So carnival is fast approaching and that means two things:
- Everyone is looking for the perfect costume
- The appearance of Chiacchiere in the bakeries!
Ok, let’s address point number one first:
Carnival in Sicily has a less refined but more vibrant air than the elegance of the Venice carnival. In fact the Sciacca carnival which is the oldest in Sicily even promotes itself on this fact. Its ad tag-line is ‘Sicily’s oldest and Italy’s most fun’. Whereas the Venice carnival is all about elaborate, ornate costumes and elegant procession, Sicily reacts to carnival in true Sicilian spirit, where the emphasis is fun…and lots of it!
The Saturday during the carnival period there are lots of parties where everyone dresses up in costumes and goes dancing (incidentally, there are some classic carnival ‘tunes’ which are played at every carnival party, think along the lines of the ‘Macarena’ and you get the impression).
Costumes range from the ornate standard of Venice to the throw-together fancy-dress-party look of someone who forgot it was fancy dress until the last minute. One thing is certain, though: in Sicily the children are definitely going to be better dressed than the adults.
Around carnival schools have a day where the children attend in costume. In the minds of the children the costume is an extremely important thing, with costumes being decided on even months in advance. Children’s clothes shops sell rather expensive, but beautiful costumes. And if you step inside any haberdashery looking for sewing patterns or fabric at this time of year, they are likely to think that you want to make a costume, as I discovered recently.
Many cities and even small towns have carnival parades with elaborate floats and dancing troupes. Even the tiny island of Marettimo (population 300) has a carnival procession. There is a real party atmosphere about the Sicilian carnival with music, dancing and ‘coriandoli’ a-plenty.
A Side Note on Coriandoli
Coriandoli is the Italian word for paper confetti (actual confetti are sugared almonds). It is sold by the bag-full and one thing’s for sure, you’re going to leave any carnival party or procession covered in the stuff. It’ll be haunting you for the next few days. Every time you put on your coat more of it will appear from some coriandoli wormhole all over your nice clean floor.
Now, the best part about Carnival, point number 2:
These are fried pastry ribbons dusted with icing sugar. Chiacchiere are a carnival tradition all over Italy, not just Sicily. Historians believe they originated during Roman times. Roman women prepared an egg and flour based sweet fried in pig fat to celebrate Saturnalia. These treats were called ‘frictilia’.
Others argue that they originate in Naples or at least take their name from there. There is a story about a queen who wanted to chat but then would get hungry and so call her chef to make her a snack, a treat he called ‘chiacchiere’. Chiacchierare is the Italian verb ‘to chat’.
Now, although you can apparently make these in the oven as well, Sicilians are not ones to not fry things if they can. I don’t think I’ve ever seen oven baked chiacchiere here.
Chiacchiere are light, crispy pieces of yummy-ness, so I urge you:
Go forth, buy chiacchiere and experience the true taste of Italian carnival people!
I most definitely did. Warning, they are seriously moreish!