Invented in Sicily 700 years ago, legend has it the original was made out of snow from Mount Etna, and flavoured with honey and lemon.
Once laboriously churned by hand in a metal bowl inside a barrel of ice, today’s granita is made in small batches in gelato machines, with fruit juice, water and sugar. The production gives the sweet drink a creamy thickness with ice that’s fine and smooth.
Granita culture in Sicily is sacred. The season starts a week before Easter; every morning, Sicilians have granita cafe con panna (coffee granita with cream) and a brioche. After lunch, chocolate, strawberry cream, lemon or almond granita is sold.
Finding granita in Sydney is not easy. There are plenty of slushy-machine drinks masquerading as granita, but the authentic Sicilian drink is rare and served mostly in the Italian suburbs of Sydney’s inner west. Here are seven to try.
Cremeria De Luca, Five Dock
Granita at Cremeria De Luca is as real-deal as it gets. Run by brother and sister Sal and Virginia De Luca, the gelato shop in Five Dock gets its granita guidance from father Luigi De Luca. Luigi knows granita. He judges international granita competitions, and he’s been crowned Granita Ambassador to Australia by the Sicilian powers that be.
Luigi explains, “Granita is about nostalgia for childhood. Old people come to Cremeria to share granita and Sicilian tradition with their grandchildren.”
Duccio Gelato, Five Dock
Duccio Gelato is a gelato wholesaler with a cosy, crowded shop in the front of a Five Dock warehouse. It’s not fancy, but when you try the granita here you realise fancy isn’t necessary. Duccio sells granita made the old-fashioned way – by the litre bucket all through the year, and when the weather gets warmer in mid-November, the public can get it by the cup. Flavours vary, but lemon, coffee chocolate and strawberry-mango are mainstays.
Pasticceria Papa, Haberfield
Once a Haberfield institution, Pasticceria Papa has expanded east to Bondi Beach. Both spots have the same Italian-bistro feel; they serve slow-cooked pork ragu, wood-fired scampi and, of course, granita. Pasticceria makes it the traditional way, churned in a gelato machine. Flavours are light: lemon, strawberry and occasionally almond.
Bar Italia, Leichhardt
Bar Italia’s granita isn’t traditionally churned, but sometimes flavour wins out over process. Co-owners and sisters Sarina and Angela Ruffino run a granita truck and do the spring festival circuit and markets. It’s a family tradition: ask anyone in Alice Springs and they’ll know the Ruffino family that served granita in the area from the ’50s to the ’80s.
In the summer, a Ruffino machine takes up permanent residence at Bar Italia, serving a beautifully tart, refreshing lemon granita.
RivaReno Gelato, Darlinghurst and Barangaroo
Granita season hasn’t officially started at RivaReno, but from December the Darlinghurst gelato shop will churn a huge variety of flavours, such as watermelon, raspberry-passionfruit, strawberry, blood orange, coffee, almond and mandarin. For now two choices are available: pink grapefruit and lemon.
RivaReno’s granita is made with fresh fruit, water and sugar. Owner Kieran Tosolini is adamant that no “rubbish”, such as preservatives and colouring, be added. Local fruit is used for many flavours, but citrus is exclusively from Italy. Tosolini says, “We get blood orange, lemon, grapefruit and mandarin from Sicily because it’s the best in the world.”
Meno Diciotto Gelateria, Concord
Meno Diciotto, or “minus 18”, refers to the optimal temperature for storing fresh gelato. A Concord institution, known for its lemon-meringue gelato, cakes, macarons and cannoli, all made with gelato, Meno Diciotto is trying its hand at granita starting mid-November.
Served from a cart, flavours will include coffee, lemon and mango.
Sister cafe to Meno Diciotto, Wareemba’s Trovatino Cafe will also serve granita in coffee, lemon and mango flavours this summer. Once a family-owned fruit shop, in 2001 the business reinvented itself as a cafe specialising in panini and elaborate pastries, such as fruit tarts and giant cannoli filled with mini cannolis.