There are some kind of food that you can only find in a particular place somewhere in a land far away sort of thing. They cannot be replicated because some of the elements needed are only present in that place like for example the kind of soil the plant grows, the type of water, the variety of the plant that grows only in that particular place.
There are also foods that have a very long history and people make that food for perpetuating their tradition more than for the taste. It may be a part of a ritual like thanksgiving or a revelry after a bountiful harvest. Or it could be a medicinal food, who knows?
Whether its one or the other, Mostarda is one of those foods that could well fit the two descriptions above. Unlike the north Italian mostarda, the Sicilian version doesnt use mustard seed.
Mostarda or Mostata in Sicilian vernacular, is made of grape wine and the ash of the vine. First, they extract the wine from the grapes then they burn the vine in an open air until it turns into ash, mix it with a little flour and cook it in a humongous pot. They use a ladle with a 2-meter long handle for stirring the syrup until it thickens.
Ash eh? I thought it was rather a charcoal medicine when I was told about the edible ash. I was dubious about its taste and I was going to find out soon.
Zigzagging our way up the Hyblaean mountain range, we went past rocky walls and fichi dinda (prickly pear) plantations. The rising hills and valleys reminded me of the Scottish Highlands. An hour later, we found ourselves in a valley called Militello, a baroque town in southeast Sicily, to see the Sagra di Mostarda e di ficho dindia (Festival of Mostarda and Prickly Pear).
Walking leisurely past the stalls, stopping occasionally at any point of interests, we arrived at a piazza where there was an awarding ceremony for the best chefs of the year and. Around the piazza are stalls selling the same stuff.
Without telling me what it was, my husband handed me a warm toffee with crushed almond nuts in a foil tray. Surprisingly, I didnt know that I was already eating mostarda with the ashes of the vine. It tasted just like any normal food, without any strange taste or weird feeling in the mouth.
The vine ash, as I later found out, is mostly comprised of alkaline salt. This kind of ash, just like an (activated) charcoal is reputed for absorbing the toxins in the body. The powder is as fine as talcum rendering a very smooth texture.
Taste-wise, I prefer the cooled mostarda pictured on the top of this article because it has become less sweeter.
Militello in Val di Catania (Militello in Catanian Valley), the official name of the town, is one of the six Sicilian Baroque Sites that includes Noto, Baroque Capital of the World, Ragusa, Syracuse, Modica and Scicli which are all UNESCO Heritage.
This is where I had the best vegetarian arancini so far. The rich risotto with spinach and cheese tasted so divine. Unfortunately, I couldnt take a picture as I was walking while eating. Arancini is a street food after all.
Because I was travelling with a group, I didnt have all the time to explore the town. However, the street where the market fair was held leading to the piazza afforded me to see a couple of the baroque churches.
A UNESCO Heritage Site within a UNESCO Heritage Town, Chiesa Del Circolo is a very interesting 18th century church. I wonder why its not included in Wikipedia list of churches to visit in Militello. Nevertheless, heres something that intrigued me when I went inside this church.
An eagle with its wings spread and the all-seeing eye. I think they are also found in a countrys one-dollar bill? What are they doing in an 18th century church somewhere in Sicily? Well, just my observation, really.
The Mafioso and the widow
Unlike Noto where there was various items depicting the Godfather or Marlon Brando, Militello had just these figurines of the mafioso and the widow. They probably had more if they did, I should have seen it.
Cheeses, Torrone and Cannelloni
You know you are in Italy when you see the ubiquitous cheeses in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but you know youre in Sicily when you see cannelloni and the prickly pears.
All this talk about foods tells you, Dont be shocked when you see Im bigger than my clothes.