There aren’t many countries more world famous for food than Italy and the region of Puglia wins top prize when it comes to fresh local produce, wine and seafood.
It’s no secret that the Italians love to eat and the Apulians do it best. With so many towns and cities, it can be difficult to navigate this food-filled heaven, so let me talk you through three of my favourite foodie destinations in Puglia.
Just ninety minutes south of Bari, Brindisi is a one stop shop for all your gastronomic needs.
For a quick breakfast, try the local favourite ‘Rustico’, a pastry filled with piping hot bechamel, mozzarella and tomato pomodoro sauce. The fresh out of the oven cheesy treat is a cheap and easy satisfying breakfast on the go for savoury lovers.
The Xfood social restaurant in San Vito is housed at the ExFadda community centre’s converted stable which provides the restaurant’s restored furnishings and trains staff from the local community with learning disabilities. The menus use fresh herbs from the gardens and local seasonal produce and portions are generous.
Antipasti (or starters) keep firing out of the kitchen. If fava bean mash with peppers roasted in olive oil is on the menu, make sure to get at least one for the table. The seafood pasta first course is excellent served with some light chilled rosé. Fresh brewed coffee finishes off the meal nicely.
While Xfood is a community restaurant, anyone can go for a meal in the converted space and enjoy the warm welcoming staff, tasty menu and stylish eclectic surroundings
Il Cortiletto in Speziale, would be easy to miss. A simple ‘Trattoria’ sign on the outside leads you into this hidden gem, with interiors straight from a Pinterest board.
White washed walls, accents of colour, dappled light and delicate plants and flowers cover every surface of the quiet courtyard.
The menus change seasonally, so go with your servers recommendations. We tried a refreshing chilled beetroot soup, ricotta with pistachio, meatballs, meats and cheeses with jam and walnuts.
And for the pasta course; perfectly al dente spaghetti with pumpkin. Lots of good options for those with a sweet tooth, we shared a berry bombe with white chocolate shell and mint and a kind of fancy version of an ice cream sandwhich with homemade chocolate chip biscuits.
Il Cortiletto mixes traditional Pugliese cuisine with more modern cooking methods and presentation, a perfect combination. Again, expect fresh and locally sourced produce with great value for money.
While the seafood in Puglia is divine, the carnivores among us will love dinner at Braceria Semeraro in Brindisi. The restaurant all started with a butcher’s counter that began roasting and grilling their fresh meat to serve to hungry customers on the square in front of the small shop.
You choose from the quality cuts of raw meat (including some Irish Angus beef) which are then cooked to order and served with a couple of humble sides.
Slightly chilled house red wine is the perfect accompaniment for this meat feast, perhaps pass on the chicken and chips that’s suggested as a starter though, as you’ll want to save space for the main event.
The Italian sausages, or salsiccia, are among our favourites, as is the rare steak served with a light simple salad of rocket, parmesan and tomato drizzled with olive oil.
You’ll probably need an after dinner digestif after all that meat, so try a typical ‘Amaro’ herbal liqueur.
No visit to Puglia would be complete without a visit to one of the local wineries. The region was the largest producer of wine in Italy in 2016. You’ll find Cantine Paolo Leo vineyard and wine producer in San Donaci in the heart of Salento.
Walk through the production process from from the vines to bottling and labelling and enjoy the smell of French and American oak in the barrel room. Then of course, time to taste.
Try the light, every day Negroamaro wine and the more full-bodied Passo del Cardinale Primitivo then decide which one you’re going to stock up on and ship home!
Take an electric bike through the ancient olive groves on a tour with MadEra at Parco Dune Costiere. Puglia has over 60 million olives trees, producing 40% of Italy’s olive oil and with some trees over a thousand years old.
You’ll learn about the history of olive oil from the cultivation to the harvest of olives and finish off at local olive oil producer Frantoio Oleario di Antonio Cisternino’s mill to see the production line and have a chance to taste the finished product. Save space in your luggage to bring a litre home.
An hour north of Bari you’ll find the small town of Margherita di Savoia, home of Europe’s largest salt pans (and second biggest in the world after Bolivia). You can visit the massive salt mountain and learn all about the production.
How have we got this far without mentioning pizza? I was holding out to talk about the absolute gem that is Canneto Beach 2. Try to go on Giro Pizza night, where the chef keeps bringing out different pizzas with various toppings and bases till you yell stop (or politely decline any more pies)!
The buckwheat and semolina bases are surprisingly tasty and the fresh onions (locally farmed in the sand right by the beach), prosciutto and olives make for the tastiest toppings. The owner’s sommelier son will even pair your wine to your pizza, a match made in Apulian heaven.
Copacabana Suite beach club and restaurant is a feast for the senses. The dining room is a sumptuous setting of elegant white table clothes, gorgeous glassware and cutlery.
Each table embellished with candles, sea shells and crystals for a nice romantic vibe. More fresh mozzarella than I’ve ever seen, with the tastiest tomatoes and garnished with fragrant basil.
Seafood orechiette, which is a homemade pasta typical of Apulia and literally translates into ‘small ear’ which describes the shape of the shells. Wash it all down with lots of locally produced Chardonnay which pairs perfectly with the seafood.
The indoor/outdoor feel, perfect location and high standard of gastronomy at Copacabana Suite makes it a must-do in Margherita di Savoia.
Also recommended: Bagni Haiti for the finest fresh seafood.
Try the traditional Pasticciotto, an Italian filled pastry, for breakfast at Al Vino on the main square in Lecce. Typically filled with custard or ricotta cheese with a shortcrust pastry shell and served warm, mainly in the morning, but can also be found throughout the day. Pasticceria Natale is another lovely option.
Just outside Lecce is Aretè, with a gorgeous candlelit garden. You can try the olive oil tasting produced in the farmhouse. Great for a big group or a party with really affordable prices.
Obsessed with travel and beauty and unable to find a traditional career that satisfied both passions, I decided to forge my own path by combining the two. I have a tendency to do that, just go ahead and jump two feet in before testing the waters, but luckily it seems to have worked out for me. And more importantly, I have fun doing it.
Visit Nadia’s travel and lifestyle blog, the daily s’elf, to read more about her adventures.