One of the things that I love about Sicily (and I think this is true about all of Italy) is how often one can find an amazing gastronomical delight completely by accident. Now, not every meal is a gastronomical delight… the time our friends invited us to a picnic and served barbequed sheep’s testicles comes to mind. But, sometimes Nick and I will stop in at a little bar or restaurant that looks like some hole in the wall and will discover something wonderful that keeps us coming back. The Caffe Zamenhof is one of those places.
Ribera is a town about 20-30 minutes from Cianciana (depending if you drive like most Sicilians, or if you drive like an old man in a Fiat Panda like I do). Every Thursday morning is market day and the market in Ribera is a good one – big (for a town rather than a city), busy and lots to choose from. One day, after the market, Nick and I were looking for somewhere to get a cold drink and something to eat, preferably with air conditioning. We wandered down the street from the market, about 5 minutes away to the Piazza Zamenhof (I know, an unlikely name for a piazza in Sicily – one day I will have to do a post about the names of streets and piazzas) and found the Caffe Zamenhof. From the outside it looks much like any other bar, but when we wandered inside, we found what has become our favourite place to stop in Ribera.
Ribera is a town full of dichotomies. It is not a pretty town by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I commented to my friend Pat this summer that if, on my first visit to Italy, I had been dropped into the middle of Ribera, I would have left Italy in disgust. It is dusty, dirty and full of truly ugly modern-esque buildings. I should note that I have not explored every inch of Ribera and there may be a neighbourhood or two that is actually attractive and if that is the case and you have been there or live there, I apologize and please tell where it is. I will visit and take pictures and write a new post. Having said this, there is much that brings me to Ribera. The market I have already mentioned. I love the little market in Cianciana, but the market in Ribera is larger and has much more selection and unlike the market in Sciacca (which is larger still) you do not have to walk up so many hills that you get a nosebleed from the altitude (small exaggeration there). Ribera also has the appliance store that all the expats from Cianciana visit. The owner, whose name I do not know, is very happy to welcome us with slow and clearly pronounced Italian and he delivers for free to Cianciana. Lidl and Eurospin are both in Ribera and are supermarkets that carry items we can’t get in our local green grocers, butchers, and Conad supermarket. Ribera also specializes in the wonderful sweet oranges that are in season in the early spring. And Ribera has Caffe Zamenhof.
I have written about the ubiquitous Sicilian fast food, arancini, in the past. In the cookbook I published last year I even included a recipe. My favourite arancino by far, however, is the pesto and shrimp arancino that they make in the Bar Zamenhof. It is… phenomenal. But, Nick and I discovered, the Caffe Zamenhof is much more than that.
The Six Reasons I Love the Caffe Zamenhof (beyond their great arancini):
- Air conditioning. They have good air conditioning, which, after a long hot morning at the market, is so appreciated.
- This bar is clean! Not to give the impression that most Sicilian bars are not – but the Zamenhof is really clean. In fact, on the Cacciato Bathroom Rating Scale, the Caffe Zamenhof gets a seven out of seven (I will explain my Bathroom Rating Scale at the end of the post).
- The staff at this bar are invariably courteous and helpful. They have always waited patiently as I stumbled over my inadequate Italian. They bring glasses of water (with lemon!) to the table without being asked. They smile and say “Grazie” in a sincere tone. And if you speak to Angelo, the owner, he will greet you with a grin and a handshake (if it is not too busy).
- Interesting things to look at all over the bar. The décor may not make it into better homes and gardens, but Angelo has covered the walls with so many interesting pictures and hangings that there is always something to look at and comment on as you munch away at your lunch.
- The television. So many bars put up a television on the wall to play music videos and blast the music out so loudly that you cannot have a conversation. Caffe Zamenhof has the requisite television set to whichever of the music video stations is the preferred one, however the volume is low enough that, even sitting under the speakers, you can have a conversation comfortably.
- And finally, the most important one – food. I’ve already mentioned the arancini, but they also have so many other delicious pastries, panini, pizza, and (wait for it) truly yummy deserts including beautiful gelato, granita and cakes.
I told Angelo that I would have this post up in two weeks. That was a month ago, so I apologize for my tardiness. Life, sometimes, gets in the way. But that is the next post.
And, as promised, here is the Cacciato Bathroom Rating Scale:
A bathroom gets 1 point for each of the following:
- A toilet seat. You would not believe how many bathrooms have toilets with no toilet seat or half a toilet seat.
- Toilet paper. Always carry tissue with you. Toilet paper is not a given.
- A clear way to flush the toilet. I am not kidding. There are more ways to flush a toilet in Italy that I have ever experienced in any other country. Handles on the side or top of the toilet. A chain to pull. A button on the wall beside, behind or on the opposite wall to the toilet. A push pedal on the floor. An automatic flush (these are rare). And then sometimes you just can’t find any way to flush at all. Or if you do find the button, handle, lever, pedal and use it… nothing happens. I’ve experienced all of these.
- A clear way to turn on the water in the sink. See above.
- Soap in the dispenser.
- A way to dry your hands – paper in the dispenser or a blow dryer that actually works.
- Definitely not a given.