I spent the last few days in Puglia, a region in the Southern most tip of Italy. A sleepy little coastal area that I believe truly comes alive in the summer months, judging only from the breath taking photos that I have seen on googleimages. I would never have ventured to that area if not for Olivia who, relative to the rest of us, is quite the expert on Italy. We googled cheap flights, found an adorable apartment with an amazing rooftop terrace, booked our tickets and left.
Of course our entire trip revolved around food. I’ve heard so many stories from chefs who have spent time in a certain little town in Italy and were inspired by the cuisine and the ingredients, brought back those experiences and memories with them and have thus made quite a name for themselves, just through that one experience. I was definitely hoping for and seeking a culinary epiphany of some sort, especially since the only city in Italy I’ve been to Italy was the tourist-packed Rome that somehow lacked that authentic, countryside-ish feel that just seems so necessary for such a big, life-changing epiphany.
Safe to say, we managed to give our stomachs quite a workout. After settling into our apartment, we started off the evening with some cold paninis filled with proscuitto and mozarellas and enjoyed them on the rooftop terrace of our apartment with some wine. This was just to tide our stomachs over till the restaurants in the area opened (which was around 7 or 8pm). We then proceeded to have dinner at a trattoria with really simple and delicious seafood dishes including fried anchovies, olives, a stir-fry of seafood (of sorts), steamed mussels, and a delicious fresh pasta (of course) with tomato sauce and a langoustine. We definitely ate our fill and were completely blown away when the bill came up to only 20 euros per person– this included a bottle of Puglianese wine (which we found out was only 8 euros!) and a ‘buffet’ spread of appetizers, and a plate of pasta each. I knew we were off to a good start. Having consumed about 4 bottles of wine between the 3 of us, it was definitely quite a surprise that we managed to stumble back to the apartment, change into our PJ’s, clean up and put ourselves to bed without any major damage/injuries.
The following morning started off with cappuccinos at a cafe located right on the edge of one of the many sea cliffs at polignano a mare. Talk about breakfast with a view. We then took a stroll around the little town with cones of gelato in hand- pistachio ice cream will never be the same for me ever again, just saying. We spent the rest of the day in a nearby town called Monopoli- a town relatively bigger than Polignano a mare. Had lunch at a restaurant right by the sea- nothing too mind-blowing or new to me but still good seafood nonetheless. We meandered slowly down the coastal pathways of the town and finally headed back to Polignano.
Dinner was at a restaurant called Antiche Mura- something that Brittany found off tripadvisor. I have mixed feelings about trip advisor- sometimes they really have pretty good recommendations but other times, I feel like it’s usually an outsider, who has little understanding of the true cuisine of a place and who cares more for ambiance and service than just the food, writing a review from the perspective of a tourist, and sometimes all you want is the advice of a local. But Antiche Mura didn’t disappoint– food was delicious, albeit slightly pricier than the other local restaurants, but we thoroughly enjoyed our array of appetizers including a delicious bowl of straciatella, caprese salad, and calamari gratin, our 3 pastas- squid ink pasta with fried bread crumbs (MINDBLOWN MOMENT), gnocchi with tomato and clams, and another pasta (of which the name now escapes me) with zucchini flowers.
The rest of the days were filled with good, but unexciting food. I don’t know if this was just the period we were travelling (meaning non-peak period of not the season for seafood) or if that was just the cuisine in the South- simple, unpretentious, tasty food. I might not have gotten the culinary epiphany I was so hoping for, but I did learn to appreciate the art of simple and tasty food made with simple ingredients. Unlike french cuisine that I’ve been learning at school, there was no cream or heavy use of butter, no fancy julienne or the use of 20 different garnishes. Rather, olive oil was used generously and there were only about 3 to 4 ingredients in each main dish. Still, that simplicity was so tasty that it brought me the same amount of joy and happiness as would a dish at a restaurant in Paris.
Maybe what’s really different about Italian food is the basic philosphy and view on it- there is no incredibly fancy presentation or turned garnish, the sheer flavors speak for themselves on the plate. I could definitely learn something from that attitude 🙂