Wikipedia
The Triskele on the flag dates back to April 1282, during the Sicilian Vespers, this symbolized the unity of Sicily in expelling the Angevins.
The Gorgon head, which has snakes as hair and three legs bent at the knee and forming a spiral around the head, is an ancient symbol of Sicily. The symbol dates back to when Sicily was part of Magna Graecia, the colonial extension of Greece beyond the Aegean (Greek tri – meaning three).
The three legs represent the three promontories of the island: Capo Peloro – North-East, Capo Passero – South, and Capo Lilibeo – West.
The ears of wheat in the symbol were introduced by the Romans and symbolize Sicily as the land of abundance and fertility and the rank of “breadbasket” of the Roman Empire.
The colours of the flag are red (Municipality of Palermo) and yellow (Corleone - at that time was the largest agricultural capital of Sicily.)
Ceramic faces of Kings and Queens
No trip to Sicily would be complete without a visit to one (or all) the ceramic shops. Every one of these shops carries many, many designs of a line referred to as the “Pot-Heads” or Moorish Heads. When the Moors invaded Sicily from North Africa in the 11th century, they built ceramic workshops all over the island and taught the Sicilians to make brightly coloured majolica, an art form which gradually spread throughout Sicily.
These classic items are still made today, but have become very popular as a fancy plant pot. Traditionally, these pot heads are placed on top of gateposts and on verandas and stoeps. The original pots were life-sized; today they are made in every size, from larger than life, to egg-cup.
The legend of their origin comes from Palermo, from the district now called La Kalsa.
“A young lady, a beautiful girl with peach coloured skin and blue eyes as the Sicilian Sea, loved cultivating flowers on her balcony. One day, a Moor passed below and became infatuated with her, declaring his undying love so beautifully that she, in turn, fell in love with him.
The story took a sinister twist when she found out he was married with children! Appalled at the deception and insult to her virtue, she cut his head off. Now, what to do with it? She decided it would make a perfect plant pot.” Walking around the island towns and cities and going into shops, restaurants and homes, you will see many a splendid rendering of these pots more often than not with a plant in it.
The art of making these ceramics was taken to the island during the Arabic domination from 827 to 902 A.D. This art is referred to as “majolica pottery” and resembles the techniques used in the island of Majorca in Spain. There are many motifs and patterns used in this pottery, such as the sun, the moon, lemons and pineapples, but the pottery heads representing a beautiful woman or a moor head is very much in evidence.
Renowned for the street food, Sicily has some of the best you can try to make at home. The food is cooked fresh right on the spot. There are stalls and also carts, the “kitchens” are often just a simple grill and a copper pan or two.
Arancini – the most classic street-food (in western Sicily, it's called "arancina"; in eastern Sicily, it is called "arancino”). A rice ball that is breaded and fried has a conical or oval shape and is traditionally filled with a meat stew and peas. One can also find arancini filled with mozzarella cheese and ham. Make them round if it is too hard to shape them into cones.
Ingredients – (makes about 8)
2 cups cooked white rice, cooled
½ cup grated Parmesan
8 small cubes fresh mozzarella
1 cup Italian-style breadcrumbs
Oil, for frying
Marinara sauce – homemade or bought
Pour vegetable oil into a heavy-bottomed pot – at least 4 inches deep.
Stir rice, Parmesan and 1 egg together in a bowl until thoroughly combined.
Take a small portion of the mixture, squeeze it firmly and push a cube of mozzarella into the middle of each ball.
Squeeze the ball really firmly again into a round or cone shape.
Whisk together the remaining 2 eggs.
Dip each arancini in the eggs, then into breadcrumbs, shake off excess.
When oil is hot, add 2 or 3 arancini; gently fry them until golden brown and cooked through.
Remove arancini to a paper towel-lined plate.
Immediately salt the arancini.
Serve with warm marinara sauce.
(The best rice for arancini is sushi rice because it is much more glutinous and easier to work with.)
Chickpea Fritters – Panella – serve as an appetizer, or make a sandwich between slices of bread or in a roll.
3 cups water
1½ cups chickpea flour
1½ tsp salt
3 TBL parsley, chopped
Vegetable oil, for frying
Mix chickpea flour with water in a saucepan, whisk, making sure there are no lumps.
Put the pan with the mixture over a fairly low heat.
Keep stirring the mixture until it is slightly thickened but not too thick.
Season with salt and pepper and parsley.
Take the pan off the heat and continue mixing for a minute.
Pour the mixture onto a flat surface and spread a layer about ¼-inch thick.
Set aside until the mixture has cooled (about an hour for me).
Cut into triangles or squares or fingers.
Heat oil in a frying pan until very hot – oil should be deep enough to cover.
Fry in batches turning occasionally.
Remove and drain on paper towel.
Stigghiole - guts of lamb, goat or chicken, washed in water and salt, seasoned with parsley and onion, threaded on a skewer and cooked on the BBQ.
Entrails of lamb / goat / chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash carefully in salted water.
Cut through the length of the entrails with scissors.
Degreased with plenty of lemon juice.
Wash again in salted water, drain and dry them.
Peel the onion.
Thread onto skewers with parsley and onion.
Prepare the coals (these are best on coals of wood, not gas).
Place on the grill over the ashy and cook slowly, turning frequently.
Serve hot, sprinkled with salt and pepper.