A taste of the South: 10 drinks and dishes you need to try when in Puglia

I’ve declared my love for Puglia before on this blog. Its magnificent historical towns and cities, its divine beaches and the fact that the international masses have not (yet) discovered this corner of Italy makes it one of my favourite European get-away destinations.

Oh and the food! Like anywhere in Italy, food plays a huge role in daily life in Puglia. It is home to an array of mouth-watering regional produce and dishes. So much so that I figured it’s about time I dedicated a special blog post to Apulian cuisine. Because what better way to delve into local life than eating and drinking your way through it?!

Southern Italy might be known for its cucina povera, or ‘poor kitchen’, its culinary history is long and rich, and the region has an abundance of fresh produce. Plagued by poverty for the last couple of centuries, Puglia’s cuisine is characterised by simple yet creative and resourceful cooking, using little meat and lots of left-over food. Typical ingredients include chickpeas, fava beans, peppers, artichoke, durum wheat as well as sea food, lots of it.

Southern Italy might be known for its ‘poor man’s cuisine’, its has an abundance of fresh ingredients and produce

So what do you absolutely need to try when in Puglia? Here’s a list of 10 drinks and dishes I think you should not miss:

Caffè leccese

In true Italian style, start your day with a caffè (an espresso shot). Or even better, do it in Apulian style and have yours with ice cubes and a shot of sugary almond syrup. Known as a caffè leccese, this cold caffeine drink originated – as the name indicates – in the beautiful city of Lecce (pronounce as ‘letshè’). These days you can get it in almost any bar and café south of Bari, Puglia’s capital. And trust me, there are few things as good as a cold, sweet caffè leccese on a hot summer morning or after a fulfilling lunch.

caffè leccese: a glass of ice cubes with a shot of espresso and almond syrup – so good on a hot sunny day!

Pasticciotto

Of course you could get a simple cornetto (croissant) with your morning coffee, but in Puglia life is sweet so they like theirs with a pasticciotto leccese. This oval-shaped shortcrust pastry is stuffed with custard filling and is perfect for (a not-so-light) breakfast or an after-lunch snack.

Life is sweet(er) in Puglia

Taralli

Although taralli are typical for all of southern Italy, they deserve a mention on this list because they are a quintessential part of any Apulian meal. If you’ll go out for lunch or dinner in Puglia you’ll be served a little bread basket that more likely than not also includes taralli. Taralli, or their smaller versions tarallini, are thick ring-shaped biscuits with an incredibly soft bite and hence very addictive! Although there are sweet versions, they’re usually savoury (often with fennel seeds). Because taralli are boiled before being baked they last forever, so they’re the perfect souvenir to take back home!

Almost any Apulian meal comes with a basket of taralli(ni)

Orecchiette

Orecchiette – meaning ‘little ears’ – are Puglia’s regional delicacy. Nope, they are not actually small body parts (thank goodness). Rather, it’s a type of pasta that has the shape of a little ear. If you’re lucky you can still see Apulian grandmothers, seated on a chair in front of their doorstep, hand-rolling them and leaving them outside to dry. Rather than meat, orecchiette are usually served with a light sauce of vegetables, typically cime di rapa (see below). Moreover, like in the rest of southern Italy, pasta in Puglia is usually made without egg, so even veggies and vegans do not have an excuse not to indulge in this delicious carb fest.

Handmade orecchiette drying in the streets of Bari

Cime di rapa

If there were a most iconic Apulian dish, it must be orecchiete with cime di rapa. Cime di rapa is a winter green and similar to broccoli, but a bit more bitter. It’s a very common vegetable in Puglia and is used not just with orecchiette but also in other dishes. If there’s one thing you need to try while in this part of Italy it’s this!

Puccia

Snack o’clock. And what better way to still your craving than by biting into an irresistible slice of puccia? This focaccia-like snack is made of durum wheat seasoned with olive oil and tomatoes. Sometimes they are filled with meat or cheese. And because of its small, round shape it’s a perfect snack on-the-go. This is Apulian street food at its finest!

Frittura di paranza

Fritto misto – mix fried snacks – can be found across Italy, but every region has a slightly different take on it. In some parts it includes fried courgette flowers, elsewhere it’s fried dough or rice balls. In Puglia, a region surrounded by sea, a fritto misto is all about fried seafood. A plate of this fried seafood goodness is also known as frittura di pesce or frittura di paranza, named after the way in which seafood is typically caught in this part of Italy, namely with fishing nets that are trawled or dragged along the sea bottom (paranza means ‘trawler’). A frittura di paranza often includes fried small goatfishes, squid and shrimps – a real feast for seafood lovers!

Frittura di paranza: a plate of fried seafood goodness

Panzerotto pugliese

On the long list of great Italian streetfood, panzerotto pugliese deserves a spot. A panzerotto is a small crescent-shaped snack made of dough, which is folded and filled with tomato and mozzarella, alongside other delicious Italian ingredients. It’s basically a small, deep fried calzone pizza. However, the main difference with a calzone, apart from its size, is the fact that a panzerotto is made with a lighter dough, which gives it its crispy bite after being fried. Simply delish…!

Wine

It’s the northern Italian wines such as Barolo, Barbera and Nebbiolo that usually receive all the attention and praise, but did you know that Puglia also produces its fair share of wonderful wines? The most common variety is the Negramaro, a red grape that is grown almost exclusively in Puglia and particularly in Salento (the southernmost part of the region, around Lecce). It is used to produce great value red wines, such as the Salice Salentino. The most famous Apulian red grape variety, however, is Primitivo. Primitivo wines have a high alcohol content and a full body. It’s a fantastic wine with pizza or any other dish rich in flavour. Salute!

Primitivo is Puglia’s most famous wine variety

Confetti

Italian weddings are the best weddings, because they’re usually centred around one thing: food. And although the food served at an Italian wedding differs per region, they all have one thing in common and that’s confetti. No, I’m not talking about the pieces of paper that you throw in the air as a means of celebrating. In Italy, confetti are (usually white) sugar-coated almonds that are presented in little bags and given to guests as a small thank you treat at the end of the wedding party. And the original confetti recipe comes from Andria, Puglia. In this rather unassuming city, Alberto Mucci has been making confetti for four generations and is said to sell the best in the country. Their confetti come in an endless range of different colours and flavours and a visit to their shop and onsite museum makes you feel like a kid in a sweets factory. You just want to try e-very-thing!

When in Andria you can’t miss the wonderful Mucci Museum, home of the famous confetti

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