Not everyone is lucky enough to have a fond memory associated with deep fried spleen on a bun. My grandfather and I are among the fortunate. In 2004, three generations of Cipollina descendants returned to our ancestral city. For five days, my mom, grandfather and I visited Palermo’s mosaic clad churches, white stucco embellished oratories, and hectic markets. During our walk through Ballaro’ one afternoon, Nonno Cipollina told us about a sandwich he remembered eating in the Bronx as child. He knew it only as vastedda. He recalled a sliced meat sandwich on bread but when we visited the vasteddaru and placed our order, he filled our sesame buns with deep fried strips of meusa (spleen) and grated caciocavallo. In a way, the brownish grey matter did resemble meat, but the taste and texture was pure offal: slightly gummy with a consistency not unlike liver, but firmer.
Last week I headed back to Ballaro’ for pane ca’ meusa. This time Nonno wasn’t physically there but his organ meat loving presence was felt nevertheless. I photographed my greasy, dripping spleen sandwich and sent the image from my Blackberry. He called me soon after to thank me for the thoughtful message. I wonder if only the Cipollina DNA is programmed to derive joy from such simple, offal filled memories.