/Where to Eat in Puglia

Where to Eat in Puglia

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Puglia is one of my favorite Italian regions for deep food immersion and it would be a shame to squander even a single culinary opportunity, so don’t cringe when I tell you: eat pezzetti and involtini di cavallu. Both are braised horse. Just do it. While on the quest for Puglia’s treats (equine and otherwise), bear in mind that the region is huge and overwhelming. I recommend beginning in Bari, which many visitors pass over. It’s a shame because historic Bari Vecchia is gorgeous and atmospheric and has some delicious focaccia at a place called Panificio Fiore (Str. Palazzo di Città, 38).

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South of Bari in Polignano al Mare, check out Da Tuccino for crudi and generally other fishy awesomeness. Also in Polignano there’s Super Mago del Gelo for granite (mulberry and almond flavors are terrific). Further south along the coast in Monopoli, visit Lido Bianco (for more crudi). Near Fasano on the coastal road SS Savelletri-Torre Canne there’s a place called La Rotonda. They do grilled octopus and piles of sea urchins, which they serve with bread to scoop out the roe. The place is super simple with zero frills.

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I’m not a super fan of Alberobello, the touristy town in the Valle d’Itria with the highest concentration of conical trulli (I prefer driving or cycling around the region instead), but you should probably stop there for at least a stroll. L’Aratro is nice for a bite featuring local specialties: vegetable-based antipasti, capocollo, cheeses, fave e cicoria, and orecchiette. Work off lunch by strolling the cute towns of Cisternino, Locorotondo, Noci, and Martina Franca nearby.

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In Salento, the “heel” of the Italian boot, I have found a sad decline in the food and even the towns of the region as tourism (Italian and foreign) coupled with a local economy that prizes quantity over quality have ravaged the dining culture. Gallipoli is especially sad, but Otranto is increasingly depressing as well. For the best experience, consider avoiding Salento in high season (June-August), but if you can’t, be prepared to eat very badly in both towns. Lecce, the spectacular rock-hewn capital of Salento doesn’t have a ton of good restaurants, either, but you’ll eat well at Le Succursale and Quanto Basta mixes some of the best cocktails in the south. Don’t leave town without eating rustici and pasticciotti at Cafe Alvino in Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Check out the pasticciotti at Pasticceria Citiso, as well. The most famous spot in Lecce, Le Zie, wasn’t all that on a recent trip, which totally bummed me out.

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In Guagnano 20 min outside Lecce, there is an excellent traditional trattoria called L’Orecchietta. It’s an adorable family run place that started as a pasta shop but now they do meals cafeteria style (but very good). There is an excellent local wine selection and the place is open at lunch, closes for the afternoon, then reopens until 8PM.

Further south, Nardo’ and Galatina are 2 beautiful little inland towns great for passeggiata and apetitivo. There’s a little bar in the main square in Nardo’ called Caffe Parisi. They have a great selection of spirits and a pretty outdoor patio on the square for aperitivo or an after dinner drink.

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As previously mentioned, Otranto lost its lustre ages ago, but it’s still kind of a must for a passeggiata (though prepare to cringe at the tourist traps). If you do have to eat in Otranto, visit Peccato Di Vino. Meanwhile, inland, Farmacia dei Sani in Ruffano is very good, if a bit fancier than what I crave in Salento. For traditional dishes, try Rua de Li Travaj in Patù. Get in a swim at Torre del Orso, Sant’Andrea, and la Grotta della Poesia before heading to the Ionian coast to catch the sunset. If you go to Gallipoli and need a reliable bite, Blue Salento is a fine option. Though if you want to eat properly good food in that part of Salento, make the 20-minute drive inland to Le Macàre in Alezio.

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Now as for what to eat in Puglia, here’s what’s typical:

Pasticciotti (cream-filled tarts), mustaccioli (cookies made with wine must), fave e cicoria (fava bean puree with sauteed greens), burrata, gamberi rossi di Gallipoli (sweet red shrimp), pane di Altamura (hearty durum wheat bread), focaccia, tieddhra di cozze e patate (casserole of mussels and potatoes), cozze pelose (“hairy” mussels), taralli, turcinieddhri (roasted heat, lungs, liver, and caul fat from goats or lambs), ricotta, capocollo di Martina Franca (cured pork shoulder), orecchiette con cime di rapa (ear-shaped pasta with sauteed greens), cavatelli con pomodoro e ricotta scante (pasta with tomato and fermented ricotta), panzerotti (fried mini calzones), giuncata (soft, fresh cheese), rustici (puff pastry filled with tomato, béchamel, and mozzarella), polenta fritta (fried polenta), crocche’ di patate (potato croquettes), purpu alla pignata (simmered octopus), granita di gelso nero (black mulberry granita), and latte di mandorla (almond milk). Is your skin feeling taut just thinking about the food extravaganza? Good! 🙂

Special thanks to Linda and Vanessa Rampino for directing me to many of the delicious places above.

