The food in Southern Italy is quite different from the North, and in the region of Puglia there are some tasty, rustic dishes to try. From different types of pasta and seafood dishes, to unique breads and crackers, we’ve create a list of what to eat in Puglia Italy. Our Puglia food guide includes 25+ must-eat dishes.
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Puglia For Food And Wine
Puglia is an Italian region most known for being the heel in the famous boot of Italy. Its main cities and towns include the metropolitan, seaside towns like Bari, Monopoli, and Brindisi, as well as hillside and countryside towns like Ostuni and Alberobello.
The region is known for its Pugliese wine as well as some unique dishes. But, it is also known for its distinct architecture, most notable its famous trulli. Trulli are round, stone buildings. They are small huts with conical-shaped roofs. Alberobello has some of the most well-preserved trulli, but you can even stay in some as hotels or b&bs.
The food, though, is why we traveled to Puglia, in search of humble, rustic Italian cuisine.
Slow Food In Puglia
In the mid-1980’s the concept of slow food started in Italy in reaction to the introduction of American fast food in the country. They take it very seriously in Puglia. It’s not really a surprise as there is certainly a slower pace of life in Puglia in comparison to Rome, Milan, or even Emilia Romagna. The concept of slow food centers around organic, sustainable, ethical, and local ingredients.
As much as there are slow food movements in almost every country in the world, Italy has always been a true focus of slow food. There are dozens of slow cities, or cittaslow, in Italy, including a few in Puglia, including Gravina and Orsara.
Olives & Olive Oil
One of the best things about living along the Mediterranean is the easy access to incredible, local olive oil. When driving through Puglia it is impossible to miss all of the olive trees that dot the landscape. The region is responsible for producing about 40% of Italy’s olive oil. I know olive oil is not necessarily a thing to track down, after all, it will come to you. But when it comes to cuisine Pugliese, appreciate the quality of the local olive oil – and perhaps pick some up as a souvenir.
Grano Arso Or Trigo Arso
Grano arso translates to burnt wheat and is a perfect example of the cucina povera of Italy. It started out of necessity in times of poverty but is being reimagined by Italian chefs. It is used for breads and pasta and has a nutty flavor.
I’ve never really focused on eating focaccia in Italy. I think it’s because the focaccia I’ve eaten in the US is dry, often stale, and generally just not fabulous. Then, we visited Genoa, the home of focaccia and it changed my world. Although focaccia doesn’t originate in Puglia, it does form the backbone of Puglia cuisine. Be sure to look for focaccia barese topped with tomato, olives, and a sprinkling of coarse salt. The best places bake focaccia all day meaning it’s always possible to find fresh focaccia in Puglia.
Apulian cuisine is defined by Altamura Bread, which is so important to the region that is has protected DOP status under Italian law. This also means that, technically, Altamura Bread DOP must come from the town of Altamura. It is most known for having a dark, crispy crust and a doughy interior.
Eric fell in love with these biscuits years ago, before even knowing what they were called or where they were from. Taralli are a small, round biscuit. They are boiled and then baked. It is more like a cracker than a sweet biscuit. They are normally served with wine or with cocktails during an Italian aperitivo. They come in a normal flavor or you can find them infused with cheese, fennel, black pepper, or other flavors. They can also be found as sweet versions.
Every time we eat taralli, we end up eating the first one thinking they are a little dry and not all that appetizing. We will always eat a second one, and by the third or fourth, we are temporarily addicted!
These are great snacks to eat in Puglia. They are made of dough, similar to pizza dough. It is normally topped with meat, cheese, or vegetables. Puccia are much smaller than a pizza, but is small enough to make a great bite between meals.
I could eat these all day. Deep-fried bits of pastry dough, served warm with dipping sauces. It’s like a Puglia version of chips and salsa. Here, the sauces included sun-dried tomatoes, red pepper, and an apple sauce.
This is one of the Puglia food specialties that are most similar to bruschetta, but sufficiently different to make it worthwhile to track down.
Frise or friselle are round like a bagel and crunch like a cracker. Often they are topped with fresh tomatoes, which makes them seem a little more like bruschetta. Otherwise, the friselle is drizzled simply with Pugliese olive oil.
Or, for something truly traditional from the Apulia region – dip them in seawater, like the fishermen once did.
When traveling in Florence and Tuscany, I love panzanella, a salad made with bits of yesterday’s stale bread. I sometimes make a contemporary version with stale cornbread and strips of basil. Acquasala is the Pugliese version.
In Puglia, slices of bread are rubbed with tomatoes, salt, and olive oil. Then, it is mixed with tomato, onion, or maybe some other vegetables to make a refreshing salad. It’s most popular in the summer, although you can find it in spring or fall as well.
Calzone di Cipolla
I grew up eating calzones in Northern Jersey, but the versions in Puglia are totally different. Instead of a folded-over dough, in Puglia Calzone di Cipolla is a pie filled with local ingredients like onion, tomatoes, and olives – sometimes with anchovies.
