Fact: Food in Puglia is absolutely delicious.
If you have been reading my blog for some time, you will know that while there are some ubiquitous dishes in Italian cuisine, food in Italy is actually very regional and in fact not only each region, but each city and even each village have their own special dishes – or their own specific (and usually secret) recipe to prepare a famous dish. The same definitely goes for Puglia too.
Puglia food is all about being slow (don’t know what slow food is? Check this out!). Dishes here are prepared with locally sourced seasonal ingredients; olive oil and vegetables are abundantly used – so food in Puglia is actually quite healthy.
This is a place where locals very much enjoy family meals, which include cooking together and keeping the local traditions alive. Travel to Puglia, and you will find an incredible array of local eateries; street food places that are perfect for a quick (and budget friendly) bite; and a selection of gourmet restaurants serving traditional Puglia food with a modern twist. In other words, you won’t go hungry.
Curious to discover the best food in Puglia? Continue reading and you’ll soon learn what to eat!
All The Food In Puglia You Must Try
Focaccia is actually found across Italy, but in different forms, shapes, and most importantly prepared with different ingredients. Focaccia in Puglia is a simple affair of dough that is smothered in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and topped with tomatoes and at times olives. It’s incredibly tasty, moist and crispy in bits and it’s just perfect (not to mention very budget friendly) as a snack or as a quick lunch.
One of the best places to try focaccia barese is Magda bakery, in the Borgo Murattiano of Bari. That’s where locals go.
Check out my post The Best Things To Do In Bari.
Orecchiette alle Cime di Rapa
Orecchiette literally means “small ears” and needless to say the name of this pasta comes from its shape, which well resembles small ears. This pasta typical of Puglia is so popular that no Sunday lunch is complete without them.
Traditionally orecchiette are served with “cime di rapa” (turnip tops, which are similar in flavor to broccoli but look more like spinach) stir fried in olive oil, a tiny bit of garlic, cayenne pepper and a hint of anchovies.
For the best orecchiette in Bari, head to Vini e Cucina, a nice local osteria at the entrance of Bari Vecchia, in via Vallisa.
If you want to bring a bag of orecchiette home, the best place to buy them is Via dell’Arco Basso. Local women along this small alley sit outside their door making orecchiette, and they are happy to show you how they are done. In fact, there are so many of them that Via dell’Arco Basso is now referred to as Via delle Orecchiette.
Make sure to buy a bag of orecchiette that are already dry, otherwise the humidity and water in them will make them go moldy within a few days if they are kept in a closed plastic bag.
Fave e Cicoria
One of the most traditional dishes of Puglia cuisine, fave e cicoria is also naturally vegan, not to mention super healthy while at the same time full of flavor. Fava bean puree is accompanied by cicoria – a bitter green found in Italy that is similar to endive (though its name translates as chicory).
You will find this dish served in traditional trattorie and osterie. One of the best places to try it is in Ostuni, at Relais Le Sommità, in Via Scipione Petrarolo 7.
Riso Patate e Cozze
Probably my favorite dish in Puglia, this baked dish typical of Bari is a fantastic mix of rice, potatoes, mussels as well as tomatoes, garlic, parsley, grated pecorino cheese and – as with any other dish in Puglia cuisine – extra virgin olive oil. It’s actually very easy to prepare!
The best restaurant to try this dish is La Tiella, in Via Salvatore Cognetti 13, Bari.
Typical of Martina Franca, the bombette pugliesi are actually quite similar, in concept, to the involtini you’ll find served in many trattorie (not to mention homes) across Italy. In this case, they are prepared with thin slices of pork or veal, traditionally layered with Caciocavallo Podolico del Gargano cheese, capocollo (more about that below) and pancetta, and either grilled or cooked in tomato sauce. They are originally a street food, so meant to be small and eaten in no more than two bites.
Among the best bombette in Puglia there are those of Braceria dei Santi, in Via Porticella, Ceglie Messapica.
The best street food in Puglia is by far the pizzo leccese. Typical of Lecce, it’s like a thick bread prepared at times with olives or other vegetables such as turnip tops. Once baked, it looks like a massive roll of 20 or even 30 cm in diameter. Locals stuff it with seasonal vegetables – eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, rocket and add cheese and meats for a full lunch.
The best pizzo in Lecce is at La Prelibatezza Pucceria 1941, in the historic center.
Not to be confused with the pizzo – though oftentimes the word puccia is used to referred to what is actually a pizzo, puccia will make for the best sandwich in Puglia. The overall concept is similar to that of a pita (in fact, even the name is similar).
The dough is similar to pizza – nice and crispy on the outside, but moist inside. It’s actually puffy so it is empty – which means you can stuff it more! Most locals have it with a selection of vegetables.
For a good puccia in Lecce go to La Prelibatezza Pucceria 1941.
