Last updated on November 23rd, 2023
Whether you see it on your map as Apulia or your plane ticket reads Puglia, we are talking about the same region here and there is really one thing you should be keeping at top of your “to do’s” while visiting: eating amazing food.
It’s overwhelming though. We get it. “Where am I going to get the best focaccia? Am I doing the right thing by eating a whole burrata on my own? What if I miss the best pasta? What dishes are really worth trying? What can I bring back that won’t spoil or be confiscated?”
These are all great questions a lot of us have when we explore a new place and there is a ton of information out there. Well, we have done all the research, tested the waters and spoken to the locals.
So here it is: all the right info on food in Puglia, where to get it, how to pronounce it and more, all in one place. This is your guide to eating your way through one of Italy’s most authentic cuisines, so let’s get started!
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Food from Puglia vs Italian Food
Puglia’s food is shaped by its landscape which produces lush produce year-round, olive oil (40% of Italy’s oil!) in abundance and fruits by the truck full. Puglia is a region of farming, fishing and pastoralism so we see a lot of vegetables, fresh pastas as well as lamb, goat and fish.
Historically, southern Italy has been a lot poorer and has prided itself on food that it can grow itself. Puglia’s long tradition of cucina povera highlights local ingredients turned into extraordinary dishes with the help from lots of great seasoning and ancient cooking and preserving techniques.
In the few months when the growing season is a bit slow, vegetables are preserved in oil and vinegar, a method known as sott’olio, so not a day passes without eating from what the local territory has provided.
While seafood is popular on the coast (mussels being the most popular), lamb and goat are more common on the mainland, although they take a back seat to primi piatti (first course dishes) that encompass the best and boldest of Puglia’s crops: durum wheat.
You will also eat some of the best cheese of your life in Puglia, many of which are made to be eaten the same day they are made. And let’s not forget about the prized Cherry tomatoes. Now that’s farm to table!
Types of Pasta
Throughout history pasta in southern Italy was made from just durum wheat and water for two reasons. The first being that eggs were considered a luxury and thus not used in pasta making but rather on special occasions. Secondly, southern Italy is prime territory for growing some of the best wheat around. Places like Puglia dressed up their pasta with rich sauces made from local produce and olive oil, not even missing the richness that eggs add.
Don’t Miss: Via dell’Arco Basso: you often see old women sitting along this small road making homemade orecchiette as they catch up on the local gossip. Nowadays, this road is now referred to as Via delle Orecchiette.
Today, eggs are much more common but the steadfast tradition of simple pasta holds strong in Puglia. Here are some of these pastas to keep your eyes peeled for while visiting.
- Orecchiette: literally meaning ‘little ears’, this hand-shaped pasta is the most iconic in Puglia. You will see it served with cime di rape (turnip tops) or with fresh tomato sauce.
- Troccoli: commonly mistaken for spaghetti by foreigners, this long pasta is square in cross-section, made possible by using a troccolo, a grooved rolling pin that is used to cut the pasta. Troccoli is often dressed in ragù or seasonal vegetables and less commonly with pesto.
- Cavatelli: similar to orecchiette and often used interchangeably, its name means “little hollows”. The shape is slightly slimmer than orecchiette but the hole in the center still holds a lot of juicy sauce. They tend to be a little puffier and are most likely to be fresh.
- Sagne: Puglia’s version is made by wrapping strips of freshly made pasta around a thin rod to create a rolled ribbon pasta.
- Capunti: eaten throughout Italy but you will notice it’s much more common in Puglia. It is similar to an open pea pod and works well with meat and fish sauces as the chunks tend to get stuck in the crevice of the pasta.
Foodie Experience: Consider a pasta making class when traveling in Puglia. Learning to make orecchiette is one of our top picks. Read more in Italy Foodie Bucket List – 17 Amazing Italian Culinary Experiences by Region. You can also make it when you get home, using My Family’s Orecchiette Recipe.
(Pronounced free-sehl-leh sah-lehn-tee-neh in Italian)
Also known as frise, this is definitely one of Puglia’s most iconic inventions. Although it looks like a bagel it is very hard and crunchy from being double baked. They are quickly dipped in water to soften them up and topped with fresh tomatoes and oil, perfect for the summer heat!
