Our Sicilian guide this week, Alice Bifarelli, archaeologist and scholar and guest expert with Context Travel, wrapped up her tour of Sicily with an image of a bowl of Pasta alla Norma.
She said that this was a symbol of Sicily – an island whose various conquerors (and there were MANY) have left behind their influences making for a beautiful and distinct part of the world. Sicily didn’t ‘remove’ the impact of its conquerors but rather layered the next culture atop the last.
Thus this dish made of ::
EGGPLANT brought by the Arabs in the 9th century,
BASIL a symbol of royalty, introduced to Sicily from India most likely by Alexander the Great,
TOMATOES from the New World,
RICOTTA SALATA widely recognized as being created on Sicily, and
PASTA with legendary (and disproven) origins in China via Marco Polo but more likely created by the Sicilian Jews who inherited knowledge from the Arab-Norman era.
This dish truly symbolizes an utterly unique, beautiful destination on earth, and the melange of ingredients, when mixed together, results in a delicious meal with its name supposedly springing from the beloved opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini.
The story goes that someone served this dish to Nino Martoglio, a composer and poet from Catania who lived from 1870-1921, and he was so impressed he proclaimed: Chista è ‘na vera Norma! which means, this is a true Norma.
Anything called a Norma was HIGH PRAISE.
We agree that this dish and our tour of Sicily was a norma!