Sunday, September 9, 2007

For cheese lovers only

As promised, here’s some info about cheese:

Casa del Formaggio Sant'Anna di Dipasquale: (THE cheese house). Definitely one of the best places to buy cheese in Ragusa

I know they sell one of the best “Ragusano DOP” cheese in the area, and "Pecorino Siciliano" (made with sheep milk). Also I suggest you try one of the wine spreads they sell that you can eat with the cheese. I tried the Zibibbo and Pasito wine spreads (Zibibbo and Pasito are desert wines from Sicily).

Casa del Formaggio Sant'Anna di Dipasquale
Corso Italia 387, Ragusa - Tel: 0932 227485

The Azienda Occhipinti is is a rural farm that make different types of cheese, they might show you how they make their cheese if you call them in advance and ask when it would be best to come. I don’t believe they have anything organised like a tour or so, but possibly they will show you around anyway. They might not speak English though.

Azienda Agro-zootecnica Giuseppe Occhipinti
Contrada San Giacomo - 97100 Ragusa
Tel: 0932 231669

The Corfilac is a good place to see how cheese is made. Every 2 years the Corfilac organises a great event in Ragusa called Cheese Art, between June and July. The next one will be in 2008. They have cheese, wine and beer tasting and pairing, you can buy cheese, wine, salami and other related stuff. They have experts explaining the main features of different kinds of cheese from around the world and, of course, local ones. There’s also live music, plays, etc. Last year it was organised in the gardens of the beautiful Donnafugata Castle.

Corfilac Headquarters: S.P. 25 Km 5 Ragusa Mare 97100 Ragusa (on the street from Ragusa to Marina di Ragusa) Tel: +39 0932 660 411 • Cheese department: +39 0932 660 484/+39 0932 660 485. Call first for an appointment.

Another must while in Sicily is the Ricotta cheese. Ricotta is a fresh cheese made of sheep or cow’s milk. It’s name comes from the fact that it’s ingredients need to be cooked twice. In Sicily they have Italy’s most famous ricotta, and they use it in different ways: sweet ricotta (the ricotta cannoli are amazing here), dry ricotta (ricotta salata) used for pasta alla norma, or fresh ricotta with sun dried tomatos or alone. You can try it in any agriturismo or buy it in any supermarket, farm or cheese shop.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

10 Tips for a tourist visiting Sicily

1- Try to rent a car and invest in a good map, more often than not places are not clearly indicated. Fortunately people are usually pretty patient, and will try to help you find your way.

2- Visit the amazing Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Tempi) with an impressive array of well preserved Greek temples dating from 400-500 BC. I strongly recommend that you avoid this visit in august. If you have no choice, you can take a few precautions: apply sunscreen, wear a hat and carry a bottle of water, you’ll be walking under the sun for a long time and the temperature can easily reach the 100º Fahrenheit. I recommend that you go on the first two weeks of February if possible, during the almond tree festival that celebrates Agrigento’s early blossom of the almond trees.

3- Have a "Granita" with "Brioche"... granita is a sort of sherbet made of a frozen mix of water, sugar and flavoring. Usually you’ll find such flavors as coffee, chocolate, pistachio, almond, lemon, strawberry and other fruits. The brioche is a sort of semi-circular muffin, that you can dip in your granita... If you plan to go to the city of Noto, don’t miss the best granita ever! Mandolfiore - Via Ducezio 2, Noto, Siracusa - Tel: 0931-836-615.

4- Visit the Villa at Casale, a Roman Villa dating from the 4th century located in Piazza Armerina. This villa represents an extraordinary testimony to the life in the roman era thanks to the lively scenes represented in the mosaic covered floors. These superb mosaics are really well preserved. Tel: +39 0935-680036

5- Some great cities include Palermo, Taormina with it’s impressive greek theater and dramatic sea view, Catania under the Etna volcano, and the cities of the Noto Valley (Noto, Siracusa, Modica and Ragusa) with some of the finest examples of late baroque architecture. While in Siracusa, make sure you visit the island of Ortygia, and while in Ragusa, the picturesque Ibla.

