A chef’s guide to where to eat and drink in Trapani, Italy

Food and life are entwined in this humble port region. After a decade in her adopted home town, chef Anissa Helou shares her best finds.

Trapani might be part of Italy, but for chef Anissa Helou, the port town in Sicily’s northwest evoked vivid memories of growing up in Lebanon and Syria: so much so that the James Beard-winning author of Feast: Food of the Islamic World relocated there from London. For almost a decade, Helou has immersed herself in Sicilian life, adding a rich new layer to her understanding of Mediterranean and Islamic food cultures. In Helou’s Trapani, food is about family, regional traditions and an intimate relationship with both land and sea. It’s also a place where a little local knowledge goes a long way.

Anissa Helou.

(Photo: courtesy of Anissa Helou)

Osteria La Dolce Vita

Eating out in Sicily feels like it hasn’t been touched by globalisation. It’s often very good, modest and honest food, and in the good places it can be excellent. You may have mediocre places, but nothing is particularly bad. The colours of the plates are often not that pretty, but the food is very tasty, at least in the places I choose to go to. Most are run by families, like Osteria La Dolce Vita, my favourite restaurant in Trapani. The husband is in the front-of-house and runs the business, while the wife cooks in the kitchen. She’s quite glamorous in a sort of Trapanese way. It’s funny, because she’s not very happy to be in the kitchen, but she cooks very good food presented in a limited menu.

Serisso 47

Trapani is a provincial town and the people there don’t like spending too much money. Serisso 47 is the only restaurant in town that’s on the fancy and expensive side and where the chef is actually known: if not on an international level then at least on a national level. His name is Gaetano Basiricò and he makes elegant Sicilian food that is absolutely delicious. You can have a cold pea and mollusc purée with datterini tomatoes and stracciatella; or a squid and vegetable dish inspired by the Sicilian dish, cacio all’argentiera (“silversmith cheese”).

Panificio A Maidda

I buy my bread from Panificio A Maidda. Pietro Cardillo is a really good baker and has worked for Niko Romito, one of the top chefs in Italy. He makes excellent sourdough bread from ancient grains with great attention to detail and he’s at the shop all the time. His focaccia filled with cheese and meat are also excellent. There’s also a nice new bakery and café called 242.

Kaya Kaya restaurant at Albergo Punta Tipa.

(Photo: courtesy of Albergo Punta Tipa)

Pasticceria Bellezza

Sicilian-style pizza is called “sfincione” because it’s spongier. Even my favourite baker doesn’t make a great sfincione, but there is a place in Trapani called Pasticceria Bellezza where I used to order very good sfincione from when I had big drink parties on the terrace.

Two farmers’ markets to try

There are two farmers’ markets I go to. Mercato del Contadino is permanent and takes place around three or four times a week in Via Virgilio. The other one is a Saturday market called Mercato Di Campagna Amica Di Trapani, which takes place on the seaside in front of a fairly new hotel called Albergo Punta Tipa. The restaurant at the hotel is worth checking out, even if it’s just for the location.

Naìs Beach Club.

(Photo: Luke Burgess)

Bar Incontro

Bar Incontro is a wonderful place. It has ready-made lunches that are not particularly sophisticated but quite tasty, like pasta al forno (oven-baked pasta with tomato sauce and ground meat). I go there for the arancini, which are the best in town.

Lo Stagnone

There’s also a surf spot called Lo Stagnone between Trapani and Marsala, with a few restaurants where the food is middling, but it doesn’t matter because the setting is fabulous and it’s great having a meal and a drink there while watching the sunset. Along the coast of Trapani, you can also find beach clubs. You pay a membership fee to have an umbrella and a chaise-longue and some of them have fairly good restaurants. It’s nice to go and have lunch or an aperitivo, even if you don’t intend to spend the day at the beach. A little further from the fishmonger is a beach club called SunClub. The owner has a brother who opened up another beach club next door called Naìs Beach Club.

As told to Jessica Rigg from the Local Tongue. For more chef’s guides around the world, see

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