A Case of Mistaken Identity: Roman Supplì vs Sicilian Arancini
Confusing suppli vs. arancini is a common mistake for both Italians and foreigners alike. The sicilian tradition is responsible for the invention of the arancino (pl. arancini), whereas, the supplì comes from roman origins. It’s true that these two culinary cousins have a lot in common but there are a few subtle differences to help you tell them apart.
The traditional arancino is made from rice cooked in broth, which is then breaded and fried and shaped into either a ball or a cone with a diameter of approximately 8-10cm, stuffed with meat sauce, peas and caciocavallo cheese. Alternatively, you may find arancini stuffed with diced ham and mozzarella. YUM!
The arancino, or arancina as they call it in the western part of Sicily, meaning little orange, takes its name from it’s shape and typically golden colour resembling that of the fruit (in italian arancia).
The origins of the arancino are somewhat unclear, however we may be able to trace it back to a sweet dish that was prepared on the occasion of the feast of Saint Lucia. In any case, the humble arancino has been spread all over the world through the emigration of Sicilians, who then passed on their culinary traditions.
Many cities claim to have originated this dish, all proposing slight variations from one to the other, but one thing is for sure, Sicilians traditionally do not consider an arancino to be a snack or appetizer. Due to the size and style of fillings, the arancino is in itself a full meal.
The supplì, on the other hand, is a staple of Roman street food culture. It is typically made with boiled rice, seasoned with meat sauce and worked with raw eggs, mozzarella, and milk before being passed in breadcrumbs and fried exclusively in seed oil. Unlike arancini, the ingredients for the supplì are worked together in a bowl. The Roman supplì traditionally have an elongated, cylindrical shape often with a heart of mozzarella.
The name ‘supplì’ actually comes from the italianisation of the french word ‘surprise’. The full name is supplì al telefono or ‘surprise on the telephone’ which comes from the process of breaking the warm supplì in half and the warm mozzarella forming a delicious, cheesy thread between the two halves reminiscent of an old telephone. Ring, Ring!! Now, that’s a phone call we would be happy to answer.
This of course is only one story of how this street treat got its name. Another version comes again from the french word ‘surprise’ but this time from the mouths of Napoleon’s troops when they occupied Rome. The fried rice balls were very popular as a snack for the frenchmen and when they bit down into them and found pockets of warm melted cheese the troops would exclaim “que surprise”. Regardless of where the name came from, we can all agree that the troops from the story were right about these delicious snacks.
Similarly to arancini, the origins of how it came to be are a little ambiguous, but what is not up for debate is the enduring popularity of Rome’s favourite street snack, the supplì.
Whether you want an all-in-one meal like an arancino, or a cheesy snack on the run like a supplì, now that you’re all experts on the differences, tell us which one tickles your fancy? Let us know via our social media.
We can’t pick a favourite! Can you?