Everyone is talking about Puglia these days. A region well-loved by travelers and Italians alike, Puglia is famous for its rocky coves with breathtaking sea views, pretty white-washed towns, a low-key rustic atmosphere, and maybe most of all, its food. Home to the freshest cheeses, seafood, bread and street foods, Puglia is a food lover’s dream.
There are so many delicious specialties in each town, from Bari and Polignano a Mare to Lecce and Gallipoli. Thankfully with three meals every day (not even including snacks) there should be plenty of time to enjoy all the typical Pugliese dishes and treats, followed by a caffè leccese! We’ve made it easy to eat your way through Puglia.
10 Foods You Need To Try In Puglia
- Orecchiete alle Cime di Rapa
- Focaccia Barese
- Fave e Cicoria
- Panino al Polpo
Read on to learn more about the best dishes in Puglia and where to find them!
Italy lovers are probably already familiar with burrata, mozzarella’s creamier cousin. But did you know the cheese was born in the Puglia region? A delicious little bundle that is enjoyed on top of pizza, pasta, salads and more, Burrata is a cow milk cheese with an outer casing of solid cheese and an inside made of stracciatella and cream. Pierce it gently with your knife and have your camera ready for the moment the burrata oozes out in all its glory!
Try the freshest burrata, along with other regional cheeses, at Baby Dicecca: a cheese oasis in the middle of a forest in Altamura. Owned by Vito DiCecca and Roberta De Lia, his partner in love and business, Baby Dicecca is named for their toddler, a budding cheese afficionado following in the footsteps of her father, one of Italy’s leading cheesemakers.
2. Orecchiette alle Cime di Rapa
If you only eat one type of pasta during your trip to Puglia, make it orecchiette. Named for its “little ear” shape, orecchiette are handmade pasta shapes using just flour and water. They can be served either hot or chilled in pasta salads, and their rough texture holds on to a number of sauces and flavors.
Orecchiette alle cime di rapa — or turnip greens — is a dish as emblematic of Puglia as their beaches. Like many famous dishes in Italy, this was born from la cucina povera, the poor man’s table, which relied on inexpensive, local ingredients. This traditional recipe sautés the bitter greens in abundant olive oil infused with garlic, peperoncino and sometimes anchovies. The orecchiette are then tossed with the vegetables and topped with toasted breadcrumbs. Much more than the sum of its parts, this flavorful pasta is a must when visiting Puglia.
3. Focaccia Barese
In true Italy fashion, Puglia is a region that has its own famed type of bread—focaccia. But it’s not just any bread, focaccia is made with a dough similar to pizza, and oen topped with salt and copious amounts of olive oil. The most popular version in Puglia is the focaccia barese—named aer its capital city of Bari. Focaccia barese is typically topped with fresh tomatoes and oregano, and is beloved by all Pugliese.
If you’re in Polignano a Mare, try the focaccia barese from Fcazz e Birr, just steps from the main beach.
4. Fave e Cicoria
Another simple plant-based dish, fave e cicoria is a staple in the region — and accidentally vegan. The fava beans are pureed into a mash and served with cicoria, wilted greens sautéed with peperoncino. These two simple ingredients work like magic when paired together. The bitterness of the greens balances the warmth of the beans, making this a popular Pugliese dish.
Taralli are an integral part of aperitivos across Italy, but their origin is in Puglia and that’s where you will find some of the best flavors and freshest taralli here. These little rings of dough are boiled and then baked — they are the perfect bite-sized snack to serve at an aperitivo. The best taralli have a rough, brittle texture and they come in a variety of flavors, from classics like peperoncino and onion more creative combinations like turmeric with ginger.
If you’ve traveled a lot in Italy, you’ve probably noticed that many recipes have ancient roots. The frisella in Puglia is no different. Similar to bruschetta but tougher, the frisella is essentially stale, dried bread that is briefly rehydrated before being garnished with tomatoes, tuna and other ingredients. It was a popular recipe at sea because fisherman could store the friselle for months at a time and simply soft the hardened bread with sea water, and then dress it with olive oil. Today, friselle are still one of the region’s most popular foods for a light lunch or aperitivo.
Part pizza, part calzone, the fried panzerotto is another Pugliese specialty you want to enjoy hot and fresh. Just be careful — the melted mozzarella and tomato sauce might be too hot to consume immediately! Panzerotti make a great lunch or snack while you’re traveling through Puglia, and taste great with a chilled beer or glass of wine.
8. Panino al Polpo
Puglia has the longest coastline in Italy and is a true seafood paradise. You’ll find everything here from sea urchins and mussels to swordfish and octopus served in pastas, fish stews and even panini. Born in Polignano a Mare in 2015, Pescaria is the “first Italian fast food with sandwiches from the sea” and it’s the perfect place to pick up a bite to eat before laying out on the beach. The menu has plenty of raw seafood at unbeatable prices, alongside an array of sandwiches with ingredients like fried octopus, salmon tartare and raw prawns. There’s no better place to try a seafood panino than Puglia, where you never stray too far from the sea.
Once you discover the pasticciotto, it will become your go-to order for breakfast in Puglia (it’s also the perfect post-beach afternoon snack, too!). A baked, oval-shaped sweet, pasticciotti are typically filled with sweetened ricotta cheese or egg custard. Many bakeries also add amarena cherries, chocolate, and other twists on the traditional fillings.
The pasticciotto is a rich pastry native to the Salento region of Puglia, so you’ll find it primarily in Lecce and nearby towns like Galatina. Try it at Pasticceria Andrea Ascalone, where the pasticciotto was purportedly invented.
Those traveling in Puglia during the holiday season are in luck—the arrival of pettole in the bakery windows marks the start of Christmas in southern Italy. These small dough balls are the perfect contradiction, fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Pettole can be eaten plan, or stuffed with ingredients like anchovies or olives (some even make a dolce version).
According to San Pelligrino, pettole were invented by a local woman who had been preparing bread dough on the morning of the Saint Cecilia celebrations. She forgot the dough in the midst of all the festivities, and so it could no longer be used to make bread. Instead, she broke the dough into small pieces and fried it, creating pettole.
11. And one drink to try: Caffè Leccese
It’s impossible to leave Puglia without trying this popular type of coffee drink. The caffè leccese is famous throughout the region, however its origin is in Lecce, as its name suggests.
Taking a caffè leccese at the bar is a ritual in and of itself: the drink typically arrives separately, an espresso shot in a typical cup and a clear glass with a few ice cubes and almond syrup. To drink it, all you have to do is pour the espresso into the glass with the almond syrup and ice and give it a stir. What you’ll discover is a sweet espresso drink that’s perfect on those hot summer days. No one will judge you if you have two or three each day while you’re in Puglia!