6- Let’s talk about food… it’s really hard to have a bad meal in Sicily. But each region has it’s specialties, so I recommend you ask in the restaurant about the typical food of that particular place and try it. Some examples include pane and panelle in Palermo (at the famous Antica focacceria San Francesco) Palermo, Via A. Paternostro, 58 - Tel. 091320264 - Closed on Tuesdays.

In the Ragusa area, I recommend you try the Ragusano DOP cheese with honey, and anything with the extra virgin olive oil from Giarratana. In Noto, the granita, (see number 3). In Catania, go to the kiosk in the main square and ask for "sgricchio" (SGREECHEEO) a sort of refreshing soda with different flavours, I like mandarina (tangerine). In Modica you should try the chocolate, any of their typical pastries and my favourite, the chocolate-chili liquor. In Bronte, the pistachio… and I coud go on and on for days since every place preserves it’s own traditions and flavours.

7- For a full meal, I would start with an antipasto (starter) of anything with eggplant (melanzana) or seafood. A first course will have to include at least a pasta dish, like pasta alla norma (again pasta with eggplant and ricotta, two of the icons of Sicilian cooking). The second or main course often includes fish or meat. I found the red meat for the most part disappointing, they also eat horse meat (it has a sweeter taste but can be quite though). If you are a carnivore, I believe the pork is a much better choice. If you can live without meat, have any of the excellent fish and seafood, often cooked with mastery.

8- If you want to stay in a more “authentic” way, there are Bed & Breakfasts everywhere, sometimes built in old houses that can let you experience the construction, furniture and decoration to have a closer look of local culture. If you are on a budget and you travel with a group of 3 to 4 people or more, you could try a vacation house, usually available on weekly basis. This is always a cheaper and less commercial way to stay. Another alternative can be an Agriturismo, italian farmhouses in or around a rural area, that produce their own food and sometimes offer accomodation so you can live the whole farm experience. The room type can vary a lot depending on the facility (private or shared bathrooms, etc). It is always wise to ask first... Some interesting websites:, or

9- As for the climate, I guess I've all been spoiled by L.A's perfect weather. Ragusa has a not-so-great climate, here winter is cold and (very) humid, specially by the sea, and summer is warm and sunny, but can get REALLY hot... luckily you can forget all that by consuming large amounts of creamy gelato. Anyway, I think good food, great beaches and a calendar full of holidays make up for the weather, which is probably still better than in many northern European countries. As for the rest of Sicily, it has reportedly better weather than Ragusa. So don’t worry too much… just remember to pack your sunscreen... or an extra pair of gloves!

10- Sicily offers, countless historical monuments, many natural wonders from sandy beaches with warm water to natural parks like the “Reserva dello Zingaro,” the "Gole del Alcantara" or the Etna park. You also have any of the smaller islands like the Aeolian islands on the north east or the islands of Ustica (great for snorkeling) and Pantelleria (with clear influence of arab culture). Sicily is a place where the landscape, the tradition and the people show a different sensibility than the rest of Italy. A place whith it’s own personality and many options for tourism (beaches, landscapes, art, architecture, food and history).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Agritourism / Farmhouses / Agriturismi

The agriturismi are italian farmhouses in or around a rural area, that produce their own food. They cultivate their own produce and raise their own farm animals. Many agritourisms offer accomodation so you can live the whole farm experience, and others offer a restaurant, where you can taste typical regional food cooked with ingredients fresh from the farm. From the wine to the cheese to the bread, everything is done in-site and thus is very genuine.

I highly recommend that you eat in an agritourism at least once. They serve a fixed menu with a very reasonable price per person, but be warned that they serve a LOT of food. Usually you would start with appetizers, at least two first pasta courses and two second courses (fish or meat), dessert and probably abundant house wine. After all that you can have some coffee and a glass of some highly alcoholic liquor like grappa or amaro. You must book in advance as they normally have limited seating and might also have specific seating hours, so they can serve the whole restaurant at the same time.

There are a lot of agritourisms around Ragusa, I’ll mention a few I’ve been in:

At Azienda Agricola Magazzè it’s all about buffalo. This is actually one of my favourite agriturismi in terms of food quality. Maybe because I just love mozzarella… life without mozzarella is impossible.

