The original meaning of this iconic street food is similar in many ancient languages and should derive from the word “spleen”. But do you really know how it is made and what it contains? And what about the other meanings this word has in Sicilian dialect? Let’s find them out together
If you live in Palermo or if you happened to spend even a few hours in the city, you would certainly have stumbled upon the famous pani c’a mèusa, a local street food that has become iconic all over the world. Some think it is made from entrails of boiled lamb added to caciocavallo (a type of stretched-curd cheese made out of sheep’s or cow’s milk), while the mèusa is actually a mixture of spleen, lung and ox-trachea. They are first boiled together and then fried in the lard. But why is this meat dish called like this and where does the term come from?
According to their etymology, the forms mèusa and mèuza derive from a cross between the ancient Germanic word mìlzi and the Catalan melsa, in which the “i” was then replaced with a “e”. Other dialectal variants such as mìusa, mìvusa or miza, most common in the eastern and northern areas of the isle, have a more strictly Germanic origin instead. The original meaning, anyway, is similar in all the cases we have just mentioned and should come from the word “spleen”, which is actually one of the essential ingredients of the recipe we are talking about.
However, the Sicilian dialect would not be the charming language we all know, if it would not always have some nice surprises for us. Therefore, we must be careful if we come across some popular expressions like “fari la mèusa”: unlike what it might seem, this phrase does not mean “to prepare” this popular dish, but to make fun of someone, to tease someone. Not to mention the meaning the term assumes if it is used as an adjective: a mèusa person, in fact, is nothing but lazy, slow and even a little greasy.
As if this were not enough, in the books of the famous Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri sometimes the mèusa becomes even an “old cap with a large rear flap”. This use of the word is also attested in the Sicilian Vocabulary by Piccitto-Tropea-Trovato and is often used in the spoken daily life of the provinces of Messina, Catania and Syracuse, due to the fact that the shape of the hat would recall that of the spleen.
The next time you eat in Palermo, do not miss this typical street food with such a curious story!
Translated by Eva Luna Mascolino