(Pronounced tah-rahl-lee in Italian)
These are little ring shaped crackers made from oil, water and flour, often flavored with fennel seeds, peppercorns or poppy seeds. Nowadays you see mass produced versions sold all over Italy in supermarkets but they don’t even compare to the real deal. The authentic version is a must-try but watch out, they are addicting!
(Pronounced strahch-chah-tehl-lah in Italian)
Its name comes from the Italian word stracciato meaning “torn”. In the mozzarella making process, the creamy cheese strands are torn and mixed with cream to make a spreadable version of mozzarella that is out of this world! The real stuff should be eaten within 24 hours of production.
Burrata di Andria
(Pronounced boor-rah-tah dee ahn-dree-ah in Italian)
This cheese was actually invented in the 1950’s but it has just recently gained international recognition. It’s essentially stracciatella that is encased in a smooth sack of stretched mozzarella. When you break it open the creamy inside oozes out, perfect with a drizzle of local olive oil and a crunchy piece of bread. Again, the real stuff should be consumed within 24 hours!
(Pronounced cahn-eh-strah-toh pool-yeh-seh in Italian)
This hard sheep’s milk cheese is the only DOP cheese in Puglia. It gets its name from the baskets or canestri that are used to hold the cheese as it ages.
(Pronounced cah-choh-cah-vahl-loh poh-doh-lee-coh in Italian)
This cheese is made near Gargano in northern Puglia from Podolian cows which only produce a very little quantity of milk at certain times during the year. The cheese balls are left to age anywhere from two months to six years! You definitely can’t find a cheese similar!
(Pronounced mahr-zoh-tee-cah in Italian)
This cheese is only made once a year in March when the sheep begin grazing on fresh spring grass which gives the cheese a very, not surprisingly, “grassy” flavor. Perhaps not for everyone but if you are a cheese lover like myself then I highly suggest this!
(Pronounced mahn-teh-cah in Italian)
Yet another cheese typical of Puglia, fresh cow’s milk cheese shaped like a pear with a firm outer crust and soft and creamy inside.
(Pronounced pahm-pahn-ehl-lah in Italian)
Made in Grottaglie from a mixture of milks, this fresh cheese is meant to be eaten the same day it is made. Its distinct flavor partially comes from the fig leaf in which it is wrapped (and also presented in).
(Pronounced ree-coht-tah fohr-teh in Italian)
Also called ricotta scanta, it is a very strong and pungent ricotta cheese that is aged for three months in terracotta pots. Every couple of days it is stirred and left to intensify. You will either see it in pasta dishes or sold in glass jars.
Fallone di Gravina
(Pronounced fahl-lohn-neh dee grah-vee-nah in Italian)
Another “eat today” Pugliese cheese made fresh from a mix of sheep and goat’s milk. Great with crusty bread!
Orecchiette con Cime di Rape
(Pronounced ohr-rehk-kee-eht-teh cohn chee-meh dee rah-peh in Italian)
Puglia’s most iconic pasta made from orecchiette dressed in a sauce of bitter turnip greens, olive oil and garlic. This is a great example of how an amazing meal can come together with nothing more than a handful of greens, a scoop of water pasta and local olive oil.
We recommend: For the best orecchiette con cime di rape, try the osteria Vini e Cucina (Bari).
Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare
(Pronounced spah-geht-tee ahy ree-chee dee mah-reh in Italian)
This simple pasta showcases Puglia’s prized sea urchins which are cooked with white wine, garlic oil and chili peppers. Sea urchins seem a bit strange to so regimerà but they really are worth a try if you like seafood. They are little pockets of ocean flavor in your mouth.
Ciceri e Tria
(Pronounced chi-cheh-ree eh tree-ah in Italian)
Originating in Lecce this is a primo made from ribbon shaped pasta and tender chickpeas. To make this dish, about ¼ of the pasta is fried separately in oil while the remaining pasta is cooked in with the chickpeas. The textures are amazing: you get a crunchy aspect from the fried pasta atop soft succulent pasta with heft from the chickpeas. Talk about original!