Our menu included buffalo mozzarella cheese (made daily from buffalo milk) with prosciutto ham, pan fried breaded buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato-basil salad, and pizza with buffalo mozzarella for starters.
Meat dishes included grilled buffalo meat served with rosemary potatoes and buffalo meat stew.
For dessert we had cannoli with cream (made out of buffalo milk of course) and fruit.
Coffee, house wine, water and amaro were also included in the very reasonable price of €20.

Via Piemonte 38 - Cda. Magazzè, Ragusa (see map)
Tel +39 0932-664034 / +39 338-719-0914 / +39 349-3321181
Pre-fixed menu €20 per person.

on the old street from Ragusa to Donnalucata. They have a small zoo where you can see their own farm animals. Via Savonarola 3 - Donnalucata, Ragusa. Closed on Mondays - Tel +39-338-523-6025. Pre-fixed menu €16 per person (last time I was there). (see map)

Rosa Cambra: if you are staying in the seaside, you can try this agriturismo in Santa Croce, near Marina di Ragusa (Km. 0,800). Closed on Wednesdays. Tel: +39-0932-821238.

Al Casale: they mainly serve meat and fish. Marina di Ragusa (Km. 11.500) – Closed on Mondays – Tel: +39-0932-66-4009 (see map)

Agriturismo Lago Santa Rosalia: this agriturismo has a nice view to an artificial lake by a dam. Tel: +39-0932-227-544. (see map)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Gelato and Granita around Ragusa

The temperature is raising, and you had a day’s worth of that warm Sicilian sun. There is no better way to cool off and beat the heat than by having a Sicilian gelato. They are often hand-made daily in store, and you're not likely to regret a single calorie after tasting them:


Around Ragusa Ibla, you’ll find many ice cream parlors:

There is Gelati DiVini in Piazza San Giorgio: they have a wide variety of flavors you’ll hardly find elsewhere like wine, quince, carob and cactus pear or fichi d’india (this plant is originary from Mexico, but it has found it’s own dimension in Sicily, becoming part of the island’s distinctive landscape.)

Dolce Barocco has what for me is the the best ice cream around Ibla. Try the “dolce barocco” flavour and you can’t go wrong, it’s a copyrighted recipe made with a mix of carob fruit, hazelnut and almond.

Around the seaside, you’ll find good gelato in Marina di Ragusa around the main square (Piazza Duca degli Abruzzi), La Sorbetteria, Caffè delle Rose and Caffè Roma also known as Pippo Boccadifuoco (Pippo Fire-mouth, a funny last name for someone that sells gelato).

But among the local favorites there’s the Blue Moon Gelateria in Donnalucata, Scicli. They have a wide selection of ice cream flavours (44) and allegedly the best pistachio ice cream to be found. I suggest you try it, legions of fans can't be wrong... Open daily. Via Casmene 1, Donnalucata. Tel: +39-339-114-7033.

Eduardo is a renowned pastry shop in Santa Croce that also has really good ice cream. The ricotta flavour being my favourite here. They also have some of the best profiterols in town. Via Roma 53/55, Santa Croce Camerina. Tel: +39-0932-82-1545.


Granita is not exactly ice cream, it’s a sort of sherbet made of a frozen mix of water, sugar and flavoring. Usually you’ll find coffee, chocolate, pistachio, almond, lemon, strawberry and other fruits.

In an area full of great granita, picking favorites is tough. People will debate over whose are the best, but my personal favorite has to be Mandolfiore in the city of Noto. By all means, try it! The granita is a Sicilian classic, so you shouldn’t leave without at least trying it once.

Pasticceria Mandolfiore: absolutely FANTASTIC granita, by far the best I’ve ever tasted. This is the best kept secret (probably not so secret anymore, since it’s always packed) in the Valle di Noto. You have to walk a little out of the main street to find this place, but it’s really worth it. You’ll find it right across the Carmine Church.

