Our favourite part of any holiday is exploring the new yummies we don’t get to eat at home, and food in Puglia is no exception. The region offers plentiful weekly markets bursting with fresh fruit and veg, plus more restaurants and cafes than you’ve ever seen! Read on for your starting guide to some of the unmissable goodies here.
If you’ve already sampled food in Puglia, let us know what you would add to the list – did we miss anything?!
The Unmissable Food in Puglia
1. Homemade gelato
We are in Italy, and it would be criminal to miss handmade soft, creamy gelato. There is nothing on earth like if for sheer taste and velvety-ness on the tongue. Bars and cafes open their ice-cream counters for the summer with a range of flavours. Try something local for a different delight to the senses such as almond and figs (mandorle e fichi), or fruit sorbets made from local seasonal fruit. Delicious!
2. Orechiette con cime di rape
Pasta made from semolina with literal meaning, ‘little ears’. We were undecided whether this should make the cut on our list as it is The dish from Puglia everyone always talks about. However, we can’t leave it off as it would be a shame not to try. Look out for orechiette being made in places where a little bent-over nonna (grandma) can be seen doing the cooking in the kitchen, and definitely NOT in a up-market establishment. In Puglia, the more rustic the eatery, the truer your experience. Cime di rapa is broccoli rabe (US English) or turnip tops (UK English). It is slightly bitter and has a slight mustard heat to it….try it, you will probably like it.
3. Cozze ripiene
Cozze ripiene are mussels opened and grilled in their half shell, filled with a mix of breadcrumbs, parsley, cheese and the chef’s added touches such as a little chilli or garlic. Any seafood restaurant will make and serve it as a starter or as part of their antipasti.
Ricci are sea urchins, served open with crusty bread to dip in the goodness. A local delicacy, so order a few as a taster whilst waiting – although they’re only available at certain times of the year.
5. Insalata di polpo
This octopus salad involves fresh local octopus chopped and marinated in olive oil, vinegar and some local vegetables. It is served cold as an antipasti or can be ordered. How good it tastes depends on the restaurant but go somewhere which sources local fresh produce (definitely no frozen goods!), and you should be treated to a dish that is light, tender and soft to bite into (it’s probably not fresh if you get rubbery octopus).
6. Zucchine ripiene
Courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta before being battered and fried are so worthy of eating with lashings of mmmmmmm’s and yum’s. Of course this is exceptionally seasonal and finding it on a menu can be challenging; which makes it even better when there is success!
Baccalà is cod, and usually found on sale in Puglia markets and stores dried and salted. To become ‘re-edible’ it is rinsed, soaked, rinsed and soaked some more in fresh water for at least 24 hours before cooking. Our favourite way of eating it is as Fish’n’Chips Apulia style, cut into small bite-size chunks and popped into the mouth while still hot and crispy.
8. Tetta della monaca
Titillatingly translated as ‘nun’s tits’ (really!!) these are found in Pasticceria (bar/café/cake shop). They are domed meringue, mousse, fluffy lightness with a crème anglaise inside. We don’t think we need to say anything more except we know where they sell the BEST of these with pistaccio cream inside. Contact us if you want to know!
9. Pasticiotto Leccese / Caffé Leccese / Rustico
Lecce could have its own blog (watch this space) on food, but we had to mention some of the famous favourites. Pasticiotto Leccese is a sweet pie with a crumbly crust and custard in its centre. There are also variations with custard and jam or custard and chocolate, but in this case we’re purists and the plain custard is definitely the best. Rustico are a savoury street food snack of puff pastry containing a béchamel sauce with tomato – simple and entirely satisfying. Wash it all down with a special caffé leccese, which is coffee with almond milk and lemon peel. It’s so very unexpected but enhances everything that is noble about coffee.
10. Capocollo di Martina Franca
Italians are pretty good at cured meats, and in the Itria Valley’s own Martina Franca, the best DOP capocollo is found. The capocollo always makes up part of the cured meat selection of your antipasti, and it really is worth making sure the one you are eating is from Martina Franca.
Cisternino is famous across Italy for its meat restaurants. Walk into any number of restaurants and you will find a butcher’s counter with an array of meat cuts, sausages and bombette. You choose what you want, how much you would like, pay for its weight before it gets whisked away to be cooked on large meat kebab grills before being delivered to your table. The experience alone is worth the visit. Bombette are small, thin slices of meat (usually beef) wrapped around a filling; cheese, minced meat, rocket, ham, gorgonzola cheese, more meat…you name it, they have thought of it and done it! Great for kids, great for friends and family with large sharing platters.
12. Fichi d’India
Prickly pears, which ripen towards the mid-end of the summer and are sweet, juicy, nutty fruits. You can buy them in the market de-prickled if you are unsure of your own de-prickling skills. Even better, head over to Bar Fod in Cisternino who make a delicious fichi d’India sorbet.
13. Crudo di Mare
We had to return to the seafood theme, as summer months are perfect for crisp local white wines such as a Fiano or Bombino with a sharing plate of raw seafood. Expect to find oysters (in some places), prawns, mussels, octopus, scampi and large clams (noci di mare). What you pay and how much you get depends very much on where you are. It is definitely worth a visit to the Gallipoli fish market for 12pm where you can buy direct from the sellers and eat right there in the market at pop-up restaurants manned by the fishermen. Rustic and elegance all rolled into one.
14. Biscotti Cegliese
Ceglie Messapica has their own sweet delectable in the form of a biscuit. Coarsely ground almonds are rolled up with a dollop of homemade jam in the centre. Gooey and sweet, this doubles as a great after dinner momento as well.
Don’t be fooled by the simple concept of a tomato. Once you’ve popped a fresh cherry tomato into your mouth and bitten into the tender sweet flesh, it is nigh on impossible to enjoy a lesser tomato ever again. This juicy tangy little taste bomb will leave an indelible mark on your tongue that is hard to be beaten!
Food in Puglia: an aftertaste
Buon appetito! Enjoy your culinary adventures in Puglia and Salento with gusto, but remember to take your time: slow food in Puglia is the best food (possibly in the world!)
Did you know?
We can organise tours of vineyards, olive producers and local fresh food markets, plus arrange a private chef for your villa with our Bespoke Concierge services?