SHOP LOCAL IN NOTO

Pasta, pistacchio –
perfetto!

Noto is a Baroque town bathed in gold, that sits atop a mountain on the south-eastern side of Sicily. It’s high enough that you feel you can touch the clouds.

What brought us to Noto was a Chef’s Table episode about the best gelato in the world. Very millennial to travel to a city just for a taste of something described on Netflix, but hey, that’s who we are. What we didn’t expect was the most incredible selection and flavour of the local mercatos.

The majesty of the city impresses itself upon you the moment you step off the bus.

To enter Noto, you walk down a street canopied by aged old trees, with wide sidewalks, iron benches every few meters, and vendors selling everything ‘Noto’: lemon-scented soaps, almonds roasted then formed into logs of sugar, pistachio creams, and homemade candies of every variety. The vendors aren’t pushyit’s actually the reverseyou’re intrigued by the colours and smells.

Walking down Noto’s main thoroughfare invites you into the spellbinding beauty of the city. The buildings and sidewalks are bathed in honeythe way the setting sun bounces off the buildings, and sidewalks makes you believe in the fabled Greek story of Midas, the one with the golden touch! The main cathedral, the one shot everyone takes for Instagram, is so impressive; people are standing, rather than sitting on the slowly inclining steps, looking up at its beauty. 

Touristy? Yes, but not overwhelmingly. Here, you’ll find mostly Italian touristswell-dressed, taking in the sights and sitting having espressos, gelatos, paninis and pastas from the many trattorias and gelaterias that line the street. What they come for is the Baroque beauty, due to an earthquake in the 1700’s that saw the city rebuilt in the latest Baroque-style. 

With a place this beautiful we weren’t expecting to be swept awayfirst, by our AirBNB, an old seamstress studio in the ‘local quarter’, and then the food. It makes sense though, given the reason we came hereCaffe Sicilia’s gelato.

What drew me into this Chef’s Table episode was the simplistic and diverse beauty of the Caffe’s approach to food and flavour.

On our first official day, we stumbled into Pasta Fresca da Sabrina. She didn’t speak a lick of English, nor we, Italiano, but the charades that stood in for language workedwe picked up fresh sausage-stuffed ravioli. Walking down the main thoroughfare, we knew we had to find some pistachio pesto, which we found at a most touristy shop, where the lip-glossed and Versace-bloused lady spoke perfect English and urged us to try a sardine spread. Keeping on, we headed back up the many sets of worn stone stairs to our AirBNB. We saw a man offloading what looked to be fresh tomatoes and so, we manoeuvred ourselves “thataway”.

He was, sure enough, offloading crates of fresh fire-engine red tomatoes and basil-green zuchinnis.

His small shop was full of fresh produce: lettuce of many varieties, green, red, big, small, vined, non-vined tomatoes; oranges, lemons, eggplant, and on and on. We simplified, picking up tomatoes and with one more stop for fresh pane at a bakery around the corner, skipped off to our AirBNB cucina. Well, Andrew skipped. 

Our AirBNB was absolutely perfetto tiled floor, loft with a small skylight for the bedroom, and a kitchen with a gabled door that opens directly onto a private alleyway. The kitchen was also stocked; we arrived to fresh garlic, one dried hot pepper, local extra virgin olive oil and sea salt that was so thick that it reminded me of wet sand. It was a fantastic mealcheaper than anything you could buy in town, and just as delicious. It also inspired us to buy fresh produce the next few days we were there. 

Noto was delightful. The farmer and cheese vendor selling produce from the truck in a small piazza around the corner, where the Nonna’s do their daily shuffle, saw the excitement in my eyes and despite not being able to communicate, we connected over produce. And so, the one thing to do when you go to Noto is not just Caffe Sicilia for the treasure of their gelato or walk the famous steps of the cathedral

… but buy some fresh produce, have yourself a delicious BNB-cooked meal and immerse yourself in the pleasures of Italian living.