They have a varied assortment of gelato (40 flavours) and granita (15 flavours,) including some creative flavours like peach with basil or cherry tomato with basil that are really good! Ask them to let you taste a few before you order. Almond, ricotta and figs (fichi) flavours are not to be missed. Their pastries are also as good as they seem in the glass display counter.
Via Ducezio 2, Noto, Siracusa – Tel: 0931-836-615

Bar Riviera: this bar in Donnalucata, Scicli has great granita, and it's usually packed in summertime around 5 am with young insomniacs. I recommend the pistachio granita with brioche. Via L. Pirandello 11.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ragusa and Ragusa Ibla Pubs

Here are all of the pubs and clubs in Ragusa and Ragusa Ibla reviewed so far:

Il Lucernaio is a laid back, dimly lighted, non-pretentious pub with a wide bottled beer selection. It also offers wines, cocktails, sandwiches and crepes. Ask for Gianni, who will gladly give you some interesting options and good advice. Via Orfanotrofio 20, Ragusa Ibla. Closed on Tuesdays.

Il Lucernaio's owner Gianni Tumino

Jester Pub I was told this pub and brewery is the main beer supplier of Ragusa. You have to give them credit for that. They have arguably the best range of irish draft beers, as well as whiskey, rum and other spirits. A good place for drinking the night away with friends. Viale Europa 294, upper Ragusa. Tel: +39 0932-252090.

Decanter: (reviewed in the Marina di Ragusa pubs section, but I’ll paste the description here as well so lazy folks don’t have to scroll down to read). Great cocktails served with a smile, while listening to cool music. What else can you ask for? Well… from 7 pm to 9 pm it’s aperitivo time. This is the Italian version of a pre-dinner drink and a snack, but it’s brought to very generous proportions at the Decanter. Basically you order an aperitivo, choose your drink, pick up a plate and taste some delicious hors d'euvres from the buffet. I personally like their Bellini, done with real peaches. Two locations for this lovely pub: one in upper Ragusa at Piazza Cappuccini 22. Tel: +39 338 430 4092. Also by the sea on the pedestrian boardwalk at Marina di Ragusa.

2 Volte this small pub is beautifully done in a very modern way, combining the local white stone with color accents such as wall paintings, blue countertops and red leather booths. There's a TV screen usually showing music videos or fashion shows. Friendly staff, cracking nice music and good aperitivos. The 2 Volte has a good selection of whiskey as well. Via Mariannina Coffa 4. Almost in the corner with Corso Vittorio Veneto in upper Ragusa.

Black & White this recently opened spot, features a black-and-white design scheme and offers theme-nights like Saturday's Argentine night with tango music and a steak and wine dinner for € 20 or Friday nights with guest DJs.
Via Risorgimento 30, Ragusa

Monday, May 28, 2007

Pubs in Marina di Ragusa

If you come to Ragusa in summertime, you will probably find high temperatures and a desserted city. That's because everybody is cooling off in Marina di Ragusa (Ragusa's seaside). To see map click here. Here are some pubs in Marina, where you can sip a beer while watching the sun go down on the sea.

Decanter great cocktails served with a smile, while listening to cool music. What else can you ask for? Well… from 7 pm to 9 pm it’s aperitivo time. This is the Italian version of a pre-dinner drink and a snack, but it’s brought to very generous proportions at the Decanter. Basically you order an aperitivo, choose your drink, pick up a plate and taste some delicious hors d'euvres from the buffet. I personally like their Bellini, done with real peaches. Two locations for this lovely pub: one in upper Ragusa at Piazza Cappuccini 22. Tel: +39 338 430 4092. Also by the sea on the pedestrian boardwalk at Marina di Ragusa.

Charleston not far from the Decanter, and about 50 yards from the main plaza in Marina di Ragusa, the Charleston has modern décor, orange-blue colored walls and sea view. Not an enormous variety of cocktails here but enough if you’re not too picky. It has tables and booths and usually a nice music selection. It’s one of the few pubs in Marina di Ragusa that opens all year round.

Tre Per Caso: By the sea in the pedestrian boardwalk at Marina di Ragusa right between the Decanter and Quattro Quarti. This two story pub is open all year round and has a nice sea-view terrace (closed in winter). They have a good variety of cocktails, and for those ones missing on the menu... they willingly prepared to my specifications a spicy margarita with tabasco sauce.

