Bread and spleen: the genuine Sicilian street food
At the very end of the market called Ballarò, in Palermo, right by the exit facing Tukory street, there’s a little food stall that sells u pani câ meusa, bread rolls filled with fried spleen.
- Tuesday, 20 May 2014
A man that goes by the name of meusaru picks from a deep aluminium pot a number of thin slices of spleen and lungs, that have been previously boiled then fried in melted lard, and gently fills a sesame seed bun called vastella with the offal; sometimes, gristle from the throat (scannaruzzato, that’s the exact word) is also added to the mix, to please the daring locals who consider this food a real treat; final touches to the prepared panini usually include either lemon juice or grated ricotta cheese (in which case, the sandwich will be defined maritatu, married).
This weird Sicilian street food, that never fails to astonish the bypassing tourists, has an interesting, quite unexpected story that dates back to the Middle Ages.
Approximately until the end of the 15 th century a Jewish community flourished in Palermo: the local Jews lived in a ghetto and had many trades in there. The most relevant craft that the Jews took on in Palermo was butchery, which makes sense since ritual slaughter is a cornerstone of the Jewish religion, allowing practicing Jews to distinguish kosher from forbidden meat.
Jewish butchers didn’t ask for money in return for their work: they were paid in kind, being permitted to save offal from the butchered animals; they boiled and fried spleen, liver and other humble parts and used them as filling for sandwiches, that were sold to local gentiles who hanged out in piazza dei caldumai, offal sellers’ place.
When king Ferdinand II of Aragon, in 1492, formally expelled all Jews from Sicily, the ancient trade of Jewish meusari passed to Palermitan caciottari (cheese dealers), who used to sell bread with cheese but had never entered the business of offal until then.
Pani câ meusa has survived the test of time and is still, to this day, a classic recipe of the traditional Sicilian gastronomy: it’s a very humble dish, based on cheap, unpretentious ingredients, but it is precisely in its homely simplicity that lies its timeless charme.
Copycat recipes of traditional street eats are never quite the same as the originals; however, this recipe is worth a try: even if home made pani câ meusa isn’t exactly the same as the stuff you can eat in Palermo, cooking weird ingredients such as spleen, lungs or throat will still be an exciting experiment!
1 piece of boiled veal spleen, cut into thin slices
1 piece of boiled veal lung, cut into little bites
1 piece of veal throat, cut into little bites
sesame seed bread buns
lard or olive oil to fry
In a cast iron pan melt the lard or heat the oil. When the melted fat is hot, gently fry the prepared boiled meat: first the lung and throat bites, last the spleen.
In the meantime, warm up the bread in the hot oven or in a pan.
Cut the bread in two slices, remove some of the soft crumb from the inside and stuff with meat.
Press the bread nicely so that all the juices from the meat are absorbed by the crumb, then serve straight away.
Feel free to add some freshly squeezed lemon juice or some grated aged cheese.