The Puglia region, and the capitol Bari, is a woefully underappreciated part of Italy. Forget Tuscany or Venice, if you want to experience real authentic Italian culture and food, this is where you should go.
From incredible white sand beaches (Puglia is a frequent stand in for Thailand in movies) to picturesque villages (you have to visit Alberobello!), Puglia is unlike any other place on earth.
They have their own languages, their own culture and their own cuisine. I immediately fell in love with Puglia, not in a small part due to the delicious food, when I first visited last year. I think it is one of the best food regions in Italy, which is saying something. Here are some of the best things to eat in Puglia.
Orecchiette con cime di rapa
Of course, you can find pasta all over Italy, but some varieties are strictly local. The “nonna’s” (grandmothers) of Puglia are the original creators of orecchiette. Orechiette loosely translated to “little ears”, because their shape resembles that of al earshell.
Nowadays, orecchiette are mass produced in factories all over Italy. But you can still see the old ladies make them fresh, by hand in the streets of Bari. Go to the “via delle orechiette” in the old town of Bari in the morning to see the nonna’s perform their magic while gossiping amongst eachother. In the afternoon, the pasta is laid out to dry in the sun on wooded drying racks. It’s a unique cultural food experience in Italy.
Orechiette are not eaten with just any old sauce. The traditional way of serving orechiette in Puglia is with brocolli rabe, olive oil, pecorino cheese, garlic and red chili flakes. Simple but super tasty. The tradition and history of the dish makes it one of the most iconic things to eat in Puglia.
Crema di fagioli
Forget mashed potatoes, the ultimate comfort food is crema di fagioli. Crema di fagioli is a dish from Puglia made with cannelini beans. The beans are cooked, seasoned and mashed into a smooth cream not unlike humus. This delicious cream is served with a heap of brocoli rabe or Swiss chard stewed in a garlicky tomato sauce.
This is a great option for vegetarians or those on a gluten-free diet. It’s absolutely delicious!
Summers in Puglia get very hot, so granita is the perfect snack to cool off with. Granita is made with shaved ice, but much better than a regular snow cone. In Puglia granita is shaved very finely and infused with fresh fruit. It is one of the most refreshing things to eat in Puglia on a hot summer day.
Although granita is originally Sicilian, the people of Puglia have made it their own with local Puglian flavors. The granita with fresh mullberries or cactusfruit are a must-try!
If you think regular pizza is good, but a little too healthy, then panzerotti is for you! Panzerotti are like small calzones. They are deep-fried pieces of pizza dough, filled with tomato sauce and cheese. Because they are fried, they are crispier and fluffier than regular calzones.
The traditional panzerotto has a margharita filling, but there is also a variety with onion, capers anchovis. Panzerotti are the perfect drunk snack as it combines pizza and fried food. It’s one of the best things to eat in Puglia one a night out.
Focaccia con pomodoro
Almost every region is Italy has their own version of focaccia, with the original being from Liguria. Focaccia is essentially a semi-fried bread. It is made by dousing a sheet pan filled with bread dough in olive oil before baking it in the oven. The result is a fluffy, crispy, oily bread.
In Puglia, they add cherry tomatoes, gently pressed into the top of the focaccia and baked in the oven. When the tomatoes burst in the heat, they infuse the bread with their sweet and tangy juice. It is utterly delicious.
Puglia is a foodie heaven and a dream vacation destination in Italy. If you love Italian food as much as I do, you have to go here. There is a rich tradition in the way people in Puglia produce and cook food. The best things to eat in Puglia are dishes made with local ingredients and skills passed down through generations. Book a trip to this underrated region in Italy and taste it for yourself.
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