If you too never know what to eat on holiday, follow me through this guide and I will make you taste the best Puglia food specialities, not to be missed!
From the spur of Italy to the Salento peninsula, Puglia offers lush countryside, unique beaches and dreamy villages. There are many reasons to visit this beautiful area, but among them you cannot forget the rich traditional Apulian cuisine: a reflection of the variety of the region, resulting from a long gastronomic tradition.
Various peoples have succeeded one another in this region, starting with the Greeks and the Romans, up to the Normans, the Swabians and the Habsburg of Spain: each of them has certainly played a fundamental role in shaping the gastronomy of Apulia, some adding an ingredient, some a recipe.
There are many typical Apulian dishes, but they all originate from a few main ingredients, simple and of great quality, such as extra virgin olive oil, cereals, legumes, cheeses and vegetables. These raw materials are the basis of the typical Apulian cuisine, made up from genuine but tasty flavours typical of the Mediterranean diet.
Puglia’s specialities are highly appreciated by travellers, both because they easily being sold as street food, such as panzerotti, and because they are among the top souvenirs to take home, such as the orecchiette di Bari vecchia or the typical friselle.
Its flavours and characteristics have made Puglia food unforgettable and widely known even outside the region: this popularity has been helped by starred chefs such as Angelo Sabatino and Antonella Ricci, food bloggers such as “I Magistà” and even film personalities. In fact, the famous actor Lino Banfi has opened a restaurant in the capital that is entirely based on the “Made in Puglia” theme and he is also responsible for the line of typical Apulian products “Bontà Banfi”, which he himself selected.
If you too can’t wait to try all the typical Apulian dishes, follow me on this taste itinerary and discover which recipes are hidden in the different provinces of this beautiful region! 👇
The most famous typical Apulian dishes
Let’s take a look at the main typical Apulian dishes, going through their history, their origins and some curious variations. And don’t worry, if you are a wine lover, in this menu I will also give you some advice on the best pairings. 🍷
1. Orecchiette and… not only!
Brought to the big screen by the comedian actor Checco Zalone in his film “Cado dalle nubi” (I Fall from the Clouds), orecchiette pasta has been consecrated as a symbol of Apulian pride and is definitely one of the first dishes of Apulia that you must try when you arrive.
This type of pasta, made exclusively with durum wheat flour, water and salt, takes its name from its characteristic shape, reminiscent of a small ear. This is obtained by using the thumb, “turning” small pieces of dough previously curled with a knife.
The origins of this typical Apulian dish are not entirely clear, but can be traced back to the Land of Bari, from where it would later spread throughout the region. Here, still today, their main variant is widespread: strascinati. These are made following the same procedure, only they are not turned. The name derives, therefore, from the movement of the knife, used to drag and curl the dough.
Being a traditional peasant dish, orecchiette pasta is traditionally seasoned with turnip greens, cooked together with the pasta to best transmit the flavours. A variant also includes the addition of anchovies, but don’t worry, if you’re not a fan of strong flavours, tomato sauce-based sauces are also popular. One example: orecchiette topped with fried aubergines and stracciatella, a real treat!
And if your hunger for pasta doesn’t stop here, I also recommend trying sagne ‘ncannulate, a typical Salento shape that resembles twisted lasagne. They are usually topped with fresh tomato sauce, basil and various types of local cheese.
This Pugliese food represents very well the path from the “throw nothing away” of past centuries to the modern finger food trend. Born, in fact, from the home economics of housewives, these fried meatballs, made of bread, eggs, garlic, parsley and seasoned pecorino cheese, are the unmissable stars of all Apulian aperitifs. In fact, their best pairing is with a nice cold beer!
3. Scalloped mussels
Typical of the province of Taranto, cozze arraganate have made their way throughout Apulia and the rest of Italy. Characterised by its apparent simplicity, this typical Apulian food conceals the great skill of the seafarers, as it requires the mussels to be opened raw. Once opened, they are then filled with breadcrumbs, pecorino cheese and parsley. In some versions, it is also possible to find eggs in the mixture.
I recommend enjoying this dish with a glass of Lizzano DOC wine, typically produced in Taranto and its province and available in white, red and rosé versions.
4. Focaccia barese
Originally from Altamura but widespread throughout Puglia, this focaccia is the Apulian equivalent (in terms of popularity) of the Neapolitan pizza: sold in all bakeries and the undisputed queen of local street food. It is thought to have originated due to the need to use the strong heat of wood-fired ovens before the temperature stabilised to bake the famous Altamura PDO bread.
