Italy is a country led by its food. Everywhere you go delicious things to eat and drink surround you, tempting you in. Puglia in the southeast of Italy is very far from being the exception to this food rule – here are 5 dishes from Puglia you must eat.
The first time we took my mum and dad to Italy, my dad was slightly terrified. He was certain that he’d eat so much food while he was there that the airline wouldn’t let him back on the return flight.
While the airline wasn’t a problem, Dad’s waistband has never quite been the same again. And that’s what it’s like in Italy. If you’re looking for a foodie experience, it really doesn’t get much better than this country.
There the passion for the edible verges on the divine.
Every time Mrs Romance and I visit Italy, we discover something new and delicious to eat. And on our recent trip to Puglia, the region in the stiletto of Italy’s boot, we discovered a whole new wealth of delicious.
Here are the top 5 things we ate in Puglia we can’t recommend highly enough:
5 dishes from Puglia you must eat
1. Tiella – Pugliese paella
Hearty, delicious and one of the most typical dishes from Puglia you can find, this is tiella. In fact, you could even narrow it down to being just a dish you find in the Bari area.
It’s a bit like the Spanish paella – a delicious mix of rice, potatoes, mussels, pecorino or cacioricotta cheese and sometimes a little sprinkle of crunchy breadcrumbs.
2. Cacioricotta cheese
If you like regular ricotta and regular cheese, you’re going to love cacioricotta. Only found in 3 regions of Italy – Puglia, Basilicata and Campania – all in the south, this delicacy is worth looking out for.
Cacioricotta is harder than regular ricotta but still not as firm as regular cheese. It’s still got the creaminess of ricotta but is also a little sharper and nuttier. You find it grated over meals like tiella and hot tomato-based dishes instead of pecorino.
You often see locals sitting grating blocks of cacioricotta outside their houses getting ready for dinner.
If you see polpo anywhere on a menu in Puglia, it’s worth ordering. The way the Pugliese prepare and cook octopus turn it into the most tender, delicious food.
If you go down to the fish markets along the sea wall in Bari and alike, you’ll see the fishermen either bashing the (dead) octopus they’ve caught with a wooden paddle or just hitting them against the harbour wall. Then they rinse them in a bucket on a little rocker.
The fishermen do this repeatedly, which tenderises the octopus before it’s even near a kitchen. From octopus ceviche to polpo al forno, it’s all amazing. Of all the dishes from Puglia we ate, polpo was my favourite.
You can find out where the one of best octopus dishes from Puglia I had was, check out this post.
4. Taralli – ‘belly button biscuits’
Somewhere between a breadstick and a pretzel, tarelli are one of my favourite Italian snacks. They’re actually made from baked pasta dough and come in a variety of flavours.
Most often you’ll find either fennel or just plain, but they can be anything from chilli to sweet. They’re all delicious!
We’re going to try and make them ourselves – that’s how much we miss them and how hard good ones are to find anywhere outside the southeastern Italian peninsular.
5. Orecchiette alle cime di rapa
The iconic pasta shape of the southeast is orecchiette – literally meaning ‘little ears’. All around Puglia, you’ll see ladies sitting outside their houses squeezing pasta into these little concave disc shapes.
The way the pasta collects and retains sauce and their thickness makes this pasta a rich, filling and very satisfying meal.
Orecchiette alle cime di rapa is the classic Pugliese recipe you’ll find pretty much everywhere in the southeast, and is popular in local homes too. It’s very simple – just orecchietti, rapa – a local broccoli – and a little olive oil. It’s so good.
Bonus – And of course pizza
Of course, when you’re in Italy, you should always test out the pizza. Wherever you are in the country, it’ll be good. The further north you go, the thinner and crispier the pizza base.
In the south, the base is thicker and softer, but it’s not like a Pizza Hut deep dish. The edges are still crusty and firm and the middle is almost juicy.
I used to only eat the northern style thin and crispy pizzas, but having since been to Naples and now Puglia, I’m a southern style pizza covert for sure.
Italy is full of good food – absolutely full. But so far, our time in Puglia has put most of our other food experiences in its shadow. We can’t wait to go back – and just in case, I might book premium economy seats just so I can definitely get home.
So these are our favourite dishes from Puglia. Do you have a favourite Italian dish or favourite Italian region for food? Tell us in the comments.