Sicilian food, that’s true amore

Sicilian food, that’s true amore

130201 7d12b
Luigi’s pizzas have soft, doughy crusts and rustic toppings. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

I learned the key to true Sicilian hospitality during a hazy post-exams summer with some girlfriends in the island’s capital, Palermo. One-man bands, liberal glasses of limoncello, and the kind of cuisine that inspires loyalty: mafioso-style.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Piccola Italia has already attracted a slew of regulars. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

Phnom Penh’s new Sicilian eatery, Piccola Italia Da Luigi, a cozy hole-in-the-wall that opened last month, is a city favourite in the making. At the end of Street 308, its lights and clinks of wine glasses enliven an otherwise subdued street, while some tables spill into the sidewalk for an al fresco feel.

Stereotypical connections between Sicily and mafia culture are not entirely put to bed. The owner, Luigi, has put up framed pictures of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in some of their more gun-toting roles.

Melodic, Italian-themed music plays soothingly in the background. Overlooking the floor space is a tiny balcony, with a single table perched in its curved nook. It’s an ideal place to devise schemes in secret.

It’s also pretty good for a date.

But the real draw is the owner, Luigi, who whips up most of the dishes himself. A  Mediterranean man in the classical mould, he is usually wearing a pin-striped shirt, three buttons undone, and gesturing enthusiastically about the latest creation to come out of his kitchen.

“You are a couple, you go up here,” he said on my first visit, sweeping my dining companion and me up to the intimate nook. He recommended a dry Tuscan red – the wine selection, all imported from Italy, is exquisite and all hovering around the $15 mark. He’s a smooth operator, with a repertoire of stories behind every dish on the menu.

The deli counter on the ground floor offers cured meats, veggies, and daily specials. There are soft, tart artichoke hearts. Sweet red peppers filled with tuna in spicy olive oil. I thought about ordering some of the baked risotto balls to take home with me, but then I’d also have to take the home-made ricotta and freshly baked bread made from three flours.

We tried them all. The arancini is divine – cheesy, buttery balls with a crunchy fried crust and a hint of bolognaise sauce. Aubergine and olives are rich, sweet and slightly pickled. My partner in this dining delight had something of a religious experience. “He’s done the impossible, made me like aubergine,” he said.

Then the ‘appetiser’ arrives. The dish, sometimes called “falso magro,” depending on how it’s made, is a Sicilian special, Luigi tells us – a hodge-podge of eggs and meats: raw beef, bacon and salami, seasoned with basil and slopped in a hearty tomato sauce.

While some will be disappointed not to see pasta – though Luigi does make his own lasagna – the pizza quickly makes up for it. Soft, doughy crust, some with pesto seasoning, another with four cheeses layered throughout. The bold can venture into the smoky ham, potato gratin and walnut variety. Spot on harmony.

The one off chord is the service which, while earnest, can be slow, though part of that is the placement of the upstairs nook – it’s easy to forget the one table upstairs  and the popularity of the place.

Leave room for desert. Amarena desserts are served in a martini glass. Vanilla, Galliano, cheesy cream – washed down with shots of home-made limoncello.

At the end of our meal, as service is winding down and the proprietor is settled in the corner with a plate of lasagna and a bottle of Angkor, a man in a suit rushes in, harried: “Have I missed the Tiramisu?” Reassured, he sits down, demolishes a glass of Tirimisu and leaves – one more loyal customer for Luigi’s. 

That week, I spend another three nights there. 

To contact the reporter on this story: Poppy McPherson at [email protected]

Follow Poppy on twitter at: @poppymcp


  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty

  • Angkor Wat named as the top landmark for the second year

    Travel website TripAdvisor has named Cambodia’s ancient wonder Angkor Wat as the top landmark in the world for the second year running in their Travelers’ Choice Award 2018, an achievement Cambodian tourism operators expect will attract more tourists to the Kingdom. The website uses traveller

  • Ministry’s plan for net sparks fears

    The government has ordered all domestic and international internet traffic in the Kingdom to pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) that has been newly created by the state-owned Telecom Cambodia, in a move some have claimed is an attempt to censor government critics. Spokesman

  • Hun Sen detractors ‘will die’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said those who curse or insult him would eventually die without a plot of land to bury their bodies after being killed by lightning, suffering the same fate as those who recently died in Thmar Baing district in Koh