Anno Zero towards the end of the lungomare A. Doria lays this nice pub with outdoor tables. Loud music, good vibe and cocktails. Inside you'll find cool pictures hanging on the yellow walls and some wooden booths on your right hand side. I usually like this place because it's not as packed as the pubs closer to the main square.

Victoria Pub this place is almost hidden… it took me one year to realize it even existed even if I walked by dozens of times! Lungomare A.Doria. It will be on your left hand side walking from the main square, and you have to enter some sort of gallery right next door to a white building with boutiques. It has a more traditional feel with the wooden bar and pool tables on the back. They also make pizzas.

Quattro Quarti Very nice modern all-white décor. Sloooow service, regular food. Packed on summer nights with all the see and be seen crowd. Not really my kind of place, but good enough for people watching. By the sea in the pedestrian boardwalk at Marina di Ragusa steps away from the Decanter.

La Dolce Vita Caffè used to be a piano bar, with dim lighting and booths, now it turned into a semi-disco for youngsters. I 'm not too excited about the music selection. You'll find it towards the end of the lungomare A. Doria.

To drink by the sea, you have another alternative… do as the locals and head to one of the beach huts (chalets nella spiaggia). These are wood constructions with just a floor and a roof (if any) right on the sand. So you can drink al fresco right on the beach, and maybe swim a little if you dare. Some popular “chalets” are the Titanic located in Plaja Grande (driving from Marina di Ragusa towards Donnalucata you’ll see a sign on your right hand side. Get in the trail and drive until you see a ship on the sand. That is the entrance of the Titanic). The Margarita is located in the lungomare A. Doria, in Marina di Ragusa, a few blocks from the square. A new comer is La Ola, always in the lungomare A. Doria; the Pata Pata (lungomare in Sampieri), and the Tsunami, (Punta Braccetto, about 2 km after Punta Secca, on the way to the beach). By driving around and asking you can find many more, and that can be part of the fun.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

An easy recipe: Ragusan red pesto

Here's a recipe a great sicilian cook gave me. It sounds pretty easy and delicious
(serves 4 people):

You will need 10 fresh basil leaves, 1 garlic clove, 30 gr. of pinenuts, ½ teaspoon of concentrated tomato paste, 2 ripe tomatoes, 5 tablespoons of ricotta cheese, extra virgin olive oil, salt and grated parmesan cheese to taste. You can add sun dried tomatoes (optional)

Peal and remove the seeds from the tomatoes, springle with salt and leave for about half an hour so they loose some of the juice. Blend tomatoes with pinenuts, garlic and basil. Add olive oil and 2 tablespoons of sun dried tomatoes (optional). Mix the pureed ricotta cheese with the pesto mix from the blender (do not add ricotta to the blender). Serve as a topping for pasta and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bars & Cafes

I consider myself a coffee person, that’s why I can write extensively about this topic since I think I pretty much covered all the bars and cafes of the Ragusa and Marina di Ragusa areas.

First of all, it might be good to know that in Italy a bar is a place where they serve coffee, croissants and perhaps some drinks, but it definitely does not match the sports bar type and it doesn’t involve a lot of drinking. If you like your beer, then you should head to a pub instead. I’ll be posting about pubs soon.

A word about coffee…

Espresso coffee and all its possible combinations is the only kind of coffee served in Italy. So beware, if you walk to a bar and ask for a coffee, espresso is what you’ll get… and it tastes nothing like filter coffee. You’ll notice that espresso it’s served at the bar in small cups, and people drink it while standing. Mmmmh espresso… express… maybe that’s why they drink it like a tequila shot?

If you're looking for an alternative to decaf, you might try this italian invention: the caffè d’orzo, which is a decaf drink made out from barley that can be served like an espresso in a small cup or with steamed milk (cappuccino d’orzo). This is not really coffee, but it’s found in any bar and a lot of Italians have it specially in late evenings.