2017-02-17T15:14:49+00:00 August 8th, 2016|Categories: Culture, Fish, Food & Wine, Gastronomic Traditions, Puglia, Restaurants, Travel|8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Annette August 8, 2016 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    You didn’t mention my favorite Puglia food town – Ceglie Messapica. Al Fornello da Ricci for a wonderful fine dining experience that isn’t nearly as pricey as it ought to be and Osteria Pugliese for a great lunch with just locals. that is where we had “the cookie”. An almond cookie with a center of amarena jam. The owner of Osteria Puliese told us it was “just here” in Ceglie Messapica and boy was he right – no one outside of there has ever heard of it – even other Italians. I’d really love a recipe if anyone can find one. The other thing that we fell in love with was figs dried with an almond and maybe some orange peel in the center, dried over fennel seeds. We had them (with the cookies) as the end of the meal at Al Fornello da Ricci and again at a place in Lecce, Alle Due Corti. They also package them to sell, but didn’t have labels yet the day we were there or I would have bought them out. We enjoyed Alle Due Corti as well – the family that runs it was very charming. The daughter who is the hostess brought her mother (the chef) out to the table to meet us since my husband ordered her specialty.
    We stayed in Martina Franca on our first trip to Puglia and Monopoli the second time. Really enjoyed MF but Monopoli was a disappointment. We expected good seafood but very little of it seemed to be very fresh.

  2. Albert Bassano August 8, 2016 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Sad to hear that certain tourist magnet destinations have gone the way of Venice when it comes to abusing tourists’ palates (and, likely, pocketbooks).

  3. Robyn Hayes August 8, 2016 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    I was so disappointed with food in Puglia on my trip there last year. The food is always a highlight for me when I travel to Italy, it should be easy to find, and you shouldn’t have to go out of your way to get it

    • Katie Parla August 10, 2016 at 7:59 pm - Reply

      for a variety of reasons (often tied to shifts over the past decades in the various regional food systems that are erroneously believed to be local, sustainable, seasonal, authentic, etc) eating well in italy cannot be easy any longer.

  4. Sonali August 26, 2016 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Hi Katie, thanks for this super helpful post! My husband and I are going to be in Puglia in a couple weeks on our honeymoon and we’re planning to either spend a night in Polignano a Mare or in Monopoli so that we can go to one of the two restaurants crudo places you mention above. But we’re completely torn as to which one to pick! Which would you recommend?

  5. Joe September 6, 2016 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    Hi Katie, thank you for this excellent site, you’ve led me to some wonderful treats in Italy, mainly in Rome though sadly this article came too late for our trip to Puglia last year! I agree with you that this region is a real feast at every opportunity, we were amazed at the variety and quality on offer seemingly everywhere and also the value, not something that can always be said of eating out in Italy! With your permission can I add a couple of personal favourites from our trip so that your readers can also find them?

    1/ Origano is a wonderful trattoria attached the Menhir Salento wine producers in the charming village of Minervino di Lecce, delicious food and they select a glass from their wines to accompany each dish.
    2/ Mattise in Uggiano la Chiesa on a sunny Sunday was full of locals enjoying the slightly modern Italian cooking and great service.
    3/ Right down on the tip at Leuca the raw bar at 24RE is wonderfully fresh and almost obscenely generous, it’s at the western end of the bay but worth the walk.

    Thank you again, off to Rome in a few weeks and looking forward to trying a few more of your recommends, Cesare al Casaletto being one of them!

  6. Susanne metzger March 14, 2017 at 7:57 am - Reply

    Katie – thank you for the recommendations. We’re going cycling in puglia this spring so will tailor our itinerary accordingly!
    For an under-discovered region which merits much more coverage – have you visited abruzzo yet? Abruzzo, east of Rome, sweeps from the appenines down to the adriatic and their cuisine reflects the territory. You can ski in the morning and bathe in the sea in the afternoon and enjoy the most fantastic cuisine along the way.

    • Katie Parla March 16, 2017 at 7:06 pm - Reply

      I LOVE Abruzzo. Everything about it. I’m not much of a skier but I love hiking those same mountains in the summer

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