Puglia Foodie Trip
“Come hungry” my host wrote on the itinerary, “You will need to be.”
They were right. Puglia, I discovered is a foodie’s dream destination.
Puglia is the heel of the boot of Italy and its cuisine is regarded as being the finest, simplest and tastiest in Italy. In a country where you would be hard-pressed to find bad food that is quite an accolade.
Although the food of Puglia is often referred to as cucina povera or cuisine of the poor it does not mean it is inferior. It is fresh, locally produced and mostly organic. Many restaurants are proud to serve ‘Zero Kilometre’ dishes; food that is grown in their own garden or farm and has not travelled more than a few hundred metres. As a result, you will only be served ‘honest cuisine’; food that is local and in season.
The city of Bari is where most people enter Puglia. Spend time here in the old city and take a street food tour. This will give you an overview of Pugliese cuisine and you will be able to sample exactly what the locals eat. You can read about my experience in the post Puglia Street Food in Bari.
Puglia is the largest producer of the highest quality olive oil in Italy. Visiting an olive oil producer and taking a tasting session will delight and educate your tastebuds. The delightful white-washed town of Ostuni is noted for its olive oil production. A day wandering here and sampling the local olive oil is one of the top foodie pleasures of Puglia.
Bread in Puglia is made using durum wheat or semolina flour. These are less refined and a little coarser and give the bread a better texture and crunch. Rye barley and spelt wheat are also used, but are much less common.
Altamura, a hill top town is noted for its bread and indeed has a semolina flour bread named after it. Focaccia is another bread commonly found and is often topped with tomato, olives, olive oil, salt and oregano as something to eat on the go. Another tasty rustic bread to try is pane Martina Franca from the town of the same name.
Like the bread, the pasta of Puglia is made with durum wheat or semolina flour and without eggs. The signature pasta of the region is orecchiette meaning ‘little ears’ and is made fresh before adding a sauce of olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and anchovies. Whether eating it as a street food or served at the table it is simply delicious.
Mozzarella is the most common cheese in Puglia, but there is quite a selection of other cheeses as well. Many are a variation on the basic mozzarella including striacciatella a creamier more textured version made with milk cream. Fresh cheese and ricotta are also widely available.
Pangrattato, despite being called ‘poor man’s parmesan’, is not a cheese at all, but flavoured and seasoned salted breadcrumbs used to flavour pasta dishes and as a topping.
The Pugliese are proud of their vegetables. The flavours are intense and the vegetables are often cooked without any seasoning to allow those flavours to infuse the dish. Almost all vegetables served are grown organically and will only be served when they are in season.
I was intrigued to learn in one rural restaurant that ‘spontaneous vegetables’ were served. It turns out that something was lost in translation as they were simple foraged or wild vegetables.
Surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean, it is no surprise that seafood and fish feature strongly in the cuisine of Puglia. This is particularly true along the coast. The port town of Trani prides itself on being part of the Slow Food Movement. Fishermen tie up along the harbour wall and set up stalls to sell their catch. Chefs cross the harbour piazza and purchase the ingredients for their fish dishes and by lunchtime the fish is on the plate. That is truly Zero Kilometre food and tastes better as a result.
Pastries, gelato and granite are mostly local variations of the same, adopted from elsewhere in Italy. A favourite among the locals is the pastry bocconotto, a short crust pastry tartlet filled with patisserie cream and, in Puglia, sour cherries, almond paste or pear compote.
Anyone interested in Italian cuisine should make at least one foodie themed trip to the heel of Italy. It is not known as the ‘Bread Basket of Italy’ for nothing.