Do you know Puglia? Sure you do – Puglia is the heel of Italy and, as I always say, the most fashionable part of a boot.
Puglia lies on a peninsula, it’s surrounded by the sea. What you should know about this sea is that:
- The water is crystal clear, and divine to dive into.
- Ancient fishing practices are still very common here, so that the fish cooked in this region is good and healthy (unfortunately not all the commonly farmed fish is as healthy).
The mentioned fishing practices are good for two main reasons: they are a) environment friendly and b) aesthetically pleasing.
The latter is thanks to the old fishermen and their small ships, working slowly on the docks of Bari, Gallipoli, Otranto etc., arranging their nets under a sun that looks like summer for 8 months out of 12.
Here, in the heel of the boot, there are places where eating becomes a true cultural experience. And I’m going to lead you to some of the best seafood restaurants in Puglia…
Eat fish in an old mill
We start from the northern area, called Gargano. In the town of Vico del Gagano (in the province of Foggia) we find Il Trappetto. It is a wine bar with kitchen in a converted old mill excavated in the rock.
The best sea dish here is peppered mussels and fried sea bass fillets. In summer you can eat outdoors in the botanical garden called Orte of the Court. It is very good and has many vegetarians options.
Via Casale, 168. Vico del Gargano (FG). Tel. +39 347.9153363.
Enjoy a gourmet grotto in Vieste
Vieste is a beautiful Mediterranean village, a must see in your Puglia experience. Here, look for “La Ripa”, an inn set in a grotto in the heart of the village.
The main dishes focus on seafood, such as octopus carpaccio with tomatoes and olives, sautéed clams or mussels, marinated anchovies, handmade orecchiette, gnocchi or cavatelli (different kinds of local pasta) and a lot of fresh fish cooked simply to bring out the flavors.
Via Cimaglia, 16. Vieste (FG). Tel. +39 0884.708048.
Stop at the “Polpo Rizzato” of Bari?
Bari is the main city of Puglia; you can land at the local international airport, so stop here for at least a couple of days.
Very close to the old city is the port where every afternoon fishermen prepare a traditional octopus dish: the so called polpo rizzato. If you’re squeamish, I recommend you skip the next paragraph.
Rizziare means to curl up. Octopuses are lulled into a small basin with water and then repeatedly beaten until they become crunchy. Once their tentacles curl up you can start eating – they’re usually served with a Peroni, popular local beer.
Street sea food in Castro and Gallipoli
The Castro fried fish experience is something that I must explain in more detail. Imagine you are having a swim in the sea of this small coast village. You’ve just explored the grottos under the cliffs that you have dived from; or you have just returned from a paddle boat tour to see the coast from another point of view and… you are starving!
This is the time to go, still in your swimming suit and sandals, to a very small friggitoria near the beach called Porto Vecchio. It’s the perfect place to buy some freshly made fried calamari and shrimp, and a small bottle of fresh white wine, to take away.
Via Scalo Delle Barche, 73030 Castro, (LE) – 3245648429
Then there is Gallipoli, another must see city that offers another unmissable street sea food experience. At sunset, old fishing boats moor at the Old Port, crowded with tourists and locals.
Stalls open up, becoming small outdoor restaurants with tables set and fresh fish served with local wine.
Deep South: Tricase Porto and Santa Maria di Leuca
If you are in Puglia, go “souther and souther” and stop in Tricasa Porto, a district with 300 inhabitants in the town of Tricase (53 km south of Lecce, old, baroque, elegant).
La Bolina, in Tricase Porto, is a wooden platform beside the crystalline sea. It has a very cheap menu and limited places. Here you can sample some great wines from Salento and choose starters that complement them and can be eaten in the sofa area.
Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo, Tricase (LE) – 0833 775102
You also can’t miss Leuca, the southern tip of Puglia, where the two seas – the Ionian and Adriatic – meet. From the upper part of this city near the old sanctuary, you can see it clearly and it’s both spectacular and moving!
But let’s get back to sea food!
In Osteria Terra Masci culinary tradition meets natural beauty. Dry stone walls, green antique boats between wooden tables, all underneath a charming pergola. Among the best dishes is the spaghetti with monkfish, shrimp, breadcrumbs and green pepper.
Sp 74 Castrignano del Capo, 73040 Marina di Leuca, Castrignano del Capo LE 338 531 9277
Have you been to this corner of Italy? What are your favourite seafood restaurants in Puglia? Let us know or ask for more tips in the comments below!