Fundamentally, Sicilian pizza is a focaccia-style type of pizza that has been made in Sicily where it has gone by the name of Sfincione since the 17th century. While there are several styles of pizzas made in Sicily, Sfincione is the original and most influential among them. So despite its humble status as a street food sold by the slice in Sicily, Sfincione is the one true Sicilian pizza.
Sicilian Pizza 101
Can we talk for a minute about how amazing Sicilian pizza is? Not American Grandma pie or deep dish pizza, but authentic made and eaten in Sicily pizza. We’re talking about Sicilian pizza aka Sfincione, the street food in Sicily.
On an extensive road trip through Sicily, Paolo and I ate a lot, and I do mean a lot, of pizza. Consequently, I am obsessed for two reasons.
First, true Sicilian pizza eaten in Sicily (aka Sfincione) is uncomplicated and yet scrumptiously satisfying. Secondly, unlike Neapolitan pizza, Sicilian pizza is one of the easiest types of Italian pizza to make at home because it does not require a pizza oven.
In America, Sicilian pizza refers to several types of pizza like Grandma Pie and Detroit-Style pizza. Both of which take inspiration from Sfincione. While neither of these is actually Sicilian pizza, what they all have in common is a tall thick crust and a square shape that originated in Sicily.
However, that is where the similarities stop.
What is Different about Sicilian pizza?
Three main things make Sicilian pizza unique from other pizza styles including the flour, the leavening, and the traditional cheese which is not mozzarella.
Let’s start with the flour. When it comes to American-style Grandma pie, most recipes call for All-purpose flour. While in Sicily, recipes call for 00 Flour or Semolina made from hard durum wheat. The result is a more earthy, flavorful dough.
The second thing that makes Sicilian pizza different from both Grandma Pie and Neapolitan pizza is the leavening. Sicilian pizza is sauced before leavening is complete. This allows the dough to soak up some of the sauce itself.
Finally, believe it or not, Mozzarella is not a traditional Sicilian cheese. Can you guess what types of cheeses are traditional? See our seven fun facts below for the answer.
Seven Sicilian Pizza Fun Facts
While there are several types of pizza in Sicily, our seven fun facts focus on the most influential one, Sfincione as featured in the curated video below.
Sfincione Means “Large Sponge”
Sold in rectangular slices across Sicily, it’s easy to see where this Sicilian street food gets its name.
In the Sicilian dialect, Sficione means “large sponge.”
Sficione has a rustic double-leavened, focaccia-style dough that is tall, soft, thick, and well… sponge-like. Perfect for holding toppings till you’re hungry.
Double-Leaven Dough is Sauced Early
What makes Sicilian pizza different from other Italian pizza styles? Primarily the double-leaven dough. Secondarily before the second leavening the dough gets a thick layer of sauce. This double-leavened dough gets deliciously tall and soaks up sauce like a sponge.
Nuns Originally Made Sfincione to Feed the Poor
Sicilian-style pizza arose from a need to feed the poor in Sicily. During the 17th century, nuns from a monastery in San Vito added savory yet inexpensive ingredients like béchamel, chicken offal, and peas to simple focaccia bread for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Hence the tradition of Sficione or Silician pizza was born.
Before Panettone There was Sfincione
Panettone is a sweet bread with candied fruit. Once Italy unified in 1861, Panettone became a national symbol at Christmas.
What’s funny is that in Sicily, Sfincione was the go-to for Christmas celebrations.
It’s hard to imagine swapping something so savory for something so sweet. Perhaps that’s why bakeries across Sicily still sell so much Sficione in December.
Mozzarella is not a Traditional Cheese on Sicilian Pizza
Remember those nuns who made Sfincione for the poor? Their recipe influenced the meals of Prince Giuseppe Branciforte di Butera in 1650. Only the aristocratic version of Sfincione had rich ingredients from the town of Bagheria.
Anchovies, fresh tuma cheese, grated pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs, and extra-virgin olive oil. A recipe that became known as Bagherese Sfincione.
After World War II, the price of tomatoes dropped. Only then did they become a common ingredient in Sicily.
When Sfincione made its way from Bagheria to Palermo, the sauce had turned red with tomatoes.
Sfincione Palermitano with Caciocavallo cheese was born.
