Palermo-style Street Food in Italy: Cow Spleen Just Like Mama Used to Make

Only real foodies will try all of the street food Palermo, Italy has to offer.

“Hmm, a walking tour of Palermo’s street food. That sounds harmless, easy, and delicious,” I thought to myself. Ahh, what a glorious thing, naïveté. I booked the tour. What greeted me in the morning was a balmy 104 degree day, complete with hot wind apparently blowing in from the Savannah desert, or perhaps Satan’s butthole, your guess is as good as mine.

After carrying a two-liter water bottle across town, which may as well have been a hot tub for small animals by the time I arrived at the tour’s meeting point, I encountered a group including four English people, a pregnant woman, and our Italian guide. The first stop! Pizza? Maybe some nice fried seafood? Vegetables…? These were all on my list of imagined possibilities, in fact much higher on the list than assorted cow hearts, throats, and intestines first fried and then boiled. (However this dish does rank pretty high on the lists “Things I Don’t Want to Eat” and “What Not to Feed Your Pet Cow.”)

The English people were suddenly “vegetarian” and the other lady was playing the pregnancy card to avoid eating bovine innards.

A fat Italian man placed a fistful into my outstretched hand and I swallowed it down, soon dismayed that the English people were suddenly “vegetarian” and the other lady was playing the pregnancy card to avoid eating bovine innards. Can’t say I blame her. Later on, I informed a native Palermitan that I had eaten fritolla, and he told me I was a disgusting fool. Can’t say I blame him either.

Okay, now pizza? No. Grilled sheep colon. I don’t want to talk about it.

Next were some basics to gain our trust and win us over: gelato, olives, what have you. Memories of the fried guts were replaced by sweet frozen delicacies, served in petite brioche buns with little lace napkins. But then BAM! They hit us with the cow spleen sandwich. Technically, this is a traditional Palermitan dish, since the poor would eat the leftover animal parts on the street after the wealthy nobility had claimed the more appetizing cuts of meat.

Emily Corrigan | Lets Go This is a crêpe, trust me the cow spleen did not look like this.

So I channeled the impoverished old-timey Sicilian in me and watched as a very greasy man slapped some spleen on a bun and poured an even larger amount of grease out of it. I doused the sandwich in lemon juice and took a tentative bite and… surprisingly not bad. Like a greasy, rubbery hamburger, but slightly worse. Hey, I’ll take it. It may not be homemade pasta, but it’s cow spleen just like someone’s mama used to make.

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