Puglia food is like the region itself: authentic, unspoilt and superb. One of the best ways to immerse yourselves in the wonders of this sun-kissed region in Italy’s South is by savouring the land’s unique tastes.
During our 2-week road trip across Puglia, we had the immense pleasure to taste the region’s most typical dishes and try some of its best local products, such as cheese, wine and extra virgin olive-oil. Therefore, we’re now in the happy position to share with you our ultimate guide to the best food in Puglia!
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Puglia Food Guide: An Introduction to Italy’s Cucina Povera
Puglia is famous for its cucina povera, the kitchen of the poor. Historically, Puglia was one of the poorest regions in Italy. Therefore, people had to keep their meals simple and affordable and that’s the main factor that’s been defining the essence of Apulian cuisine up to this day.
Throughout the centuries, a lot has changed. Puglia is no longer the land of the poor. Yet Apulian food still retains all the characteristics of the cucina povera of the past. Only that poor is referring to the simplicity of this regional cuisine rather than its quality. Puglia food is based on simple yet 100% fresh and locally grown ingredients.
A land of farmers and fishermen, Puglia has vegetables, fruit, fish and seafood at the core of its cooking, while meat is quite rare. Moreover, Puglia produces 40% of Italy’s olive oil and the region is also one of the biggest durum wheat producers in the country. This is why Puglia is particularly famous for its unique types of bread and pasta.
What To Eat in Puglia
Bread is a big deal in Puglia. Awarded PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status in 2003, ALTAMURA BREAD is the most famous type of bread in the region.
Another popular kind of bread is FRISELLA, which is more like a rusk. If you’re looking for a light meal, order FRISELLE SALENTINE, which is a simple yet mouthwatering take on the Cretan dakos (rusks topped with fresh tomatoes and olive oil). Friselle Salentine is not the only bread-based recipe in Puglia, though. ACQUASALE resembles a Greek Salad but its main ingredient is stale Apulian bread.
Yet another typically Apulian bread type which reminds of pizza dough is PUCCIA. This is commonly the bread used for scrumptious sandwiches in Puglia.
Last but not least, TARALLINI is the ultimate bread-like snack in Puglia that goes with everything but, primarily, with your drinks alongside a bowl of local olives. Be warned: tarallini are seriously addictive.
Puglia produces many delicious types of cheese but BURRATA is the indisputable star. You can try it on its own, in a salad or as a pizza topping. Other cheese types you must try in Puglia include CACIOCAVALLO, STRACCIATELLA and CACIORICOTTA. The latter is usually used grated on pasta.
3. Pasta Dishes
Speaking of pasta, the most important thing to keep in mind is that in Puglia, unlike what happens in Northern Italy, pasta is egg-free. True to its cucina povera character, Apulian pasta is made of just flour and water. Yet there’s nothing poor about pasta in Puglia as it tastes like heaven.
ORECCHIETTE, or little ears, is the most popular pasta type in Puglia. You can buy freshly made orecchiette to take back home with you from Orecchiette Street in Bari. Other typically Apulian types of pasta include CAVATELLI and SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA. The most quintessentially Apulian pasta dish is ORECCHIETTE CON LE CIME DI RAPA. The latter is a mouthwatering dish that combines the unique flavours of pasta and turnip tops.
Who doesn’t love eating pasta? Yet for an even more immersive experience, you should definitely attend a pasta making class during your trip to Puglia. This way you can learn all the secrets of Puglia’s handmade pasta AND get to eat your creations afterwards.
4. Vegetable Dishes
When it comes to vegetable-based recipe ideas, the sky’s the limit in Puglia. No matter which part of the year you choose to travel to Puglia, you will most definitely have the opportunity to taste superb dishes prepared with only the best seasonal ingredients.
One of the most prominent vegetable dishes in Puglia is FAVE E CICORIE or fava bean puree with greens. We tried it at many different restaurants during our trip to Puglia and it tasted divine every single time.