(Pronounced sah-neh cahn-noo-lah-teh in Italian)
Pretty simple and it doesn’t get more pugliese than this: sagne pasta is tossed in a tomato and garlic sauce with a generous helping of ricotta on top.
(Pronounced ah-qwah-sah-lah in Italian)
Bread salads are huge in Italy during the hot summers and this is Puglia’s version: sliced, wet bread is rubbed with fresh tomatoes and sprinkled with salt, dried oregano and olive oil. Chopped onions, more tomato and olive oil is added and ecco fatto, it’s ready!
Polpette di Pane
(Pronounced pohl-peht-teh dee pah-neh in Italian)
Another great way to use up old bread in southern Italy is with bread fritters. Egg, parsley and other herbs are mixed with stale bread that has been soaking in milk. The batter is formed into balls and fried until golden.
Fact: not a scrap of bread, inch of meat or tail end of a vegetable is wasted in regions where the practice of humble cooking, la cucina povera, dominates.
(Pronounced cohz-zeh ahr-rah-gahn-ah-teh in Italian)
You will see these stuffed mussels along the coast of Taranto and around Salento. The mussels are opened up, filled with a mixture of egg, parsley and cheese and broiled to perfection.
(Pronounced tee-ehl-lah in Italian)
Perhaps not the most typical way to eat mussels but certainly a delicious one. Baked with rice, onions, tomatoes, potatoes and breadcrumbs into a flaky pie crust with their shells and all so be prepared to get your hands dirty as you fish them out!
Baccalà alla Salentina
(Pronounced bahk-cah-lah ahl-lah sah-lehn-tee-nah in Italian)
Salt cod is sprinkled with breadcrumbs, pecorino cheese and fresh tomatoes before being baked with potatoes until golden brown and crisp.
Tarantello di Tonno
(Pronounced tah-rahn-tehl-loh dee tohn-noh in Italian)
This method of preserving tuna has been around since the 1500s. Fresh tuna is thinly sliced, dried in the sun and packed in oil, ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
(Pronounced bohm-beht-teh in Italian)
This is a traditional secondo found inland where seafood is less common. These small meat rolls are stuffed with cheese, salt, pepper and spices but recipes differ from town to town.
We recommend: for the best bombette try Braceria dei Santi (Ceglie Messapica).
Fava e Cicoria
(Pronounced fah-vah eh chee-coh-ree-ah in Italian)
Fava beans are cooked and mashed into a purée which are served along bitter greens, often local chicory and finished with a heavy drizzle of good olive oil. Filling, nutritious and simple!
(Pronounced meh-lahn-zah-neh ree-pee-ehn-eh in Italian)
This is a recipe every Pugliese nonna has up her sleeve. Whole eggplants are halved and filled with the inside of the eggplant that has been cooked down with tomatoes, cheese, bread crumbs and sometimes meat. It’s then baked in the oven until crisp and tender
(Pronounced sgahl-yohz-zeh in Italian)
Although polenta is typically a northern Italian staple, this fried polenta is an ancient recipe in Bari. Keep your eyes peeled for the little old ladies making these fried cakes on the street.
Vegetarian Tip: Puglia is a great region to indulge in if you are vegetarian because so much of their best food is meatless by nature. Unlike in northern regions, vegetables take center stage as meat takes a ride in the back.
Pane di Altamura
(Pronounced pah-neh dee ahl-tah-moor-ah in Italian)
Puglia takes first prize for its pane di Altamura, the only bread in the entire world that has been given the PDO status. Made of durum wheat flour cultivated in Altamura, local salt, water and yeast, these enormous round loaves have a crunchy crust of 3mm in thickness, helping to keep the bread fresh for as long as two weeks! This bread is everything bread-lovers are looking for: a soft crumb with a crunchy and golden crust.
Don’t Miss: The Saturday Market in Ostuni is great for street food, fresh produce, local cheeses, regional specialties and all other non-food related things.
