Just over the Ponte Santa Lucia is Mercato di Ortigia, the island’s outdoor market. You’d expect to find the market on Via Mercato, Market Street, but no, that’s just a taste. Via Mercato is mostly tents and carts piled with cheap clothing; hats, scarves, socks, and if you’re there at the end of December, red underwear. Sicilians must don a pair of red underwear on New Year’s Eve to guarantee good luck in the upcoming annum. Turn the corner to Via Emmanuele de Benedictis and the full brunt of Sicilian street life hits you in the face.
Crowds of shoppers, locals stocking up, chefs planning their menu, a sprinkling of tourists taking selfies jam the street. Vendors, anxious for business, shout at no one and everyone, telling the world that theirs is the best tomatoes or cuttlefish or pears or peppers. A seafood hawker brings in customers by singing Verdi arias, half a swordfish in front of him. He’ll happily chop a piece of the freshly caught sea creature to your specifications.
Anything that can be pickled, brined, dried or powdered is on display. Tiny peppers, preserved in oil sit in huge vats waiting to be scooped into plastic bags. Spices of every conceivable variety are piled high, each topped with a large aluminum spoon. Chocolate, from nearby Modica, is flavored with nuts or fruit or even hot peppers. And then there’s the produce. By mid-summer, there’s still asparagus to be found as well as zucchini blossoms. But the fruit of summer is also on display. Peaches, plums, pears and a rainbow of figs from pale green to purple to deep, deep, black. And, speaking of black, there’s the olives. Tiny black Saracena olives bathing in salt water and Nocellara del Belice, Sicily’s most famous olive and dozens of other lesser known varieties.