I’ve just come back from a week in Puglia, specifically the Itria valley, which encompasses the provinces of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto. The area is noted for a distinctive architectural feature, the trullo; a conical shaped stone roof designed to cool in summer and insulate in winter. Our villa, Trullo Tranquillo was located just outside Ceglie Messapica in Brindisi, hidden away in a labyrinthine network of narrow dirt tracks. Being tucked away like this was not a bad thing, although it did define the way we shopped and ate while in Puglia. I thought it might be of use to others who want to visit the area if I share my experiences of shopping and eating here.
With no restaurants within walking distance of our villa and only 2 drivers among 9, all of whom harboured a desire to get drunk, opportunities to eat out were limited. Mostly we bought ingredients at local markets and cooked for ourselves. Our excursion to the town of Monopoli however, saw us busting bellies at Osteria Perricci.
There’s no menu here, an unexpected relief. Monopoli is a coastal town, so they just serve fish; “antipasti?” our host asked. We nodded. “Pasta?” Of course. “Fish? Grilled? Fried?” We ordered both.
First bruschetta, properly made. Ruby ripe tomatoes smooshed into garlic scrubbed toast. The tomatoes in Puglia are to die for.
Favourite antipasti were butterflied anchovies drenched in the ubiquitous (delicious) olive oil; meaty morsels of octopus and sweet mussels bathing in grassy pools of their own juices mixed with, you guessed it, lots of olive oil. A couple of duds didn’t spoil the fun at all; battered fish was, for me, all bready batter and little fish. Sundried tomatoes were chewy as ever, although the accompanying chunks of cucumber rocked; a sweet, round variety that tastes like a mild melon.
Huge bowls of pasta next – ‘fish’ spaghetti, predominantly octopus and squid in a tomato sauce which tasted of shellfish shells, silkily bound with cooking liquor. The second, not the Orecchiette typical of the region but similar in shape (I think Cencioni), delightfully chewy, the sauce packed with garlic and white wine, the bowl clattering with mussels and sweet clams. Chillies were added at table.
Eating was becoming more difficult. Simply grilled fish was delicious, but an effort. We picked lamely at fritto misto; I stuffed down as many tender squid rings as possible.
A refreshing lemon sorbet could not have been a more welcome finish, sitting atop sweet glazed strawberries, it saved us from passing into a food coma.
The owners don’t speak much English at Osteria Perricci but they’re very friendly and make it easy to get by with gesturing, nodding and piss poor attempts at speaking Italian. Our meal came to around €25 a head I think, including a few beers and a bottle of wine. You can walk it all off around Monopoli afterwards too; the old part of town is well worth a look.
Via Orazio Comes, 1
70043 Monopoli Bari, Italy
We couldn’t visit Italy and not eat pizza. One evening 4 of us left camp to pick up some takeaway from Mamm Ce Pizza in Ceglie Messapica, reasoning that 1 pizza per person should be enough. As we sat waiting for our order it slowly dawned – they were the size of small planets. We staggered out with towering stacks, the owner following behind us; we turned to find him pointing and heartily laughing at our tiny Fiat 500. I think we made his evening. Next thing I know I’m jammed in the back, pizza boxes rammed between my face and the seat, not a millimetre to spare. Each bump in the road guffed more hot cheesy steam into the eyes. We snorted with laughter the whole journey, as did everyone who passed us.
Nice though, and cheap (€7-11 each for those monsters). The ham and ricotta was my favourite. Here’s the menu.
Mamm ce Pizz
Via Taranto, 5
The remainder of the time we shopped at (fairly) local food markets; some were better than others. I really hope my memory serves me correctly here because it could save you a lot of disappointment. Of the 3 we attempted to visit, only 2 were actually where they were supposed to be – those in Cisternino and Alberobello. We found stall holders at the former very friendly, at the latter a little less so, as at one point we got into a misunderstanding trying to buy figs and had to run away. Don’t let that put you off though, the majority were lovely.
I wouldn’t bother trying the market in Martina Franca; advertised in our guide book as happening ‘all day’ we failed to find anything apart from stalls selling cheap clothes and toilet rolls [Edit: see comment from Tony below; they do exist!]
All the markets carry the same stuff (seasonal, innit) and you’ll find fishmongers and butchers dotted around the towns. To find the markets, just head for the centre, it’s obvious once you arrive.
Fat, buttery green olives.
Bright pink prawns with purple heads.
Saving the shells to make pasta sauce.
Bream ready for the BBQ.
Tomato salad – one of many.
Can’t beat a mooch around a foreign supermarket.
Now I’m going on a week long detox (that’s obviously a joke, I’m really making focaccia).