This morning I make a stop at my butcher to buy some chicken. I’m not very adventurous when it comes to meat because I’m not that good at cooking it. Here the cuts are so different to those I get in Australia that I really have no idea what to ask for. I find the whole experience completely overwhelming and tend to eat mostly vegetables. It’s taken me the better part of a year to find a butcher who I’m not afraid to talk to in my broken Italian and ask advice of.
Today I spot something in his display cabinet I’ve never seen before. Nestled between some liver and tripe are several very large, oval-shaped meaty things with blue spidery veins. I point to them and ask him what they are. “Coglioni”, he replies. Balls. That’ll teach me for being curious. I don’t quite know what to say next so I busy myself with Giovanni, the young butcher, who is deboning my chicken thighs.
After paying and making ready to leave, Giuseppe, the proprietor, motions me over to where he is finely slicing some lamb’s liver for the elderly woman he’s serving. “Don’t go yet”, he says, “I want to show you something”. After the woman leaves, he reaches in behind the cow’s balls and takes hold of, and raises, a rope-like, piece of sinewy meat that is about a metre long. “What do you think this is?” he asks with a twinkle in his eye. I innocently reply, “spinal cord?” He shakes his head. I really have no idea. I glance at the balls once more and then it dawns on me what he’s holding in his hand. “Ho imaginato”, I say, “I have imagined”. The twinkle in his eye transforms into a big, cheesy grin and he raises his eyebrows and gives a knowing nod of his head. I ask him who would eat such a thing. “The way I cook it,” he replies and gestures with a circular movement of his hand in the air, “with lemon… mm mmm… it’s delicious!” He holds it up a bit higher so I get the full effect. “It’s nice and long, isn’t it?” he says. I blush a bright shade of crimson, giggle like a little girl, and make a quick exit.
One of my biggest pleasures in life is going to the market. The historical centre of Catania has two, but the closest one to my apartment is ‘Fera ‘o Luni’ or ‘La Fiera’ as the locals call it. ‘Fera ‘o Luni’ translates to Monday Market, so I guess at one point in it’s history it was probably only a weekly affair. Today the market trades six days a week and is a bustling hive of activity.
While it’s definitely the busiest day, Saturday is my favourite because the produce gets a little ‘exotic’. On Saturdays the Bangladeshis and the Chinese set up shop and sell things you can’t find in any other stall or supermarket. It’s on these days that I can sometimes get fresh coriander, bean shoots or garlic chives. At the moment sweet potatoes seem to be in abundance so my kitchen is full of them and the ones I purchased today still have fresh, damp soil on them. While I was buying them an Italian woman began firing questions at me. “What are they? What do they taste like? How do you cook them?” Despite my enthusiastic and simple suggestion to roast them in the oven with some rosemary she wasn’t convinced and walked away empty-handed.
On the steps leading up to the Chiesa del Carmelo there’s a woman who sells samosas, potato bhajis and pancake-like things of which I always buy a few when I’m there. This ritual is a bit like buying a Borek at the Queen Victoria Market – something you just have to do because you never know when the next time will be.
The bespectacled, silver fox who sells me my fruit always greets me with a smile. Although his produce is a little more expensive than most it is always top quality and he is one of the few vendors who lets me choose and bag up my own goods. Orange season has just kicked in and Sicilian oranges are the best I’ve ever tasted. I walk away several kilos heavier but extremely excited about giving my new electric juicer a work out when I get home.