Capocollo is typical of Martina Franca. This large salami-like meat is made of the neck of the pig, so that only two can be made from each animal. The meat is rubbed with a mix of spices and cured for at least 130 days. The fat at the center of the meat and the fact it’s sliced very thinly means that it literally melts in your mouth.
Any good salumeria (a delicatessen shop) in Puglia, as well as good trattorie, will have capocollo. It’s the best local meat to have in a sandwich!
Burrata and Stracciatella
Good cheese abounds in Italy, and Puglia certainly contributes to that abundance. The best are by far burrata and stracciatella.
Stracciatella, a word that comes from “stracciato” (meaning torn) is like a shredded, very creamy mozzarella. Best eaten with a spoon, you can actually spread it (yes, that’s what I said) on bread or – as you are in Puglia – eat it with taralli.
Burrata will look a bit like a mozzarella with a small knot on top, but the inside is actually stuffed with stracciatella. So while the outside is thick and a bit harder, the inside is fantastically creamy.
Pane di Altamura
If you love bread as much as I do, you’ll be in for a treat in Puglia: it’s simply delicious. You’ll be served bread with all your meals in restaurants, but if you want to make sure to try Altamura bread head to a bakery and get yourself some.
Altamura bread has to come strictly from Altamura to be called as such – in fact, it is DOP (Designation of Protected Origin). The bread has a thick, crisp, dark crust, but inside it’s much softer and almost moist. It’s perfect to accompany capocollo, burrata and stracciatella.
Taralli are a bit like breadsticks, but come in the shape of a ring. They can have different flavors – plain, with fennel seeds, and onion. They are always served along with bread in restaurants and trattorie, and are a common snack to have with a good aperitivo. Mind you – they are actually addictive.
A very crispy, dry bread that is perfect to make a local version of bruschetta. You can actually have it for breakfast too – it’s perfect to spread jam or nutella.
Panzerotti are local (and smaller) version of calzone: pizza dough is stuffed with mozzarella and tomato and then fried. It’s one of the best street food in Puglia.
If you are in the mood for sweets, then have a pasticciotto. Typical of Lecce, this pastry is made with a shortcrust stuffed with a thick egg custard, and then baked. It’s crispy and with a filling that melts in your mouth. Other than the traditional version (which I believe remains the best), there are more modern ones with pear or apples added to the filling, or with a chocolate shortcrust. Pistachio custard is also common to find.
The best pasticciotti are in Caffé Alvino, in Piazza Sant’Oronzo 30, Lecce – literally in the heart of the city. If you are lactose intolerant like me, or celiac, you can get good pasticciotti at Danny, in Via Marche 14, an easy walk from the historic center of Lecce.
Make sure to read my post The Best Things To Do In Lecce.
Found throughout Puglia, cartellate are a traditional sweet commonly served during Christmas holidays. They are made with a very thin dough that is deep fried in oil and smothered in either vincotto (a dark, sweet sauce made by slow cooking a reduction of non-fermented grape) or honey and then sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Some even have sprinkled almonds.
BONUS #1! Puglia olive oil
Puglia olive oil is so special that it may well be called the gold of Puglia. On any day driving throughout the region you will be able to spot olive groves – the terrain here is perfect for them. This is actually the largest producer of oil in the country, and in this case, quantity also comes with quality.
No such thing as “off the shelf” bottles of oil exists here. I mean – you will find commercial brands sold in supermarkets, but most people buy their olive oil directly from the producers, much like we do in Sardinia.
Puglia olive oil is so good that you will want to actually eat it with a spoon (that’s what I did the last time I visited!).
Want to learn more about Puglia olive oil? Consider joining a tour which includes tastings! For more information, click here.
BONUS #2! Puglia Wine!
Where there is good olive oil, there is also good wine – and viceversa. This is to say that Puglia makes some excellent wines and that they are definitely great to accompany all the delicious food you will be having. If you want to go for a grape that is strictly local, opt for Primitivo. Made with black grapes, this wine is full of flavor. Other wines you may want to try are the Nero di Troia and the Negroamaro.
Guided Tours To Enjoy Food In Puglia
To make the most of Puglia food, to learn more about it, or just for the sake of it you may want to join one – or more! – guided tours. Food tours are available in various places around Puglia. You have the option to pick a market and street food tour; a bike or even segway food tour; or more simply a cooking experience with a local, which usually involves eating dinner with them too.
If you are planning a trip to Puglia, these posts will be useful:
- The Best Traditional Italian Food
- The Best Itinerary For A Puglia Road Trip
- What To Know Before You Visit Puglia
- A Great Guide To Valle D’Itria
- A Short Guide To Alberobello
- The Best Things To Do Ostuni
- A Brief Guide To Martina Franca
- What To See And Do In Locorotondo
- The Best Attractions In Cisternino
- A Quick Guide To Polignano A Mare
- The Ultimate Guide To Monopoli
- Where To Stay In Bari, Italy