You can’t talk about Puglia without talking about food and drink. The heel of Italy’s boot, home to Apulian cuisine, is responsible for some famous products like orecchiette and Rustico and some seriously good value wine.
Pugliese take food very seriously and, like much of Italy, specialities are quite localised. Let’s look at a few towns and cities, and what you should eat.
Margherita di Savoia is a lesser-visited spot on the tourist trail, which makes it the perfect place to eat and drink, as the locals do. At Canneto Beach 2, a family-run pizza restaurant, they’re still using grandma’s recipes, but committing to providing light and easy to digest bases. The blend of tradition and innovation allows you to choose from spelt, semolina, buckwheat and gluten-free options, and toppings include local Cipolla harvested from the sand. The in-house sommelier (and chef’s son) will help with your pizza and wine pairing – a match made in Puglia.
Steps from the sea, Oasis Beach restaurant, set on Margherita di Savoia’s pristine stretch of sand, is highly recommended for a seafood lunch and a spot of people watching. A good place to try the traditional orecchiette with shellfish or a chilled fresh seafood platter. A beautiful, light-filled room, great service and excellent wine; try a locally made verdeca.
Being coastal, of course, you’ll expect lots of fresh seafood in Puglia, but that doesn’t mean the meat doesn’t get its moment too. Take Braceria Semeraro in Brindisi for example. You order your raw cuts at the butcher’s counter before taking a seat outside in the square while everything is cooked for you. Grilled salsiccia and steak are served with a simple salad of rocket and tomato doused in local olive oil and washed down with lightly chilled red wine. An honest, uncomplicated and fuss-free meal.
Xfood, also in Brindisi, is a great place to sit down for lunch in their social restaurant. Disadvantaged people gain work placements here at the Exfadda community centre and everyone comes together to make the restaurant a reality. Vintage furniture is salvaged from the local surroundings and restored in workshops at the centre, there’s a pizza oven making project and herbs and produce are grown and cultivated in the gardens onsite. Fava bean mash with roasted peppers in olive oil is a favourite here, but ask for the daily specials and try the seafood pasta with ice-cold rosé.
Now let’s talk about wine
At the heart of the Salento peninsula, one of the biggest wine producing regions in the country, you’ll find many family run vineyards and wineries, which are worth a visit. Famous for indigenous grape varieties: malvasia nera, primitivo and gegroamaro, and the deep, rich and full red wines they produce.
One such place to visit is Cantine Paololeo. Their two-hour-long Apulian Delicacies wine tour (priced at only €25pp) includes a guided cellar tour where you’ll witness the production, bottling and aging of the wine depending on the time of the year. Walk among the vines and visit the old family mill which is now the tasting area. You’ll try local extra virgin olive oil with homemade bread and three of their wines with typical Salentino aperitif: capocollo, Ricotta cheese, bread, friselline with Salento preserves, olives and tarallini. You can also taste some grappa or passito wine.
Two more things to try in Puglia
Burrata, of course! The most famous cheese of the region, similar to Mozzarella but much silkier and delicate, the creamy inside oozes out as you cut down into the fresh ball of cheese. Best served with tomatoes and crusty bread
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Rustico - an Italian puff pastry snack filled with piping hot mozzarella, bechamel and tomato sauce. Although, locals often stock up on extras to eat later on after they’ve cooled down. You’ll find the tasty treat everywhere, but they’re best tasted in the town they come from, Lecce – otherwise known as Rustici Leccesi.
Author: Nadia El Ferdaoussi
Dublin native, Nadia is a freelance travel writer whose plan is to wander the globe until the novelty wears off (if that ever happens). Despite travelling to exotic locations the world over, her favourite country is Ireland, “when the sun shines, there’s no better place.” Her dream job would be mystery shopping in hotels, since she has a keen eye for detail and already spends most of her time living out of a suitcase. Nadia has a new found passion for wine and is quickly moving up through the ranks in terms of wine education. Her bucket list destination? Antarctica.