Lunching at ‘Carlo il Salumiere’ …

14 July, 2013

IMG_3028In any other city,  lunching at ‘Carlo il Salumiere’ would have been a pleasant experience.  Here, there was an added frisson and air of discovery.

Our visit began in the main sunny thoroughfare of  Ballaro’, one of the city’s biggest, oldest, noisiest and most colourful food markets, and continued into the tangle of narrow, shaded laneways that surround it. ‘Carlo il Salumiere’ is tucked away in one of these, in an elegant and stylishly restored 17th century palace.  At the end of the laneway, we discovered as we left, there is another palace; but this one, while still hauntingly beautiful, is derelict and abandoned.  The city is full of  these contradictions: breathtaking possibilities linger even in the darkest streets; then,  just around the corner,  there is neglect and abandonment, a seeming failure of will.

And always, there are questions.  They seem never to leave you alone.

In the Ballaro’ market where he’s been operating for years, selling the finest cheeses and salume –  hams, mortadellas, finocchione, salami – Carlo is known as ‘Carlo il salumiere’.  Last year, he opened a little restaurant in a side street off the market.  It proved to be so successful that a few months later he moved into premises on the ground floor of Palazzo Prestipino, in via San Nicolo’ all’Albergheria.

                          .

carlo - through to doorFinding Palazzo Prestipino wasn’t easy.  Although everyone seemed to know Carlo, and readily gave directions, we spent at least twenty minutes wandering up and down laneways, getting nowhere.  Then, just as we were about to abandon the search, we decided to ask two men who were closing their bar for the afternoon, pulling down metal shutters with that characteristic, rattling clatter.  Yes, they knew Carlo and began to explain exactly where he could be found.  Then, perhaps detecting a lack of comprehension, one of them said it would best if he took us there.  Back down the narrow laneway we’d just come up, brief turn to the right, sharp turn to the left, down another narrow laneway and there, beside a simple doorway, was a surprisingly stylish sign ‘salumeria  formaggeria’.  Left to ourselves, we’d never have found it.

All was quiet, and the place seemed closed, but our Samaritan rang the bell and we were greeted by Carlo in a wonderful stone-carlo 4 willowarched, high ceilinged space.   First, a delicatessen area with dark paved floor,  refrigerated cabinets of cheeses and hams and  smart white shelving displaying wines, baskets of bread, and packaged pasta;  then a large airy space that would once have been the carriage entrance to the palazzo.  White tables and cane-seated chairs on a stone floor, high white walls with simple willow branch decoration, and at the back a courtyard with an elegant arched doorway leading onto an ancient staircase of red Sicilian marble.  Everything had been done with great style and taste.  It was an environment as sophisticated as you would see anywhere – and probably more elegant than you’d see in many places.  Not everyone has a 17th century palace to work with.  We’d discovered a castle in the desert!

Another very professional, dark-maroon-aproned waiter asked if we would like to begin with some caponata – that typical Sicilian sweet and sour dish, based on melanzane, tomato and olives  – and then a fagottino of melanzane with orange.  The melanzane and orange  was exquisite – very Sicilian, but at the same time very refined – and the caponata one of the best I’ve had. Peter Robb’s lyrical description of his first encounter with Sicilian caponata came to mind:  “A heap of cubes of that unmistakably luminescent dark, dark purply-reddish goldy richness, glimmerings from a baroque canvas, that comes from eggplant, black olives, tomato and olive oil densely cooked together long and gently.” *  Then there was a choice of a salume and cheese platter or  various types of pasta or risotto.  There were possibly other things as well, but, for me, the vegetarian risotto with scamorza cheese was perfect.  That and a glass of Cusumano’s white Alcamo wine.

It was early in the week and the place was quiet.  At the only other occupied table, there was a group of young, casually, but impeccably, dressed Sicilians – well-built, olive-skinned, and affluent-looking, several of them in polo shirts of either pink or soft apple green.  We amused ourselves, wondering who they might be, where they might fit into the social structure – certainly they were not like the students, or young professionals I have met – or  the young men I see around the Vucciria market.

IMG_3035After lunch, we chatted briefly with Carlo, and left through the huge old doors of the palace.  This time we  continued down to the other end of the laneway to get our bearings – and now I knew very well where I was: Piazza Parrocchia, a square I’ve visited many times before to admire the romantic, but crumbling,  Palazzo Giallongo di Fiumetorto.  I remember the sense of wonder I had when I came upon this  building for the first time: turning a corner in this unprepossessing part of town and finding the remains of a once-elegant palace.  Since then, having read about the  troubled history of Pallazo Giallongo, my initial wonderment has been replaced by a feeling of sadness and sense of futility.  For years, there have been plans to restore this palace.  Money has been allocated for the restoration.  Nothing has happened. Meanwhile, anything of value, even the  iron railing from the balconies, has been stolen, the roof has collapsed, floors have given way.  Gradually, the building is falling into greater and greater disrepair.  It seems almost to be disappearing before one’s eyes.   Residents, fearful it will collapse entirely, ask where all the money has gone.  Until there’s a tragedy, they say, no-one will lift a finger.

Given the current economic crisis in Italy,  and particularly in Sicily, the likelihood of anything being done seems more remote than ever.  And yet, that day we had just come from another, exquisitely restored, palace, no more than 20 metres away.   As always, we were left with questions.

*   Midnight in Sicily

7 Responses to “Lunching at ‘Carlo il Salumiere’ …”

  1. Sally Says:

    Another reason to get back to Palermo …


  2. This is sad and fascinating – as you say – so elequently – there is always a question in sicily.

  3. Cate Says:

    My mouth is watering. Another place to add to the list… What a strange yet fascinating city Palermo is with its endless contradictions. Thank you for taking me off the beaten track in Palermo once again!

  4. Beate Says:

    We will be in Palermo in November for 4 days and I would love to do to this place . Do you know if it is open that time of year ?

    • kateludlow Says:

      Apologies for the slow reply. I’ve been away and am not long back in Palermo. I’ve just rung Carlo and found that the restaurant is open all November, for both lunch and dinner. Contact details are on the website: http://www.palazzoprestipino.it. If you go, I hope you enjoy it. Let me know – and let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.

      • Beate tenberg-spang Says:

        I just now -while actually being in palermo -read your reply .thank you so much for investigating. We went to Carlo and had one of the best dinner ever and plan to take friends there tomorrow … I just found the pricing somehow ” curious”…;-)))

      • kateludlow Says:

        I’m so glad you made it to Carlo – and that you share my view! I look forward to hearing more about the curious pricing …


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