Cannoli were the gateway to my Italian and Sicilian heritage. Yup, the Cannoli Crawl and my boutique tourism company, Experience Sicily, all stem from my love of this world-renowned pastry.
Throughout my childhood, during every visit to my grandmother’s in Gravesend, Brooklyn, my father would take my older brother Stephen and me to Cuccio’s on Avenue X. This was a big treat because we lived in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and they didn’t have such beautiful pastries in those parts!
Meanwhile, I thought everyone ate cannoli for holidays. I didn’t know it was an Italian pastry.
In 1996, during my first visit to Italy, my father’s first cousin, Pietro, came to meet me at the convent in Rome where I was staying as a backpacker. Pietro was a Palermo-trained pastry chef, and he and his wife Maria brought a tray of pastries with them from his shop as a gift. I didn’t speak Italian at the time. Only musical terms! So, another young woman staying at the convent translated. Pietro said, “Why aren’t you going to Sicily?”
I had a European route already planned. I didn’t know anything about Sicily. Nor did I think I could go to there without speaking Italian. I shared a couple of those pastries with my new translator friend and savored the rest of them over the following days in Rome. Then, I packed up my backpack and headed north to Florence, Bologna, Venice, through the Alps, on to Salzberg, Vienna …. you get the idea.
Well, five months later, when I was back in Rome, Pietro–while I was suckling on a cannoli in his shop, Conco D’Oro in the Finocchio neighborhood of the city–said, “You’re not returning to America without going to Sicily first.” He picked up the phone, called his brother Mimmo to say I was arriving tomorrow night by train at Palermo … and the rest is … Read the full account of this memory here.
A New Yorker for more than 20 years, I now combine my love of cannoli, my passion for Sicily (and traveling there), and my desire to share my Italian and Sicilian-American-New York heritage with curious travelers, foodies, and anyone who will listen! I created the Cannoli Crawl to show you a different side of New York City, while bridging the Big Apple to Sicily through food (Can one go wrong?!). You’ll totally get it once you become a Cannoli Connoisseur! I hope you’ll join me!
~ Allison Scola
P.S. Read my treatise published by The Inquisitive Eater on the difference between Sicilian and Italian American cannoli: I Cannoli: Nothing Better in the World.