Idda is Sicilian for “she” or “her”. Iddu is the masculine – “him” or “his” – and this word sounds much more uncompromising and abrupt than the Italian equivalents, lei and lui. To name a café, Bar Idda, is perhaps the Sicilian equivalent of the French chez, but it is not nearly as common. It implies homeliness and a feminine touch – welcome, warmth and simplicity – unsophisticated but authentic cooking and the use of simple ingredients which vary according to the availability of seasonal produce.
Bar Idda is a relatively new café at 132 Lygon Street, which I was introduced to by some friends who’d eaten there twice before while I was overseas. They thought I’d enjoy Bar Idda’s Sicilian menu. And I did, for all the above reasons.
Chef and owner of Bar Idda is Alfredo La Spina, who named the café in honour of his grandmother – she is the idda. Alfredo is of Sicilian heritage and his wife and her brother are also on the staff. Their father is from Sicily and their mother is from Calabria – regions of Italy that could be neighbours if it weren’t for the Straits of Messina, but which are still close enough to grow and enjoy similar produce, sharing some dishes in common with local variations. The spiced polpette (meatballs) cooked in tomato sugo are more a Calabrese specialty than Sicilian.
The menu is short and changes often. Sicilian food, like all Italian food, is regional. Although Sicily is a small island, a third the size of Tasmania, the regional specialties and local variations are numerous and sometimes subtle. You don’t have to travel far in Sicily to experience the differences and Sicilians will point out to you – probably in a much more forceful way than their northern cousins – the distinguishing features and ingredients of their specialty dishes.
Take for example the archetypical Sicilian dish, caponata.
My recipe and photo (above) of capoanata: CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE, Caponata as made in Catania)
Eggplant is the principal ingredient if in Palermo, but in Catania, on the other side of the island, peppers are the featured ingredient and some Catanesi would not dream of making caponata without potatoes! Put a Palermitano and a Catanese in the same room and they will argue endlessly about which one is the true caponata. They will never agree.
I can remember having a very animated argument waiting for some photos to be printed in a camera shop in Ragusa. I was telling the owner about my aunt’s skill in making ricotta ravioli (a specialty of the area) and he asked me if she used marjoram in her recipe. He was aghast when I told him she didn’t – his mother did – and soon everyone in the shop was voicing their opinion.
I appreciated the varied offerings on the Bar Idda menu. They suggest that Alfredo La Spina has read or researched Sicilian cuisine and is prepared to include dishes from all over the island (not just from his parents’ province).
The food is excellent value and the flavours are traditionally Sicilian which suggests to me that Alfredo has respect for the ingredients and will maintain the cultural integrity of the cuisine.
There are only Sicilian wines on offer and surprisingly the list includes a Pinot Grigio, which is a grape and style of wine grown and produced in the north of Italy. It goes to show, things change – even in Sicily.
The top image is of the Trinacria, the emblem in the Sicilian flag. The term trinacria means “triangle” as for the shape of Sicily. The Greeks called it Trinakrias, the Romans called it Trinacrium, meaning “star with 3 points”. There is a trinacria hanging in the restaurant.
This other image is of Padre Pio. One of the many versions of images of Padre Pio is also hanging in the restaurant (I said it is homely).
Padre Pio is not a Sicilian saint but his picture hangs in many houses (and some businesses – including the post office in Ragusa!) in Sicily.
Padre Pio was born May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, a small country town located in the Province of Benevento, in Campania, Southern Italy. He died in his parish of San Giovanni Rotondo, an agricultural community 180 miles from Rome on the Gargano Promontory in Puglia, a region in Southern Italy.
In 2004, Pope John Paul II dedicated the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church and Shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo to the memory of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.
(Saint) Padre Pio has become one of the world’s most popular saints and there are prayer groups with three million members and devotees worldwide. A 2006 survey by the magazine Famiglia Cristiana found that more Italian Catholics pray to Padre Pio than to any other figure.
The Sicilians love him. A statue of Saint Pio in Messina, Sicily attracted attention in 2002 when it allegedly wept tears of blood. Now there seem to be statues of Padre Pio in all Sicilian towns.
Alfredo, I found this quote and photo of Father Pio’s on the web:Humility and charity go hand in hand. One glorifies, the other sanctifies.
All the best Alfredo. I intend to visit often.
Marisa (and friends).
Bar Idda, 132 Lygon St, Brunswick East, VIC 305