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Where to eat and drink in Puglia, Italy

The region’s food may be known as cucina povera, but this coastal corner of southern Italy promises culinary riches such as oysters, orecchiette and a local twist on the doughnut. Written by Luca Lorusso, restaurateur and Puglia native now living in Melbourne. His latest book, co-written by Vivienne Polak, Sharing Puglia: Simple, Delicious Food From Italy’s Undiscovered Coast is out now (£25, Hardie Grant).

Puglia is tucked right down in the heel of Italy, but its food is acclaimed across the country in all its uncomplicated and deeply satisfying variety. Commonly known as cucina povera (cuisine of the poor) due to its tendency to use simple, fresh, local ingredients, this is Italian food at its earthy best.

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The Ionian and Adriatic Seas meet at the region’s southern tip, and together, provide an abundance of fish all year round. Visit Puglia and you will find spectacular seafood in the little towns spread out across its craggy 800km coastline. From freshly caught octopus being slapped by fishermen onto the concrete at Bari’s seafront promenade, to mountains of oysters being shucked in the rundown town of Taranto, the sheer variety of fish sold in Puglia’s ports is awe-inspiring. 

Inland, Puglia’s long, hot summers and fertile soil produces vegetables of intense flavour. The Pugliese are fiercely proud of their produce, from broccoli rabe and lampascioni (wild hyacinth bulbs) to fennel, courgettes, artichokes, aubergines, chicory, cardoncelli mushrooms, broccoli, olives and grapes. 

Menu decoder

What to look out for in Puglia

Pettole

These deep-fried golden puffs of dough can be sweet or savoury and are often served at breakfast alongside fresh cheeses, fruit, quince paste, fig jam and pistachios.

Sgagliozza

Fried polenta chips, typically sold as street food in Bari, also to be found in restaurants and cafés.

Orecchiette

This iconic ‘ear’ shaped Pugliese pasta, made from durum wheat, flour, water and a pinch of salt is traditionally eaten with broccoli rabe.

N’durcinill

Also known as torcinelli, these are little offal parcels grilled on hot coals.

Broccoli rabe

Also called cima di rapa or rapini, this looks like small heads of broccoli with lots of leaves.

Calzone

Pizza dough filled and folded over, they are consumed voraciously in Puglia. In the past farmers would take them in their pockets to the fields.

FIVE GREAT PLACES TO EAT & DRINK IN PUGLIA

Da Fabio, Zollino

Ordering off-menu is definitely the way to go here. Ask for recommendations and you will find yourself eating
like a local. Piazza Pertini 7, Zollino.

Cibus, Ceglie Messapica

Try the grain salad served with house-baked focaccia or a selection of antipasti. Order the orecchiette con cime di rapa and savour the chewy texture of handmade orecchiette with the slightly bitter broccoli rabe. Via Chianche di Scarano, 7, Ceglie Messapica; 00 39 0831 388 980

Le Zie, Lecce

Try Carmelina’s pure di fave con cicoria (fava bean mash with bitter chicory). The sublime silky mash is a perfect foil for the sautéed chicory and comes blessed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Or, try the tajeddra con le cozze, which is a layered dish of mussels, rice and stock, also known as tiella.Via Costadura, 19, Lecce; 00 39 0832 245 178

Blanc café, Gallipoli

This chic bar in the seaside town of Gallipoli is a wonderful place to have a drink. Cocktails are innovative and delicious (as are the appetisers that accompany the drinks) and the décor and atmosphere in this high ceiling’d stone building are stunning. Via Xxiv Maggio 19/21, Gallipoli; 00 39 0833 263 499

Caffe Ronchi, Altamura

You’ll find excellent coffee in this old style café. Sit with the locals and savour the atmosphere, focaccia and delicious gelato. Take a break from sightseeing at the nearby cathedral and try a shot of the traditional Padre Peppe liquor, which is made from local walnuts. Corso Federico II di Svevia 87, Altamura; 00 39 080 311 7001


Published August 2015. 

Photographs Alicia Taylor, istock, Jaqui Melville


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