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 across town to Bondi Beach and Five Dock. All three spots have the same Italian-bistro feel; they serve truffle pizza, chocolate-dipped finger biscuits 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 baritalia.net.au
RivaReno Gelato, Darlinghurst and Barangaroo
Granita season officially starts in December at RivaReno, when the Darlinghurst gelato shop churns a huge variety of flavours, such as watermelon, raspberry-passionfruit, strawberry, blood orange, coffee and almond. For the rest of the year there are three choices available: pink grapefruit, mandarin 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.”
Trovatino Cafe, Wareemba
Sister cafe to Meno Diciotto, Wareemba’s Trovatino Cafe serves granita in lemon flavour. 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.
Pari Pasticceria, Concord
With coffee granita and brioche that could be straight from the cafes of Catania, Pari Pasticceria’s owner Paolo Gatto is on a mission to bring traditional Sicilian flavours to Sydney.
“There are two parts to a good granita,” Gatto explains. “The first is the ingredients you put in the machine.” That might include the coffee, toasted pistachio or fresh fruit. There’s also pastalatante, a sweet, textured paste made from the almonds that flourish on Sicily’s famous volcano, Mount Etna. The other part – a delicately sweet, chewy brioche – isn’t a component of granita itself, but is essential to the ritual.
Ciccone & Sons, Redfern
Known for fresh, housemade gelato, Ciccone & Sons makes everything it can from scratch; so no-premade bases and no artificial flavouring. Owners Mark Megahey and Sean O’Brien also include granita on the menu, peddling flavours like watermelon and orange-passionfruit.
Take a seat on the wooden benches and enjoy your icy treat with an espresso and cannoli (if they’re not already sold out) and a soundtrack of jazz.
This article was updated on December 5, 2018.