The Not So Simple Arancini

Joker and Thief Restaurant Terrigal

And you thought that Arancini was a simple Italian dish. Oh you poor ignorant soul. Arancini is a contest. It is a bitter, tooth and nail fight. Arancini is a holy war. You think that a little extreme? Maybe. Read on and find out for yourself why the fried ball of goodness is more hotly contested than the title of best restaurant in Terrigal. 

Many places to eat on the Central Coast will offer arancini on their menus. Traditionally risotto stuffed with ragu and then crumbed and deep-fried, the culinary wonder has come from humble origins and experienced many transformations. 

The Pronunciation

So let’s just get this straight right out of the bag – it’s pronounced A – ruhn – chee- nee. With a ‘ch’ sound like cheese, and not ‘kee-nee’ or ‘see-nee’. It’s confirmed. I have Italian friends. Don’t question me on this. I’m almost certainly probably right. And this is just the first skirmish in the arancini battle. 

The Name

The name arancini means ‘little orange’ in Italian owing to the fact that they appear as little orange coloured balls. There is some debate as to the origins of the ‘orange’ part as originally they were not fried in bread crumbs like they are now which gives them a nice golden glow. Instead they were (and often still are) rice balls infused with saffron spice – giving them an orangey, balley-ness. 

The History Lesson

For an Italian cuisine (more accurately a Sicilian cuisine), arancini has its roots in Arabic culture. In 1000 AD, the island of Sicily was known as the Emirate of Sicily and flourished under Arab rule. They brought rice to the island and introduced the use of saffron in cooking. As tomatoes hadn’t found their way to Italy yet (shocking, I know!), the original arancini were probably sweet with fillings of ricotta cheese, spices, milk and sugar. 

Fast forward a couple of hundred years and Sicily has been claimed by Norman invaders. It seems they loved little orange balls and thought they would make good travelling snacks. To make them last longer they decided to coat them in breadcrumbs and fry them to help keep their shape and make them more portable. 

The Gender War

I wasn’t joking about arancini being a war. The island of Sicily has been engaged in a culinary civil war for centuries over the correct name and shape of arancini. 

In the Red Corner we have the east Sicilians – they call their little orange balls arancino. And in the Blue Corner are the west Sicilians – avowing to only eat arancina. Yep, it all comes down to a single vowel. You see orange in Italian is ‘arancia’ – feminine, while in Sicilian it is ‘arancio’ – masculine. You may be thinking that since it is a Sicilian food then really they should stick with the Sicilian language. Ah but there is also the matter of the shape of our dear little tasty balls. 

In the Red Corner – east Sicilians, Arancino and … conical shaped sacks, like a little volcano, Mt Etna if you will. In the Blue Corner – west Sicilians, Arancina, and round, spherical balls like… well, balls. Or little oranges… which is where the whole debate started. 

The ContestIn the Sicilian spirit, The Joker and Thief have decided to throw down our own gauntlet and are offering 3 Months of the best arancini balls on the Central Coast  as the prize (found here at JT of course). The Contest? Simply join our newsletter and then in 25 perfect little golden words tell us why you love arancini balls.