Made from flour, boiled potatoes, well-ripened tomatoes and Baresan olives, the Bari focaccia is tall, crispy around the edges and, above all, seasond with the excellent local olive oil. Whether as a snack or as an appetiser, you can’t fail to try it!
5. Pettole or pittule
Pettole, also called pittule in Lecce, are perhaps the Puglia food speciality most shrouded in mystery. Their origin is linked to the beginning of the Christmas period and, even today, they are prepared by the various towns on different days, but with the same meaning: welcoming winter. In Taranto they are typical of Santa Cecilia, in Lecce of San Martino, in Bari of Santa Caterina and in Gallipoli of Santa Teresa d’Avila.
Sweet or savoury, simple or filled, these irregular balls of dough have only one rule: they must be eaten freshly fried! You can find them hollow, sprinkled with sugar, soaked in vincotto, filled with salted cod and anchovies, and much more. Have fun trying them all!
Probably the best known Apulian snack outside the region, taralli are a product of excellence in local gastronomy. Again, being a home-made recipe, there are countless varieties, but all share a long tradition.
These baked products have ancient origins and are widespread throughout southern Italy. Simple, flavoured with fennel, spicy, onion and pizzaiola are just some of the variants of this Apulian speciality. They are excellent as an aperitif, accompanied by cold meats and cheeses and a nice glass of red wine.
And if you think taralli can only be savoury, you are wrong! In fact, you can also taste chocolate taralli, black taralli with vincotto and “scileppi”, sweet taralli covered with lemon syrup and typical of the Easter period.
Mistakenly called “travel bread”, frisella is a durum wheat or barley dough that, after being baked once, is split in half and baked again. This is precisely why friselle cannot be called “bread”, because they are, in fact, double baked.
The name “travelling bread” derives from the use that has always been made of this typical Pugliese food: ever since the Phoenician navigators, this bread was carried on ships and rehaydrated with seawater when needed. It is said, in fact, that a good frisella must withstand a three-minute soaking to be considered a quality one.
Given their nature as dry bread with a long shelf life, friselle were prepared in community or public ovens, where up to 100-200 kg of flour could be kneaded: a small part of this dough would become fresh bread, to be consumed shortly; while the majority of it would become friselle, to be stored up to three months.
Seasoned with tomatoes, olive oil and olives, we can say that the frisella is the embodiment of everything that Puglia stands for: simple flavours, genuine ingredients and traditional conviviality.
From friselle comes “acquasale”, a poor dish of peasant origin in which the frisella is soaked in water, olive oil and salt and various ingredients such as tomatoes, onion, celery and caroselli cucumbers are added. Originating in Brindisi, this dish was offered to warriors leaving for the crusades and, at the time, included only soaked bread, salt, olive oil and onions.
Today, the ancient peasant Puglia food recipe has certainly been enriched and I recommend you try it as an appetiser, fresh and light, excellent with a glass of Verdeca.
Also originated from the “throw nothing away” mentality, panzerotti are now listed as traditional food products and enjoy a much better reputation than they had in the past: they were prepared with bread dough scraps, filled with a little cheese and fried. Today, however, they are prepared with their own dough, enriched with tomato and other fillings. One thing, however, has not changed: the frying.
10. Broad beans and chicory
According to the Mediterranean diet, the basis of our health is vegetables and beans, and the ancient Apulian farmers had already understood this. This typical Apulian dish is called “fav e fogghie” in dialect, which means “broad beans and leaves”, referring to chicory. The former are hulled, boiled and reduced to a cream; the latter are quickly sautéed in a pan with garlic, olive oil and chilli pepper.
Puccia is a form of bread originating in central-southern Apulia; in particular, it is said to have originated in the province of Lecce, but it is also widespread in Gallipoli and Taranto with different variations. The puccia leccese was first created with scraps of bread dough which, when crushed and cooked, gave rise to these loaves without crumbs, ready to be stuffed.
Another very famous version of this Apulian speciality is the “puccia caddhipulina”, typical of Gallipoli and different from its Lecce sister in terms of the amount of crumb: here it is much more copius. Finally, there are also “pucce uliate”, i.e., enriched with olives in brine.
