Food, Wine and other Beverages

What Is Granita, Why You Want it, And Where To Get It In Sicily

Summer in Sicily: it’s hot, it’s sticky, and all you really want to do is eat ice cream all day. However, that’s not such a great idea if you also want to wear a bikini.

Luckily, the Sicilians invented granita, which is just as delicious, but with none of the fat of gelato. That means, of course, that you have absolute license to eat it morning, noon and night.

And the best thing? I’ve done all the research to find you the best places to go, along with good times of day to visit. (It’s a tough gig, but somebody has to do it… )

What is granita? You mean besides delicious?

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The story goes that Sicilian granita was originally an Arab idea. They brought iced sherbet to the island, and the Sicilians adapted the idea and ran with it.

Made from ice and sugar blended with fruit or other natural ingredients, it knocks the socks off sorbet, its closest cousin. In Catania, where I live, granita is generally smoother than on the west of the island, and the most common flavours are mandorla (almond), pistacchio, limone (lemon) and cioccolato (chocolate), although you can and will find many others beside.

Once you’ve chosen your granita, you can decide whether to add cream (panna) or a brioche.

My preference is for plain granita in the afternoon or evening, but at breakfast time a brioche is a must. When it comes to the addition of cream, I find it too heavy with my favorite flavors, mandorla and pistacchio. However, on a summer evening, fruit flavours like gelsi (mulberry) or fichi (fig) topped with cream are utterly delicious.

When I asked some of my students where to get the best granita in Catania, they told me to go to Cafè de Paris, at Viale Ruggero di Lauria, 25. It’s a longish walk along the lungomare, which gets too hot to do later in the day, so I recommend going there for breakfast and sitting at a table in the covered outside area while you eat freshly-made-that-morning granita and brioche.

Cafè de Paris prides itself on its breakfasts and has its own bakery, so you can be tantalized with the smell of fresh pastry as you watch the sun rising over the sea, and the whole of Catania passing by on their way to work. Best start to the day ever.

Mid-morning, head to Dulcissima, at Via Dalmazia, 81, which is run by a lovely lady called Silvana. She makes her gelato and granita by hand every day, so the choice of flavours is limited, but it’s guaranteed that whichever one you choose will be delicious and as fresh as fresh can be.

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Make sure to set aside plenty of time when you go in; she loves to chat to her customers! The first time I visited Dulcissima, I ended up sitting on the yellow bar stool at the side of the counter in the tiny shop for nearly an hour, gossiping about life, the world and everything in it with Silvana and her husband, Maurizio, while spooning down some of the best granita I’ve ever eaten.

Silvana is originally from the west of the island, so her mandorla granita is chunkier than the traditional Catanese style. The almonds are chopped fresh and the sweetness of the sugar complements their slight bitterness, while the ice refreshes. One bite and you’ll be hooked.

If almonds aren’t your thing, however, she also makes delicious dark chocolate and zingy lemon granita, as well as varied gelato flavours and pastries. Highly recommended.

Spinella, at Via Etnea, 300, is a Catanese tradition and well worth a visit. Situated opposite the gardens of Villa Bellini, at the junction of Via Umberto, it’s been there since 1936 and is constantly full.

Gelato, granita, pastries, savoury foods – they do it all. One of the best ways to spend a summer afternoon in Catania is to snag yourself an outside table at Spinella and watch the world go by.

You’ll probably have to queue, but there isn’t generally too long a wait, so chat amongst yourselves and start thinking about what flavor you’re going to have. The service is often grumpy, but the granita more than makes up for it. My standard combination, mandorla and pistacchio, is delicious here.

On their own each one is good, but there’s something about the two combined that turns this into a glassful of utter heaven. Grab yourself a spoon and tuck in.

Another Catania institution, Caffè Europa is situated close to the lungomare, at Corso Italia, 302. It’s been there since 1962, when Corso Italia was little more than a wasteland.

Nowadays, it’s the most fashionable shopping street in Catania, and Caffè Europa is always full of people sitting outside to see and be seen. An added bonus is that the cakes and ices here are seriously good.

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It’s one of my favorite places for hot chocolate in the winter, but in summer I replace the hot chocolate with granita, sit down and treat myself to a relaxing half-hour of eating sweet stuff and watching the fashionistas go by.

