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Top Ten Destinations in Puglia for Foodies and Wine Lovers
Puglia is one of the best destinations in Italy for Italian food and wine lovers.
Many forums and tourist guide-books have already written about different itineraries to follow in Puglia. They described the beautiful old towns with baroque churches and monuments (Lecce) or the white-washed little towns with funny houses (Alberobello, Locorotondo, Ostuni, Cisternino); the incredible sandy beaches and coast near Gallipoli or Otranto or the relaxing countryside with millenary olive trees and wheat fields.
However, I personally think that Puglia would not be the same without its unique food and wine. The beauty of Puglia is the variety of dishes, wines and culinary traditions. Puglia is a very long region and the many different dominations (from the Spanish, to the French, the Turks, the Greeks etc.,) have influenced not just the architecture and language but also the cuisine and wines. From town to town, even just three miles apart, culinary traditions and wines can change completely.
In addition to that, in each specific area of Puglia, the cuisine is very seasonal and influenced by the different weather patterns and distance from the sea: there are seaside places such as Gallipoli or Otranto where it is impossible to find any meat course. Only the freshest seafood is available there. There are places not by the sea, such as Lecce (which is about five miles from sea) where the traditional cuisine is based on meat, vegetables and pasta.
This is an itinerary of the top ten places in Puglia that locals would consider as the best places to go because of the fantastic food and wines.
Gallipoli is the number one destination, if you like fresh seafood and fish. In Gallipoli you cannot miss the famous red shrimps in a sea salt crust and served with very fruity extra virgin olive oil from Squinzano. The seafood market also deserves a visit, where you can taste raw shrimps, sea urchins, shellfish and local oysters. Pair them with a glass of the local white Verdeca or Malvasia Bianca or with the famous rose wine made of the Negroamaro grape.
Otranto and the Southern Adriatic Coast
Otranto and the Southern Adriatic coast from Castro until Santa Maria di Leuca are another fantastic place for those who love seafood. The typical dish in this area is the sea bass or sea bream in sea salt crust and there are several restaurants where you can eat it by the sea. Also very typical is to eat sea urchins in Porto Badisco, south of Otranto. Near Santa Maria di Leuca you should not miss the tubettini pasta with zuppa di pesce (tomato sauce made with seafood).
Lecce is famous for many different things: I would say the number one thing that you should not miss in Lecce is the orecchiette and cavatelli pasta with tomato sauce. This pasta is made with durum wheat flour and water (no eggs) and is usually kneaded very early in the morning, to give enough time to dry.
Other famous local dishes from Lecce that you will not find anywhere else in Puglia are: the pasta with chickpeas (ciceri e tria), the pasticciotto, a sweet made with lemon custard, and the rustico stuffed with mozzarella and tomato sauce, which is a typical thing to have as an aperitif before lunch. Another thing you should not miss in Lecce is the ice cream in the main Saint Oronzo square: you can have it by the cone (hazelnut and pistachio are the best flavors) or as a spumoni, a bit harder ice cream topped with warm coffee or liquor.
Another fantastic dish not to be missed is the focaccia leccese, made with either potatoes or flour and stuffed with cheese, ham, olives and tomatoes. For those who love cheese and mozzarella, when in Lecce you should not miss the cacioricotta cheese, the fresh mozzarella fior di latte and the pecorino cheese.
The cuisine in Lecce is mainly based on all different kinds of pasta, vegetables and legumes (famous fava broad beans with chicories) which all go very well with the famous local wines: Negroamaro and Primitivo del Salento.
Ceglie Messapica is number four on our top food places in Puglia. Among the locals this is considered as one of the best destinations in Puglia for food lovers. All restaurants in Ceglie are fantastic. The cuisine is based on pasta, vegetables and meat: from caciocavallo cheese, to sausage, fava broad beans and vegetables. In Ceglie you should try the famous biscotto cegliese, a secret recipe made with almond and liquor. Ceglie is near the Primitivo di Manduria area, another famous grape really worth trying. This primitivo is totally different from the Primitivo del Salento. Lots of producers still make this wine from very old vines from 50 to 70 years.
Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca
Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca are the places to go for meat lovers. Puglia is not a region of steaks. The local meat includes: fantastic sausages (try the zampina) with veal or pork meat, the famous bombette rolls grilled at the Fornello butcher shops in Cisternino. Or the famous capocollo di Martina Franca, now a DOP certified salami similar to pancetta. In this area you also find the famous gnemmarieddhi, made with liver. In the Locorotondo area you should not miss the famous white wines from Locorotondo.
Andria is the place to go to if you like the very intense extra virgin olive oil and most of all burrata. Burrata is a sort of mozzarella stuffed with mozzarella strips and cream. It is one of the most delicious things you can find in Puglia. The best ones are freshly made in front of you. The typical cuisine from Andria also includes lots of pasta, vegetables, meat all paired with the local wine: from Nero di Troia to Bombino.
Altamura is our seventh not-to-be-missed destination. Altamura is a paradise for bread lovers and bread is the main reason why you should go to this little village. Everybody in Altamura owns a bakery, most of them are very ancient. The typical bread here is a certified DOP product made with durum wheat flour and local water. Also famous is the focaccia from Altamura which became the reason why a McDonald's had to close its branch in Altamura.
Matera is another very beautiful place. It is located in Basilicata, but because it is so close to Puglia, it is definitely a must see destination if you are in Puglia. Matera is famous for its stones and caves. It is a very ancient town built all around and on top of the beautiful caves that have often been used as a set for movies (e.g., Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ).
You should consider spending at least one day here and staying in a hotel or B&B in the caves. Especially at night it can be very romantic with all the lights from the caves. Matera is famous for the bread, focaccia, and taralli. So if you go there do not miss trying them and accompany them with the excellent and now famous red Aglianico wine.
Other less famous but still very beautiful places nearby to Matera that offer a chance to see the caves and stones are Ginosa, Laterza and Mottola.
Polignano a Mare, Trani and Bari
Polignano a Mare, Trani and Bari are other fantastic places to go to if you like seafood. Polignano is now a bit more touristy, but still it has lots of charm. In Bari, it is really worth going to the seafood market in the morning where the fishermen let you have a nice aperitif based on raw octopus and beer. In the whole Polignano, Trani and Bari area there is a strong culture of eating raw seafood (from shrimps to calamari and sea urchins etc.,). In Bari you should not miss the focaccia barese, made with cherry tomatoes and olive oil (no cheese is added on top). Finally the tiella, made with rice, potatoes and mussels is a typical dish from the Bari area, which is also made in the rest of the region.
The Gargano area is our last and totally different food-lover's area in Puglia. What this area is really famous for among the locals is the Podolica cow, from which we make the famous caciocavallo cheese and the special meat. This cheese is only made in Puglia and the best one is from Gargano. In order to age it, the old farmers leave this cheese hanging on a wooden stick as if it was riding a horse (caciocavallo literally means the horse cheese). The traditional cuisine from this area should be paired with the fantastic Aglianico or Nero di Troia red wines.
Cinzia Rascazzo is co-founder of Stile Mediterraneo Cooking & Wine School in Puglia Italy. Together with her sister Marika, also a Cardiologist, they teach the authentic home made cuisine of Puglia and organize culinary and wine tours in Puglia. Stile Mediterraneo has been featured in the Sunday Times, Gazette de Montreal, Toronto Sun, Culinary Institute of San Francisco video, Sole 24 ore financial newspaper etc.
© Cinzia Rascazzo, 2011
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