Other unmissable vegetable dishes include PARMIGIANA DI MELANZANE (eggplant parmesan) or PARMIGIANA DI CARCIOFI (artichoke parmesan).
Another typical Apulian dish is SFORMATO. The latter can be made of any vegetable and it is a dreamy mousse-like dish.
Last but not least, if you have the chance to try any recipe with PISELLI NANO DI ZOLLINO, these unbelievably tiny and sweet Apulian peas, go for it.
5. Seafood & Fish Dishes
Puglia food features a wide selection of fish and seafood dishes. Of course you can try fresh seafood and fish in any form in Puglia but there are a couple of typical recipes that you won’t want to miss. One of them is TIELLA, a dish made of mussels, rice and potatoes, which originates in Bari.
BACCALA ALLA SALENTINA is cod with vegetables in the oven. Some restaurants may use other types of fish for this dish but the idea is the same. Another fish-based recipe is TARANTELLO DI TONNO, which is filleted salt-cured tuna.
Meat doesn’t play a major part in Puglia’s traditional cuisine. In the past, it was reserved for special occasions and celebrations and, when that happened, lamb or pork was the meat of choice. A popular meat-based dish is BOMBETTE (pork rolls filled with cheese). The best place to try it is any traditional fornello in Cisternino.
In a poor kitchen, there’s not much room left for dessert. This is why Puglia food doesn’t feature any elaborate sweets whatsoever. Dessert in Puglia is usually some sort of pastry flavoured with almonds or something similar. Hands down the most popular dessert in Puglia is the delicious PASTICCIOTTO from Lecce.
8. Puglia Street Food
Puglia Street food is primarily based on scrumptious dough creations such as FOCACCIA BARESE or the beyond words tasty PANZEROTTO (fried calzone).
PIZZA RUSTICA is a handmade pie filled with fresh ingredients, usually vegetables or even cheese. A delicious variation in Salento is the RUSTICO LECCESE. The latter is puff pastry filled with cheese, tomato and bechamel sauce. Last but not least, although polenta is not as popular in Puglia as it is in other Italian regions, nobody can say no to some SGAGLIOZZE (fried polenta).
Puglia’s special climate and fertile land render the region’s wine varieties quite unique. Although not traditionally as famous for its wine as other regions in Italy, Puglia is gradually assuming the place it deserves in the wine-producing map of Europe.
Puglia wine is as smooth as the region’s flat land and as pleasant as the sea breeze that caresses it. In Puglia, red wine is king and some of its must-try varieties are Nero di Troia, Primitivo and Negroamaro.
Where To Eat in Puglia
Unless you have local friends to visit in Puglia, the next best place to try authentic, hearty Puglia food is a masseria. Masserie are large fortified estates, most of which are now turned into luxury farmstays. We highly recommend staying at a masseria but even if you don’t, you must at least make sure you eat at one or more of them.
During our trip to Puglia, we dined at two different masserie and we can honestly say that they both offered us unique culinary experiences. A masseria guarantees that the food you try is inspired by authentic recipes and made of top-quality, locally grown ingredients.
As far as other types of eateries are concerned, you should know that almost everywhere in the region you will be served good quality food. There’s no such thing as bad food in Puglia.
Why We Loved Puglia Food
A cuisine that uses exclusively locally grown ingredients couldn’t but have a very special place in our hearts. It doesn’t happen every day to know for a fact that the food you’re eating is 100% fresh and seasonal.
Moreover, Puglia food is heaven on earth for vegetarians and vegans and, although Katerina still eats meat every now and then, we both appreciate a more ethical approach to food, which Puglia clearly honours in every respect.
To cut a long story short, Puglia food, Italy’s famed Cucina Povera, has definitely turned our taste buds richer and happier and we won’t easily forget that.
Disclosure: We were guests at Masseria Il Frantoio and Masseria Torre Coccaro but opinions are 100% our own, as always.