Savoring the South: Five Great Tastes you’ll only find in Puglia
Even in a country where every region has its own distinct culinary heritage, the food and drink of Puglia stands out as unique. And although famous regional specialties like orecchiette and primitivo can now be found and enjoyed around the world, there are still certain highlights that can only be enjoyed in Italy’s stunning heel. Here are five things you need to sample the next time you visit Puglia. Your taste buds will be grateful you made the effort.
Fave e Cicoria
Try it at: Cibus, Ceglie Messapica
Much of the cuisine of Southern Italy has its roots in poverty. Cucina povera, the Italians like to call it. But for a sample of cucina poverissima, you’ll have to head to Puglia to try the famous Fave e Cicoria; a bowl of fava bean puree, topped with bitter chicory, a few croutons of fried bread and a generous pour of local extra virgin olive oil. The art of Fave e Cicoria has been handed down through the generations, and one of the very best interpretations is unveiled daily at Cibus <http://www.ristorantecibus.it/>, a rightfully celebrated restaurant in the foodie paradise of Ceglie Messapica where rustic dishes are served with elegant simplicity. For many Pugliese, this dish is the ultimate taste of their cultural heritage. Nutritious and filling, our friend Bruno insists that a good bowl of the stuff “Takes you to heaven!”
Ciceri e Tria
Try it at: Alle Due Corti, Lecce
You won’t find Ciceri e Tria anywhere outside the Salento region, the tip of the Puglian heel. An explosive bundle of flavor concocted from the seemingly simple combination of chickpeas and pasta – half boiled, half fried – the skill is in the frying and the seasoning. That’s where Rosalba De Carlo and her family at Alle Due Corti <http://www.alleduecorti.com/> have turned the dish into an art form, perfectly balancing the creaminess of the chickpea sauce with hints of deep fried crunch. Don’t expect formal dining at Alle Due Corti. This is traditional Cucina Salentina, where the portions are generous and the menu is printed in local dialect and English, leaving non-local Italians often asking other diners to help discover exactly what they’re ordering.
Try it at: Pasticceria Ascalone, Galatina; and Pasticceria Cheri, Campi Salentina
If you’re talking pastry in the Puglia, then you’re talking Pasticciotto. Crispy yet soft pastry on the outside. Sweet, creamy custard on the inside. You can find this delicious treat in every bar in the Salento, but there’s nowhere better to taste it than the actual pasticceria where it was invented, Ascalone, in Galatina. They’ve been churning out these little packets of pleasure since 1745, and even now Salentini will drive from miles for a taste of the classic recipe.
For those seeking a break from tradition, it’s worth the trip to Campi Salentina to seek the famous Pasticciotto Obama, the heart-in-the-right-place but politically incorrect tribute to the first Afro-American President at Pasticceria Cheri <http://www.tripadvisor.ca/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g1179339-d4748014-i75886749-Pasticceria_Cheri-Campi_Salentina_Province_of_Lecce_Puglia.html>. Yes, it’s a chocolate Pasticciotto. Yes, it’s like a magical Salento brownie. And yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds.
Espressino and Caffe in Ghiaccio
Try it at: Avio, Lecce
The classic Italian rules of coffee are a little different in Puglia. Sure, you can still get espresso and cappuccino but where’s the fun in that? The beverages of choice in Italy’s deep Southeast are Espressino – a full shot of espresso with half the milk of a classic cappuccino and a dusting of chocolate – and Caffe in Ghiaccio, coffee on the rocks, traditionally served with sweet almond milk. And there’s nowhere better to try either than Avio <http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g194791-d4722764-Reviews-Avio_Bar-Lecce_Province_of_Lecce_Puglia.html>, a beloved standing room only bar in the heart of Lecce where Caffe in Ghiaccio comes with its own cremina; a unique coffee foam that’s recipe is a closely guarded secret. The perfect coffee for those warm Salento afternoons, there’s simply nothing else like it.
Try it at: Bisco, Altamura
Altamura, an adorable town in the Murgia region of Puglia, is generally regarded as home to Italy’s best bread. Which means it must be in consideration for any discussion about the tastiest bread on Earth. At Bisco <http://www.bisco.it/azienda/>, one of the city’s ten DOP bakeries, they create crusty, gently sourdough loaves so delicious they’re irresistible without any toppings. While there we were given the honor (or possibly the punishment) of shaping the precious dough before putting it in the oven. No matter how many times the bakers showed us how a few simple tugs and pats on the dough could produce perfect domes, the best we could manage would more accurately be described as splats.
These are just five of the unique tastes that make Puglia, in our opinion, the most fascinating and delicious region in all of Italy. Every town, no matter how small, has its own specialties and treats. It’s a region proud of its culinary heritage; although you’re more likely to be treated to samples than history lessons. Speak to locals, and they’ll inevitably recommend their favorite places and what you need to try when you get there. This is a region that takes food and drink seriously, but also understands that’s any dish tastes even better when served with a smile and a sense of fun.
That’s the beauty of Puglia, a region where food and drink are more than tastes. They’re adventures and experiences. That’s why we love coming back for more.
Espressino Travel specializes in Group and Private Tours of Puglia and the Salento. You can follow themFacebook, on Twitter at @espressinotrav and on Instagram. For details of their Tours visit Espressino Travel
Photo and text credits: Robert Collins-Espressino Travel