italian food  July 2011
    by Nunzio Romano

Italian Street Food: Arancini

Nowadays we are accustomed to thinking street food is a modern day phenomenon, fitting of a fast-pace lifestyle. In reality, the sale and consumption of food along the roads dates back to Ancient Rome.


If it were possible to take a walk through the streets of imperial Rome, in fact, you would certainly stumble upon a hawker selling “panis ac perna,” grape must sandwiches stuffed with ham cooked in the water of dried figs. The ancient Romans used to enjoy walking through the streets of the city, while munching on one of these sandiwiches.

On second thought, there are many traditional Italian foods that could be considered street food: gelato, panzerotti and arancini. There are dozens of Italian recipes for foods to be consumed rapidly the street and that are often the result of centuries-old traditions.

Italian rice balls or arancini, for example, are commonly made in Sicily. Arancini are prepared throughout the island, where they are are packed, stuffed and fried differently in different areas. In the west, in fact, they usually called “arancine” (female form) and usually have a spherical shape, similar to that of a small orange, while in the east are called “arancini” (male form) and have a conical shape.

These small differences, however, do not affect the taste of this succulent treat. The classic recipe calls for a meat sauce as the filling, but now there are several variants that include fillings of all types, including fish, vegetables or cheese sauces.

As mentioned, the story of these particular preparations is quite old and dates back to around the tenth century, when, during the Arab domination of the island. At the time, there was a custom of placing a large plate filled with saffron rice enriched with meat and vegetables in the center of a banquet table. Guests were encouraged to help themselves by taking a handful of rice. Originally, therefore, the Sicilian rice ball was nothing but a ball of rice accompanied by some seasonings.

Later, the court of Frederick II came up with the idea of breading and frying the rice balls so that the emperor could carry them with him while hunting. The balls were easily transportable, non-perishable and tasty. Arancini were probably created to meet the need of those looking to consume a meal in a hurry because they are busy with other things, just as it happens today with street food. Rice balls have remained popular in Sicily where it is easy to find people of all ages who are about to bite into one of these delicious rustic snacks.

If you have a planning a trip to Sicily, then I suggest you buy a freshly-fried rice ball in a deli and enjoy the island while taking a stroll through the streets of the city. However, if you do not have the good fortune of having a trip planned to Sicily, you can make your own arancini at home using this recipe created for you by our chef!

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“Italian Street Food: Arancini”

  1. Lovely story. I have found various kinds of arancini in Rome~ They are all delicious. Great info.

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