The Most Famous Foods of Puglia and the Salento Peninsula

Pasta in southern Italy

Orecchiette, just one famous food from Italy’s Puglia region

Some of the best traditional foods in Italy come from Puglia, the region in the heel of Italy’s “boot.” But while we love cuisine (and travel) across Puglia, we’ve left our hearts (and stomachs!) in the region’s peninsula of Salento.

Fish, a traditional dish in Puglia and the Salento

Fresh fish on a beach in Puglia. Photo by Amanda Ruggeri

Puglia’s Salento boasts gorgeous beaches, lush farmland, ornate churches, and ancient ruins. It’s also home to many of the foods Italy is famous for! Its deeply-rooted cucina povera tradition means its cuisine tends to be simple and delicious, relying on fresh, local produce. And Puglia and the Salento have lots of fantastic ingredients to choose from—like chickpeas, homegrown herbs and spices, olive and olive oil, tomatoes, and, of course, fresh seafood.

Plus, even the act of eating itself is a serious local tradition in Puglia. Walking along the cobblestoned streets, you’ll notice that families usually eat lunch and dinner with their windows and doors open, filling the air with fragrance—and sometimes inviting curious passers-by in for a bite.

In Bari, people even hand-roll pasta out on the street. Don’t believe us? Just check out the video, below!

For those looking for a quick meal on the go, meanwhile, stands serving fried polenta, pizzette, and puccia line the main piazzas and beaches. (Curious what those traditional Pugliese foods are? Read on!)

Salento Puglia

Puglia’s Porto Cesareo is one gem of Italy’s Salento region. Photo by Yellow.Cat (Flickr)

Here are some Salentine delicacies to look for:

Frisella: A crunchy, dry bread baked in a stone oven with a drop of olive oil. Friselle are one of Puglia’s most famous, and practical, foods: They’ve been around for centuries, since the fact that they can be stored for many months made them perfect for long journeys. Dip this versatile bread in salt water for a more distinct taste and a softer consistency!

Taralli of the Salento peninsula of Puglia

Taralli, a traditional snack in Puglia and the Salento. Photo by Marco Leogrande

Taralli: Think of them as Italy’s answer to the pretzel. Small and circular, these crackers make for a wonderful snack… especially alongside a glass of Pugliese wine! Try them savory—made with flavors like fennel, black peppercorns or poppy seeds—or sweet, with white wine and sugar.

Pizzette: Miniature pizzas topped with fresh cherry tomatoes, pizzette are a delicious snack to enjoy from a gorgeous beach in Puglia.

Puccia: A sandwich made of pizza dough stuffed with meats, cheeses, and/or vegetables, this is another traditional on-the-go snack in Puglia.

Traditional pasta of Italy's Salento peninsula

Making orecchiette, a pasta traditional to Puglia. Photo by Giuseppe Masil

Orecchiette: Literally meaning “small ears” in Italian, this homemade, ear-shaped pasta is usually served with cime di rapa (broccoli rabe) and garlic, or fresh tomatoes and ricotta cheese. The shape is ideal for soaking up any delicious sauce!

Lecce in Salento peninsula of Puglia, with great traditional dishes

Baroque architecture of Lecce, a city with some of the Salento’s best food. Photo by Amanda Ruggeri

Sagne ‘ncannulate: Love Baroque architecture? Then you’ll love this long, spiraled pasta that resembles the twisting and swirling architecture in Lecce—especially when it’s served up, as per tradition, with a tomato and cheese sauce.

Baccalà alla salentina: Not your average baccalà! This traditional dish of Puglia and the Salento takes dried and salted cod to the next level. It’s sprinkled with breadcrumbs, pecorino cheese and fresh tomato, then baked in the oven with potatoes to a golden crisp.

Sott’olio: “Sott’olio” describes a particularly Pugliese method for preserving produce. Local vegetables like eggplant, artichokes, onions and peppers are jarred with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar, letting them keep for months at a time… and making for the perfect appetizer when they are ready!

Pasticciotto, a traditional dessert of Puglia's Salento region

Pasticciotto, a delicious local dessert in Salento. Photo by Renano (Wikicommons)

Pasticciotto: The outside of this dessert may just look like a flaky crust. But take a bite for the surprise: a creamy custard filling, made even sweeter with black cherries!

Zeppole: Also known as “St. Joseph’s pastries,
this sweet Salentine treat is served on Father’s Day throughout Italy. You can personalize your zeppole by choosing between fried, or baked, sugar-coated pastry dough… and then filling it with cream, chocolate, or even both!

Vinello, a traditional wine in Puglia and the Salento

Uncorking vinello. Photo by Derek Gavey

Vinello: In Salento, wine isn’t just a drink served with dinner… it’s something to be celebrated! Every year on November 11, the peninsula comes together to taste the fruits of their labor for this harvest’s wine (vino novello)—and to open bottles from the previous year in honor of Saint Martin.

After eating Puglia's traditional foods... dance Puglia's traditional dance!

After eating Puglia’s traditional foods… dance Puglia’s traditional dance!

And after enjoying some of the most famous foods of Puglia and the Salento, enjoy its most famous dance: the pizzica (an Italian folk dance similar to the tarantella)!

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3 Responses to The Most Famous Foods of Puglia and the Salento Peninsula

  1. Erin June 21, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Pugliese cuisine is our favourite in Italy and it’s also really vegetarian friendly. The antipasti plates are usually full of delicious vegetables and cheeses, rather than the meat you get up north.

  2. Victoria De Maio February 17, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    Yummy! Will be in Puglia in late April/early May & bringing a small group- can’t wait to experience Pugliese cuisine in spring! Going back in fall, too…ah la dolce vita!
    Will be sharing your article, too.
    Grazie & buon appetito!

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