Sicily’s Beautiful Roving Vendors

May 13, 2010

Of all the things I love about living in Sicily, at the top of my list are the venditori ambulenti, roving vendors.

Roving Vegetable Vendor in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Can you believe a produce market comes to me?

All I have to do is hang around the house in my sweats and wait for the vendor’s croaking call (Carrote! Asparagi!) to get a garden-fresh lunch. Sometimes, when I don’t appear in the street fast enough, he rings my buzzer to announce his arrival. I shuffle out in house slippers with the other Sicilian housewives.

The back of his truck overflows with floppy lettuces, cauliflower the size of your head, ripe tomatoes, wild artichokes, and just-plucked oranges—their green-leafed stems still attached as proof of freshness.

He never weighs anything. The total price is always €1.50, no matter what. Today I chose some fat fennel, wild strawberries, and a kilo of plump tomatoes. He smiled and tossed in two unexpected cucumbers “for the tomato salad.”

He shows up a few times a week, always chomping a toothpick. He flirts like crazy with all the housewives (Sicilians never outgrow this game). He shares his recipes, and I pretend to understand his rapid-fire Sicilian.

Then there’s the hawker with a megaphone who pulls up in a white van. He carries around a whole mini-market: tomato paste, biscotti, lentils, toilet paper, you name it. He saves me a trip down 100 steps to the nearest little Alis market.

I ask you: is this not a beautiful thing?


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Thanks everyone for your recent comments. A big CONGRATULATIONS to Christine Hickman for winning the random drawing on May 10 for Toni Lydecker’s Seafood alla Siciliana. Christine lives part-time in Perugia (Umbria), where she runs cooking classes. What a perfect fit for the book! Check out Christine’s website at

11 comments to Sicily’s Beautiful Roving Vendors

  • Emalene Renna

    I grew up in East Orange New jersey in an Italian neigborhood in the 50’s and I remeber the same street vendors but only one with a horse. There was also a vendor that came to sharpen knives most of us where either first generation Southern Italian or immigrants. Mostly I remember the breadman delivering fresh warm Italian bread everyday.
    Going to spend three weeks in Ragusa Ilba this October my plans are still tentative but love slow travel. Pick a different part of Italy every year and spend three weeks, that’s the way I love to travel.

  • Alè

    Io sono d’accordo con Beatrice! It is a fantastic service but…when they drive by in their Piaggos at 7 in the morning screaming “Unni mangi cachi…sardi frischi aiu…cu c’arriva li tasta cu nun c’arriva la pena c’arresta!!!” I think about how much it would cost to sound proof a already solid building! I do love the fact that I can buy underware from my balcony! La dolce vita, indeed!

  • Josephine Lissandrello

    When I was 18 years old I spent 5 months with my grandmother on Via Camerina in Ragusa Ibla. The via was about 10 feet wide, so when the vendors came very early in the morning it seemed as if they were singing out in my bedroom. There was definitely no sleeping late! I did, however, enjoy hearing their sometimes incomprehensible sales pitch. What I especially enjoyed were the wild vegetables that some of them sold after they had spent hours picking them in the fields. Those you would never find in the market and I definitely knew I would never taste them in the States.

  • John Schinina

    Jann, Your killing me with envy, I do remember all these wonderful vendors, you have to see and hear it to enjoy that pleasure. Enjoy, John

  • Margo Chavez

    Enjoy all those wondrous fresh foods for us. When green chile time comes, then you can envy us.

  • James

    What a great story. I believe I even saw that man you pictured during my very short stay in Ragusa Ibla last fall and got a blurry photo of him.
    It brings me back to my childhood growing up in Brooklyn. It was a Southern Italian/Sicilian neighborhood and every day the fruit and vegetable man came down our block shouting “ba-naaaan-ohs” and all of the black-clad old ladies and their American born daughters came out to buy their produce – the gossip was free! When I was very young in the late 1950s he had a horse and cart. This is how they did on the other side, I suppose and this is how they were going to do it here. Everything you can imagine was sold on the street – soap, cheese, soda, laundry supplies and knives sharpened. Each block was a village and each neighborhood a town.
    It sounds like you can still get all of this kind of stuff over there so enjoy it.

    • Jann

      It’s hard to believe that there were still roving vendors–much less horses & carts–in 1950s New York! Wow.

      I’m afraid that vendors may someday disappear in Sicily….so many other traditions are vanishing. The vendors are especially nice for the elderly here–many of whom have no car (and have a hard time walking up and down a zillion steps with heavy bags.)

  • yes, it is a beautiful thing. in the village of Stromboli there is a guy with his lapa who drives around yelling “pesce fresco” so loud that if you are near you’ll become deaf. his name? nobody knows. we call him “pesce fresco” or “fresco pesce”. haven’t decided, yet.

  • Fantastic! We can’t get even crumby pizza delivered to our home 3 miles from in the state capital of New Mexico, but you get garden-fresh veggies and a whole mini-mart right to yours – che fortuna per voi!

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