I·ATE Food Term of the Week: Arancina

July 27, 2019 12:19 pm

It is said that food always brings people together, but what happens when it leads to inner divisions in a country?
It is the case of the Sicilian delicacy called arancina/o whose name is strongly disputed throughout Italy, but before we even discuss controversies due to the name of the dish, some curiosities about the origins and its preparation have to be provided.

The arancina is a rice dish made up with boiled rice, which, after being seasoned with saffron, is used to make little balls that can be filled with different ingredients. Only after having given the round shape to the rice, it is breaded and fried. Its origins probably date back to the period of the Arabic domination in Sicily (IX-XI A.D.) when Arabs used to eat little rice balls (hence the round shape of the dish) with lamb meat, which even today, together with tomato sauce and mozzarella, is one of the most common ingredients of Sicilian arancino. Several other ingredients, however, can be used to fill these delicious rice balls such as spinach, aubergines, ham, salami, seafood and more.

With regards to the composition of the dish, it has to be highlighted that in the Dizionario siciliano-Italiano by Giuseppe Biundi (1857) the arancina is described as a sweet dish, which is partially true bearing in mind that nowadays it is possible to find sweet arancine made up with rice and cocoa and filled with cream, chocolate or black cherry. In order to recognize different flavours, different shapes can be used; in fact another form largely widespread for arancine, besides the ball, is the cone. The choice of one shape rather than the other can be related to different regions of the island; indeed the arancini that are produced in the Eastern part of Sicily tend to have a conical shape rather than spherical.

But now let’s move on the name of this delicious food.

If you have paid attention you have surely noticed that until this moment the two forms arancina and arancino, with their corresponding plural forms, have alternated. Why?
The name arancina comes from the Italian arancia, which means orange, a good quality fruit that is very common in Sicily. Arancina with the Italian feminine ending -a comes from the gender of the fruit, which differs from the orange tree, which is characterized by the masculine ending -o, namely arancio. The choice of this name is due to the shape and the colour of the dish which, made as a ball, acquires by means of the fry a vivid orange colour. The colour has probably been the reason for the birth of the other form of the name, which is arancino with the Italian typical masculine ending -o, due to the fact that in the Sicilian dialect ‘orange’, meant as a colour, is obtained by adding the suffix -inu, which is typically masculine (Salvatore C. Trovato, 2016). The standardization of the dialectical expression arancinu has led to the masculine denomination of the dish, which nowadays coexists with the feminine form, although the latter is perceived as more correct and is preferred in written Italian. The masculine form is, however, frequently used in speech and it has become typical of some regions of the island such as those of Ragusa and Siracusa, but also in many other Italian areas. However, it may be generally said that the feminine form is more used in the Western part of the island while the masculine denomination is typically preferred in the East of Sicily.

Regardless of the gender issues, the point is that no matter how you want to name it, the stunning tastiness of this dish unifies all arancin* eaters.

Refereces:

Si dice arancino o arancina? Si dice arancino o arancina? | Accademia della Crusca. http://www.accademiadellacrusca.it/it/lingua-italiana/consulenza-linguistica/domande-risposte/si-dice-arancino-arancina. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Trovato SC. A Proposito Di Arancino/Arancina . Vol II. Archivio Storico della Sicilia Centro Meridionale; 2016.

Web R. Arancino o arancina: il dibattito linguistico sulla specialità siciliana. La Cucina Italiana. https://www.lacucinaitaliana.it/news/in-primo-piano/arancino-o-arancina-il-dibattito-linguistico-sulla-specialita-siciliana/. Published May 23, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Web R. Arancino o arancina: il dibattito linguistico sulla specialità siciliana. La Cucina Italiana. https://www.lacucinaitaliana.it/news/in-primo-piano/arancino-o-arancina-il-dibattito-linguistico-sulla-specialita-siciliana/. Published May 23, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2019.


Emanuela Ammendola, PhD student in “European Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope”.

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