The Most Famous Foods of Puglia and the Salento Peninsula

Traditional pasta of Italy's Salento peninsula
Photo: Giuseppe Masil

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.

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!)

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: 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.

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!

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: 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: 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.

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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