Read More: about pane di altamura and about all of Italy’s bread in Bread in Italy – Types of Italian Breads & Where to Eat Them
(Pronounced foh-cahch-chah bahr-ehs-eh in Italian)
Freshly baked focaccia with cherry tomatoes, local olives and oregano can be smelled on every corner in Bari – it’s hard not to pass it up with the aroma tempting you all day long!
Try It: Head to Magda bakery (Bari) for the most authentic focaccia.
(Pronounced peez-zeht-teh in Italian)
Tiny round pizzas about the size of a golf ball are topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and oil. A great snack while visiting the sites!
Calzone di Cipolla
(Pronounced cahl-zohn-eh dee chee-pohl-lah in Italian)
The Pugliese calzone is actually a type of pie filled with onions, tomatoes, olives and anchovies. The onions are the star here as they use local varieties such as the cipolla sponsale or deliciously sweet red onions.
(Pronounced pooch-chah in Italian)
A traditional street food made of pizza dough stuffed with meats, cheeses, and/or vegetables, great to bring to the beach or for an easy on-the-go lunch.
Try It: For a good puccia in Lecce go to La Prelibatezza Pucceria 1941.
(Pronounced peez-zoh lehch-cheh-seh in Italian)
Perhaps considered the best of all Puglia’s street food, this thick bread is cooked with lots of seasonal vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, bitter greens or even cheese and meat. It can be as wide as 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) in diameter!
(Pronounced pahn-zehr-oht-tee in Italian)
Panzerotti are a must try street food made by filling dough with mozzarella and tomatoes which is then deep fried until golden.
Fun Fact: The people of Puglia absolutely love their street food and panini. So much, in fact, that when McDonald’s came to set up shop they were forced to close less than two years later as they didn’t have enough business!
(Pronounced mahn-dohr-leh in Italian)
Puglia is well known for their almond crops which they use in almost all their pastries and desserts. I had forgotten what almonds truly tasted like until I was reminded in Puglia.
(Pronounced pah-steech-choht-toh in Italian)
We Recommend: For the absolute best pasticciotti, go to Caffé Alvino (Lecce). It’s very central so you can’t miss it!
Sospiri di Monaca
(Pronounced soh-spee-ree dee mohn-ah-cah in Italian)
Also known as Tette di Monaca, meaning Nun’s boobs, this pastry is overly stuffed with custard and finished with a red cherry. A breakfast must have!
(Pronounced zehp-poh-leh in Italian)
(Pronounced cahr-tehl-lah-teh in Italian)
This dessert is made with paper-thin dough that is shaped into tiny roses and sweetened with honey or vincotto (a sweet wine). It is a typical dessert enjoyed on Christmas but you can find it all year round. Keep in mind they will stay fresh for a couple of days so they are great for train rides!
Usually we think of northern regions or Tuscany when we talk about Italian wine but believe it or not, Puglia is one of the biggest wine producers in all of Italy. The region isn’t very well known for quality but this is fast changing as they too are making themselves known in the wine world.
Indigenous Red Grape Varieties of Puglia:
- Negroamaro: hints of cherries, liquorice, tobacco and pepper. The grape is also used to produce some excellent rosé vintages.
- Primitivo: grown between Bari and Taranto, these grapes produce full-bodied wine with a high alcohol content up to 15%.
- Uva di Troia / Nero di Troia: used alone or often blended with Montepulciano grapes, Negroamaro or Primitivo.
- Bombino Nero: used to make light, fruity reds and great rosés.
- Susumaniello: one of the rarest grape varieties in the whole world and traditionally blended with Negroamaro.
- Malvasia Nera: makes for rich, full bodied wines.
Indigenous White Grape Varieties:
- Verdeca: try Locorotondo DOC
- Bombino Bianco: traditionally used in blends, this grape has undertones of tropical fruits and apricots.
- Bianco d’Alessano: with undertones of pear and apple, this is often used in blends but more recently you see wines made solely from this grape.
- Minutolo: adds freshness and acidity to blends with a slight aroma of fennel.
Traditional Food of Puglia FAQ
Bring back handcrafted pasta like orecchiette that has been dried and packaged. It will be so much better than another other mass produced versions and it’s a great way to support the locals.
Check out Caffetteria Danny (Lecce) for great gluten-free and lactose-free options.