Stracciatella di Bufala
One of the reasons why we moved to Europe was cheese. Sure, we could find cheese when we lived in Southeast Asia, but it is not part of the everyday culture. We just missed it. Now, living in Spain, I feel like we don’t go a day without eating cheese in some form. One of the best foods in Puglia for cheese lovers is Stracciatella di Bufala, a must-eat! This is essentially a buffalo mozzarella cheese that has been torn or shredded and then dragged in cream.
I am not sure what I love more about burrata, eating it or just saying the word burrata. There is something so sumptuous about the word. The outside is made of buffalo mozzarella. The inside is filled with stracciatella with cream. This is why when you cut open a ball of burrata it simply oozes. Pure cheese heaven.
This is another version of mozzarella well known in Puglia. Caciocavallo is a Puglia traditional food that is a must-eat. The cheese is tied into a balloon shape and then a string is used to tie a neck around it. The cheese is then dried turning it into an aged pungent cheese. It can be aged for a year or more.
Scamorza is a cow milk’s cheese that is quite common on restaurant menus throughout Puglia. It’s a spun cheese, and I believe the work scamorza translates to strangled. It is soft, a little chewy and generally served warm as a starter. Also look for Scamorza Affumicata, which is a smoked variety also common to eat in Puglia.
Ricotta is a cheese that is popular throughout Italy. We’ve witnessed it being made fresh at dairies in and around Modena and Parma. There, the ricotta is made from the by-products of making Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s also quite popular to eat in Puglia as well.
Sgagliozze – Deep Fried Polenta
There is nothing whatsoever wrong with Sgagliozze. This Pugliese food is essentially deep-fried polenta. It’s often considered Pugliese street food.
We both grew up in Northern New Jersey, with Italian American friends and family. Eating in Naples was like a walk down memory lane through the food. One of the dishes I grew up hearing about was capocollo, which was pronounced entirely different in a Northern New Jersey/New York Italian American accent (more like “gabagoul”).
Capocollo, or capicola, or coppa, is an Italian cured meat. It is normally cured after being rolled in spices and left to age for at least four months. It is normally served thinly sliced and is a little fattier than many Americans might be used to. But, it is so darn good.
Pasta In Puglia
A day in Italy without eating pasta is a day that never was. We are used to a lot of the heavier pasta dishes popular farther north, particularly in Bologna, Modena, and Parma. In Puglia, though, there are some unique pasta shapes I had never heard of before researching for our visit to Puglia. Here are some of the pasta dishes you might find on a Puglia restaurant menu.
Of course, most travelers to Italy look for pasta, but many food and drink travelers might not know how regional Italy’s cuisine is. Each region in Italy is known for a particular type of pasta or shape of pasta, or perhaps multiple shapes from a particular region. The most common pasta shape to eat in Puglia is Orecchiette.
Orecchiette translates, roughly, to little ear referring to its ear-like shape. It’s so popular in Puglia that there is an Orecchiette Street in Bari. In Puglia, this classic pasta is normally served drizzled in olive oil and mixed with vegetables or seafood.
Orecchiette Cime Di Rapa
Although it is quite easy to find orecchiette in Puglia, one of the must-eat Puglia dishes is orecchiette cime di rapa, which is where the pasta is mixed with cime di rapa, which translates to turnip tops. It’s not a turnip how Americans or British might consider. Instead, it is a bitter green called broccoli rabe.
Sagne is a long, spiral-shaped pasta normally served with tomato and cheese sauce. It is most noted for resembling the unique architecture of Lecce.
Spaghetti Ai Ricci
Not for the picky eater, Spaghetti Ai Ricci is made with sea urchins from the Adriatic Sea. The sea urchins are normally collected in Puglia, near Taranto. The sea urchin is cooked with white wine, garlic, olive oil, and salt. Some recipes add a little bit of chili for added spice. The mixture is then added to fresh pasta.
Tiella is a pie made with rice, potatoes, and breadcrumbs, which is steamed in white wine. Local Pugliesee mussels are added. Here’s the unique part of tiella. Generally, the mussels are left in the shell, meaning it is a bit of a hands-on affair to eat.
I will never forget the first time I ate panzerotti in Italy. It was in Milan, in 2006, steps away from the Doumo. I remember thinking how genius it is. Panzerotti are sort of smaller versions of a calzone. They are small pastries filled with cheese, tomato, or other savory ingredients. They are baked or fried until tasty. I was thrilled to find panzerotti in Puglia too!
Fave e Ciciore
Fave e Ciciore translates to beans and chicory. In this case, fava beans are pureed or mashed and then served with chicory, a bitter green herb. It’s normally drizzled with local Puglia olive oil too.
Piselli Nano Di Zolino
Piselli are peas, and this particular pea is a DOP product from the village of Zolino. They are bigger and less green than normal peas. You might find Piselli Nano di Zolino on a menu served with a pasta dish, or used in a rustic soup or stew.
We don’t often find ourselves eating a lot of desserts in Italy. Normally I am stuffed after every meal. If anything, I might leave space for a little gelato – but normally after a bit of a walk. Boconnotto is one of the most typical Pugliese desserts, though, and is a must-eat in Puglia. It’s a type of sponge cake that is filled with Italian fruit, often with what is seasonal.