Caffè delle Rose: My ideal day would have to start with breakfast at this modern café located in a 20th century building. Good cappuccino, friendly service, but my favorite part are the amazing croissants (cornetti). You can have them filled with cream, ricotta cheese, almond cream, pistachios, chocolate, peach jam, whole wheat with honey or just plain. They are delicious fresh out of the oven. Once you experience them… you’ll be back for more.

In summertime I recommend you try the “caffè shakerato” (blended coffee with ice cream) it’s creamy, it almost melts in your mouth and it’ll give you enough caffeine to run the New York marathon in twenty minutes.

If you don’t like coffee, or even if you like it, they have a decent selection of gelato offering varieties such as pistachio, hazelnut, coffee (did I mention I like coffee?), chocolate, and the usual fruit flavours.

Caffè delle Rose is located right across the main square at Marina di Ragusa. Piazza Duca degli Abruzzi 25. Closed on Mondays.

Zizzi's Caffè: this little laid back bar in Piazza Libertà has the great tasting, if not creatively named, caffè barocco (coffee with cinammon). Worth a try while you are in upper Ragusa. There are three bars in Piazza Libertà, this one has tables outside and it's right under the Cammera di Commercio, next door to a fotocopy shop.

Ibla Caffè is a cozy cafè at the entrance of Ibla that offers paid internet access, so it can be handy to get your caffeine fix while deleting all that Viagra spam from your inbox.

Pasticceria Di Pasquale is the oldest pastry shop in Ragusa. A lot of people will tell you they have the best fresh-baked cakes, and pastries. The couple of times I was there I found the staff and owner unfriendly, but I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to profiterols. Corso Vittorio Veneto 104.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Overview - Food

People around here like their food… a lot. Here’s why:

Forget about eggs and bacon for a while. Here breakfast “colazione” can be an equivalent to the continental breakfast (danish pastries, croissants and a cup of cappuccino) or the sicilian breakfast which takes place mainly in summertime, and consists of “granita e brioche”. Granita is a kind of Sicilian gelato served usually in a glass cup (I will post an entry exclusively about granita in the near future); for those of you watching the line, you can add whipped cream on top.The brioche is a sort of semi-circular muffin, that you can dip in your granita... it’s OK to do it! If you are in a hurry, you can opt for the gelato sandwich! Yes… you read well… gelato stuffed into the muffin (brioche) Amazing what you can do in Sicily without getting arrested!

Your typical lunch will have (you guessed) pasta on it. Dozens of different kinds of pasta with hundreds of different “salsa”. After a year I’m still learning about new kinds of pasta and ways to cook it. Impossible to keep track of it all, but if you want to try something typical, ask for “cavateddi alla norma” (a sort of small gnocchi with eggplant and ricotta cheese) or try the ricotta ravioli with pork sauce. Another choice would be the “pasta col maccu”, I'm not a big fan of this pasta that involves fava beans paste.

Before dinner, around 7:30 pm, there’s the “Aperitivo”. You basically walk to a bar and ask for it, first you choose your drink, alcoholic or non alcoholic (I recommend the Aperol Spritz for those of you who like some alcohol in your drinks and Crodino for non alcoholics). Then they start bringing all kind of ors d’hoeuvres (olives, breaded mozzarella balls, pizza, chips, etc). Try not to stuff yourself too much because you still have to face dinner.

The usual dinner consists of an antipasto (appetizer), il primo (the first course) any kind of pasta, and il secondo (the entree) meat or fish. After these comes the fruit, followed by the dessert, the lemoncello (lemon liquor) or grappa (more liquor), and coffee of course.

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The reason for this blog

A year ago, I moved to Ragusa, Italy straight from Los Angeles. You would think that’s a big change, but not so big if you consider I was actually born in Argentina. In my mind three languages are starting to get all mixed up, so I feel it’s time to practice my english... it's scary how easily I'm beginning to forget things!

Sicily is a beautiful land, where history and nature combine together in a perfect mix. You can see architectural jewels, taste amazing food or hear interesting stories in almost every corner, but unfortunately not everything is so obvious or easy to find for the tourists without some insider’s help.

That’s why I decided to start this blog. To share my everyday experiences and help the traveler find it’s way around and know a bit more about this wonderful place (and to practice my english before I forget it all)

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