12. Scapece gallipolina
Dating back to the many days of siege experienced by the city of Gallipoli in the Middle Ages, scapece gallipolina was nothing more than a method of preserving fish longer and making it available during invasions by Mediterranean powers. It consists of fried fish marinated in special containers, called “calette” in Gallipoli dialect, together with breadcrumbs, vinegar and saffron. The latter is responsible for the characteristic yellow colouring.
13. Calzone barese
Think you already know the calzone? If you’re thinking of the stuffed half-moon made of pizza dough, I’m sorry, but calzone barese has nothing to do with this dish from Campania. The real calzone alla barese is a pie of dough, round in shape, stuffed with black olives, anchovies, fried onions, raisins and ricotta cheese.
14. Ciceri e tria
An Apulian speciality from Salento, this recipe bears the region’s Arabic influence: “tria”, in fact, derives from the Arabic “itriya” and means “pasta”; while “ciceri” are chickpeas, in Latin. This dish, which might seem like a simple version of pasta with chickpeas, actually has an interesting twist: part of the pasta is not boiled, but fried! The combination of different textures creates a truly unique experience.
15. Tiella with rice, potatoes and mussels
In the gastronomy of Puglia, and in particular that of Bari, the tiella di riso patate e cozze (rice, potatoes and mussels) is a must. It takes its name from the pan in which it is prepared: the tieed. As a family recipe, it has many variations, all sharing the three basic layers: potatoes, mussels and rice, to which is added a breadcrumb coating flavoured with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Wild onions with a “complicated” taste, these herbaceous plants are typical of Apulia’s Mediterranean maquis. They lend themselves to being eaten within simple preparations that can bring out their true flavour. This is why it is very common to find them in olive oil, cooked under ash or simply sautéed in a pan. Another traditional way of cooking lampascioni is with eggs, making the classic lampascioni omelette.
These roulades made with lamb or kid offals have their origins in the thousand-year-old tradition of sheep farming, which was introduced by the Greeks and has been carried on ever since. This recipe was then developed in feudal times, when the landowners were entitled to the best parts of the meat and the peasants were left with scraps and guts. Hence the idea of using them, creating roulades, sometimes stuffed and sometimes simple, barbecued or stewed and perfect to enjoy with a glass of red wine, such as Gioia del Colle DOC, made with Primitivo grapes.
18. Octopus alla pignata
Typical of Salento, this Puglia food originates from the region’s seafaring culture and includes a traditional practice essential to its success: pounding the freshly caught octopus on the rocks. This technique allows the hard, rubbery flesh of the octopus to fray and, thanks to the long cooking time, become soft and crumbly.
The recipe is prepared entirely inside the pignata, the Salento terracotta pot, where peeled tomatoes, onions, bay leaves and, of course, the chopped octopus are placed. And no, no liquids, because the octopus must cook in its own water. Accompanying this typical pugliese food are delicious slices of bread, to be dipped in the cooking juices.
Originating in the Valle d’Itria, these capocollo rolls stuffed with caciocavallo cheese and pancetta find many versions within the territory, causing the classic dispute of “in my village they are better”. But there is one thing everyone agrees on: grilled on an open fire are truly spectacular. Don’t miss them!
At this point, you will ask yourself: “And what about the desserts?” Don’t worry, the cuisine of Apulia will not be found wanting.
20. Pasticciotto leccese
Best eaten while still warm, this small oval cake has become part of breakfast in Lecce and throughout Salento. Its apparent simplicity of shortcrust pastry and custard conceals the craftsmanship of artisans, handed down from generation to generation and rooted in Salento culture.
A symbol of the halo of the baby Jesus, this fried dessert, made of flour, oil and white wine, is typically prepared during the Christmas season. You can find them covered with vincotto, honey, cinnamon and sugar, chocolate and more.
22. Biscuit of Ceglie
The lands of Ceglie, in the Brindisi area, have for centuries been dedicated to the production of almonds, whose flour is used to make this delicious biscuit, protected by Slow Food. Stuffed with cherry or grape jam, strictly local, this fragrant sweet can be enjoyed in its simplicity or covered with a sugar and cocoa icing.
Events to taste Pugliese food
Here are some events not to be missed, to taste typical Apulian food during your visit:
• The orecchietta festival in Vignacastrisi
• The Te la Uliata festival in Caprarica di Lecce, dedicated to the olive puccia
• The sagra del Fegatino di Crispiano, dedicated to gnummaried
And now that you know all about Puglia food, what are you waiting for? Visit Puglia with Italia Delight! 😉