In other words, the two most traditional Sicilian pizzas do not have mozzarella cheese! Still, they are absolutely delicious and a must-try when in Sicily.
Sicilian Pizza is the Street Food of Sicily
Nearly every bakery, pizzeria, and rotisserie across Sicily sell Sfincione. Can you imagine walking through Palermo and catching the scent of freshly baked pizza at every turn? How could you ever resist? So it’s not hard to see why Sfincione is the street food of Sicily.
Sfincione is Not the Only Type of Sicilian Pizza in Sicily
Not only are there different recipes and versions for Sfincione across Sicily, but there are different types of pizza in the hearts of Sicilians.
Scacciata is a thin, crunchy Sicilian flatbread stuffed with local meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Like Sfincione, Scacciata is a popular street food in Catania, Sicily.
It’s an exciting time to try pizza in Sicily right now! Several Sicilian pizzerias are turning heads in Italy with innovative twists on Neapolitan pizza. Imagine a taller Sfincione dough meeting the classic round Neapolitan-style pizza, and you get the idea.
Best Sicilian Pizza in Sicily Map
If you find yourself craving Sficione so much you find yourself in Sicily as we did, here’s a map to some of the best Sicilian pizza in Sicily! Each pizzeria included below is an award-winning pick by Gambero Rosso.
Eating Sicilian Pizza in Sicily
I had my first slice of Sficione in the small coastal town of Scopello, Sicily.
Having been distracted by stunning sea views, we arrived in Scopello later than planned. Since the promise of a hike through the Zingaro Nature Reserve lay ahead, we had to find something for lunch.
Because it was late, all the restaurants in town were closed. Bar La Palma was our only option.
Having stopped in bars across Italy countless times on road trips, we thought we’d find sandwiches. Instead, we found Sficione!
Snapping up two slices, we grabbed two Messinas and made our way to a table outside.
That first bite was unforgettable. A spongy dough soaked in a savory, bright sauce of tomato, Sicilian olive oil, and oregano. I was in heaven. How could something so humble be so satisfying?
Sitting back to enjoy my last few bites, I finally noticed we were among a crowd of local workers and one persistent cat. While we had shooed the cat away from our pizza multiple times, the workers took turns feeding it small bits of their own.
That’s one lucky cat I thought. For it and the local workers, this was likely an everyday lunch. Just a slice of Sfincione, a beer, and gorgeous views all around.
Eating pizza in Italy is a very different experience than eating pizza in America. For example, Italians eat pizza with a knife and fork. Despite being the fast food of Italy, Italians take their pizza very seriously. As evidenced by our Best Pizza in Turin, Italy article which included 11 award-winning pizzerias.
I love sharing the story of my first slice of Sfincione in Sicily because to me it sums up Sicilian pizza. Sicilian pizza is a savory, focaccia-style pizza that has earned its place as the street food of Sicily. It’s comforting, uncomplicated, accessible, and crave-worthy. In other words, exactly what the best street foods all over the world are about.
- Pizza al Padellino, Pan Pizza from Turin, Italy!
- 10 Unique Types of Pizza in Italy You’ll Love!
- Contorni Meaning, Plus 13 Italian Menu Side Dishes
- 21 Traditional Sicilian Food Faves Not to Miss in Sicily
- 35 Colorful Pictures of Sicily Destinations
- 21 Surprising Sicilian Volcano Facts
- Is Sicily a Part of Italy? Yes! Yet Sicily Has Autonomy, Here’s Why
Why Trust Us
Paolo was born and raised in Italy and brings native Italian knowledge to the team. I’m Brandy, an Executive Producer by trade with experience working for Food Network, Discovery, InStyle, and HBO before becoming a Co-Owner in ALOR Consulting with Paolo.
Together our experience in the hospitality, food, and beverage space includes Hilton Hotel Restaurants, Provenance Hotels, Your Neighborhood Restaurant Group, and numerous spirits and brewery clients.
After becoming dual Italian-American citizens, we moved to Italy to live out our early retirement dreams. Now we travel to Italy’s most popular destinations and explore hidden gems full-time from our home base in the Italian Alps. On ALOR Italy, is an Introverts Guide to Italy where we share tips to help you avoid crowds and save money on your next trip to Italy. Subscribe via email for a taste of la Dolce Vita in your inbox.