At night, head for Ice Cafe Comis at Piazza Bellini, 8/9. This area is known locally as Teatro, due to the Teatro Bellini which stands on its southern side.

It is where young (and young-at-heart) Catanese congregate to drink, chat and eat granita after they’ve done their nightly passeggiata, or stroll, along Via Etnea. The granita at Ice Cafe Comis is fantastic, but what really makes it worth going to is that Teatro is an absolute haven for people-watching.

I once saw a middle-aged couple, dapper and elegant in retro 50s-style clothing, out for a walk with their pet. It was the woman who caught my eye first, with her perfectly coiffed hair and stylish clothes.

Then I looked down at her feet and realised that the animal she had at the end the leash was not a dog, but a cat, as beautifully-groomed as she was, enviously eyeing the granita the woman held in her other hand as she talked to her husband.

Granita and the Catanese: what a wonderful combination.

Photo: Kate Bailward ©

English girl in Sicily: loves cats; hates trifle; drives like a maniac. Becoming more Sicilian day by day. For more visit Driving Like a Maniac

This article has 10 comments

  1. Margo Millure

    Did I tell you I’ve been craving a “zingy lemon” granita and brioche for over two days now. I’m so looking forward to learning more from you about Sicilian food… I have to be careful and not read on an empty stomach though!

  2. Katja

    Oh my goodness, Margo, I can’t wait to get back and eat some! One week to go … I’m on a three-line-whip from my mother to do a recipe exchange every month from now on. Don’t tell her, but I’ve already given her all my best ones. Guess I’ll just have to find some new ones – which means doing a lot of testing. All in the name of research, though, right?

  3. Margo Millure

    Yes. You sound so much like me w/ the recipes. I have a limited repertoire. Tasting, yes! Do you miss italy? Dumb question? Are you going back?

  4. Katja

    Oh, I miss Italy LOADS. Happily I’m going back in under a week’s time – wheee! I mean, it’s nice to see my friends and family in the UK, but Italy’s home now, so it’ll be great to get back. Plus, I’m dying for some proper granita hehehe.

  5. Kate Turner

    I’m off to Catania in September so I’ll definitely be following your tips! The only problem is my mouth is watering already at the prospect of trying granita and I’ve still got over a month to wait… Great article!

  6. Katja

    Thanks Kate! If you’d like someone to show you around the city then do get in touch. How long are you going to be here for?

  7. Grazyna

    Hello Katy!
    Similar to you once I was on a 6 months contract based in Catania, last year in the summer, and this summer I decided to quit my job, and just come and live in Sicily from now on 🙂 Recently I have been showed and I had pleasure to eat really….really….but I am saying it as the last verdict, of the best granita in the whole Sicily. The place is called CONDORELLI, it is a company that produce sweets, like latte di mandorle, cakes and granita, and they also have a small caffeteria under this name Condorelli, in Belpasso, under Etna – next to Nicolosi. When i ate it, for a moment I went to sicilian paradise, if you are lovers of Granita, this is the best place to eat it, recommended by all sicilian people I ever know here xx

  8. Kate Bailward

    Hi Grazyna!
    Great to hear from you – and how exciting that you’re also in Catania! I’m here full-time, too, so I’ll have to check out Condorelli. I don’t get out to the suburbs very much, but my plan for this summer is to do some more exploration. Maybe we could meet up for granita one day? 😀

  9. Anna

    Ciao Kate!

    I’m in Catania studying for the summer and have heard about coco (coconut) granita…where is a good place to find it? I’m a huge coconut fan!


  10. Kate Bailward

    Ciao Anna!

    Cocco isn’t generally a flavour that I go for, but my friend Deanna (who is also a big coconut fan) says that the coconut gelato at Etoile D’Or on Via Umberto is good. I’m not sure if they do cocco granita, but it has to be worth stopping in to find out. 🙂 If Comis Ice Cafe does cocco granita then that would also definitely be worth a try – I’ve not had a bad flavour from them and I’ve eaten there a LOT … Finally, give Lizzo gelateria on Via Etnea, between Piazza Università and Quattro Canti, a try. They tend to have a big range of granita flavours (and if you’re not specifically after cocco, then try their cioccolato fondente and gelsi flavours because they’re FAB.)

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