Apulia, Italy or Puglia, Italy? Hmm, which one is correct? After living in Italy for a year, I had to visit the region for its amazing beaches, gorgeous towns, and, of course, the phenomenal food!
I also had to figure out if the name is Apulia or Puglia. So, to clear this up for everyone, Apulia is the ancient name of the region, coming from Greek meaning “those who live on the other side of the Adriatic Sea.” Puglia is the modern-Italian name of the region and is used today. Both are interchangeable, so feel free to say either!
Puglia is the southern region of Italy, otherwise known as the heel of the boot. For one year, we lived about three hours from this region, so we had a few chances to visit, see the gorgeous beaches, and eat the food. Many people think Puglia has the best food in Italy; even Conde Nest has Puglia’s food scene on their radar. Here is our list of must-try local foods while in Puglia, Italy.
Frisella is one of Puglia’s most famous foods. It is this amazing, crunchy, very dry bread normally baked in a stone oven and sometimes has a hole in the middle. These little crunchy breads have been around forever and are best when served with tomatoes and basil with some olive oil. I love it served like bruschetta, but the locals eat it dipped in salty water to give it some more flavor and soften it up.
Taralli are these little crunchy bites and are Southern Italy’s answer to crackers. They are small and circular and eaten as a snack. You can eat them sweet glazed in sugar or savory with garlic, black pepper, or chili (my favorite.) They are super versatile and easy to eat on the go while wandering about! I fell in love with them when we were there; the spicy chili kind, of course.
Focaccia ripiena, or an Italian sandwich made of fresh ingredients on focaccia bread, rocks! I love these things! Of course, when they are stuffed with mozzarella, parma, and veggies, well, I just have to yell “Fantastico!”
Puddica is a bread dough that is also mixed with mashed potatoes and rolled into flat bread. They are baked similarly to pizza and then covered with tomatoes and seasonings! YUM! I mean, bread and potatoes all rolled into one?! Che fico!
Pizzettes are basically miniature pizzas topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and cheese. You can find it with a variety of toppings, just like full-size pizza. Sometimes, instead of tradition pizza dough, they are made with flat bread. These are considered street food and easy to eat on the go. My kids love these and eat them like popcorn! Watch out – they can be addicting.
il rustico is very special to the Puglia area and hard to find anywhere else. The rustico is part pastry, part pizza. It is sealed and cooked, similar to a calzone, but instead of being made with pizza dough, it is made with puff pastry. Depending on what town you are in, they come stuffed with different things. In Lecce, they are stuffed with bechamel sauce, mozzarella, and fresh tomatoes then baked in the oven. Oh, Mamma Mia! Can’t you just taste the melted mozzarella!?
Burrata is a local fresh cheese specialty in Southern Italy. It is unique because it has the outer skin much like fresh buffalo mozzarella but the inside is filled with cream. Yes, cream! This is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. It is usually served fresh and at room temperature. The word burrata means “buttered” in Italian. Let me tell you, I can eat a plate of this, easy, just like butter! Incredible!
Orecchiette is a type of pasta, and the word orecchiette actually means “little ears” in Italian. This ear-shaped pasta is handmade and normally is served with cime di rapa (broccoli leaves) and garlic. It can be served with ricotta cheese and a handful of ripe tomatoes. You also might find it served with mini meatballs. The locals say the shape of the pasta, with the little dips inside, is the best for soaking up the sauce! Anything you can find with this pasta in the area will be amazing!
Sagne ‘ncannulate is a local type of pasta that is handmade. It is thick cut, long, and spiraled, and some say it is much like the twisted streets of the baroque towns of Puglia. This is traditionally served with a homemade tomato-cheese sauce. AHHH, YES! CHEESE SAUCE! This is one of my family’s favorite dishes.
Ostriche arrosto – Lecce is very close to two different seas, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, although the locals call the area to the west “the Ionain Sea.” In the area, you find a ton of fresh fish and seafood. Oysters are a specialty and were probably caught that morning! This dish is grilled oysters with parsley, garlic, oregano, breadcrumbs, olive oil, and lemon juice. Magnifico!
Riso, patate e cozze – This dish is a specialty from the area of Bari. It is similar to paella but with only mussels (and not all the other seafood.) The most unique thing about this dish is that it is made with rice and potatoes along with the mussels. If you find some of this on a menu, try it out; you wont find it anywhere else in Italy.
Tiella di verdure is a baked casserole of fresh, local vegetables, similar to ratatouille. It is topped with a load of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and fresh basil. It has so much flavor, and the cheese just tops it all off and melts in your mouth. Seriously, it is spettacolare!
Pancotto is an ancient dish from the area of Capitanata in Puglia. It is made from a vegetable-broth base and stale or day-old bread. It also has a ton of fresh, local veggies, fennel seeds, local virgin olive oil, and finished off with chili peppers. This is really hearty and satisfying with a great flavor and a little kick of spice!
Zuppa di cozze alla tarantina are steamed mussels with garlic, onions, tomatoes, and hot peppers all cooked together with some white wine! The mussels are always fresh from the sea, and, of course, local vegetables! If you love seafood, this one is for you. Have a glass of local white wine to go with it. Che grande!
Sott’olio describes a way that the Pugliese people preserve their produce. Local grown vegetables, like eggplants and artichokes, are jarred with onions and peppers. The jars are filled with virgin olive oil and vinegar and then left to sit for many months. Once they are ready to eat, they add a great addition to any antipasto plate! These are delicious, and you will find these preserved vegetables that on many antipasto plates.
Pasticciotto! Now you know I had to give you something sweet to eat, right?! This is the local specialty pastry made in Lecce. It is a flaky pastry crust with creamy custard filing. We tried them fresh in the morning from the baker and OH are they good! Sometimes they are made with fruits, like cherries, and are even sweeter! A typical breakfast in Puglia is a great pasticciotto, and, of course, an even better Italian cappuccino. We Americans would call it the bomba!
Have an aperitivo, of an Aperol spritzer, and some antipasto! One of my favorite drinks is this spritzer. This little baby is Italian prosecco with a splash of Compari or Aperol and a big fat orange to soak up all that alcohol goodness. It is tart and sparkling sweet all in one and a great drink to have before dinner with some snacks. The Italians always drink it with a big straw. What is not to like about that?!
What else can I help you with in Puglia?
Do you need information on what to see and where to stay? Check out our article on a weekend in Lecce, Italy.
Or, if staying somewhere else in Puglia, check out Booking.com and Trip Advisor. You can find the best deals, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.
Looking for some awesome food tours in the area?
Check out Viator.com for the best the locals have to offer. My personal recommendation is a traditional home cooking experience in Lecce. Another great tour is the Gastro food tour from Bari. Lastly, I would recommend the full-day wine tour to two wineries in Salento, seeing the countryside, and tasting the local wines – my ideal day, of course!
Need flights to the area?
You can fly into either Bari or Brindisi – both have routes from around Europe and from Rome. Check out JetRadar, to get the best prices and flight options.
Our car rental company that we love is FOX Car Rental, we use them in Europe and the USA. We have found they often have the cheapest prices, and great cars!
Reading menus, and speaking the language can always be a little bit daunting. Grab a quick Italian Lesson or two before you go! Pimsleur Language Programs
I hope you love the food in Puglia as much as we did! Did I forget anything? Do you have a favorite food from the area that I didn’t list? Please drop a comment below and let us know!