The Salt Flats of Trapani

If you go wine tasting in Marsala (and you really should if you visit Sicily) less than two hours drive from Palermo, you will likely want to stop for lunch.  You can try to find a restaurant in the town of Marsala, but to be honest the town is rather dull.  The people in the wineries recommended a few places, but it seems they were only open for dinner.  But then the server at Cantine Pellegrino suggested we drive up the road a short way, “only 10 minutes away” to Mamma Caura’s.

Mamma Caura’s restaurant on the beach in Trapani

As is often the case when you get advice from the locals, they don’t have a true sense of distance on roads they know so well.  She then spoke the most dangerous words of advice: “You can’t miss it.”  As long as we hugged the coast and watched for signs for the ferry, we’d be fine.   And in fact, we were.

What she didn’t tell us is that the road itself was worth travelling.  It took us past the salt flats of the next town north, called Trapani, where they take salt from the sea.  (The most desirable salt in France is called fleur de sel and its Italian cousin is sale marino, which comes from Sicily’s western coast.)  Sea water is pumped out of the Mediterranean into shallow, squares  pools, or pans, set up on the shore where the water evaporates and leaves salt with mild flavor, moist texture, and tiny, irregular grain sizes.  The salt is harvested and piled up into small hills that remind us North Americans of snow after a blizzard.

Salt has been made here this way for many centuries, even before the Romans.   The pumps were driven by windmills (evidently a recurring theme in this issue of Power Tasting) and a few are still there, more for show than for practicality.  Motorized pumps do the work these days.

Which brings us back to Mamma Caura’s.  Yes, it was easy to find and it is on the beach near the ferry jetty that takes people to the nature preserve on San Pantaleo island.  The food is simple but enjoyable. Indeed, what’s not to like on a very hot day when you enjoy a fresh and crispy tuna salad with a bottle of white wine (Donnafugata Anthelia, from the winery where we had just visited).  And the view is wonderful!  In front of you are the salt pans, the mounds of salt, and a magnificent windmill.  A few boats round out the vista.

After lunch you can walk out to the windmill, learn more about the history and the process and buy some salt at the shop.  It comes in small or large packages and in a variety of colors.

One word of caution, though.  It can be very hot on the beach.  We were there in mid-September, not the middle of the summer and we broiled, even under Mamma Caura’s outdoor pavilion.  You should still go; just have a nice cold bottle of white wine with your lunch and enjoy.

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