Eating in Puglia: I ate what I didn’t know how to pronounce

FACT: you won’t find a decent trattoria/pizzeria in Salento that caters to diners looking for early-bird specials. It just doesn’t swing that way in the south. But to be fair, not all northern italians eat while there’s still some light left in the sky. The norm is 8:30pm from what I’ve witnessed in restaurants, yet in some places you can walk in at 7pm and no problem. It was different in Puglia when MotH called for 7:30pm reservations. The man on the other end of the line said it wasn’t possible. Can we do 8? 8:30? The voice informs, “We open at 8.”

Dining in Salento
Left to right: ciceri e tria (a very simple but well-flavored soup dish with chick peas and short strips of both boiled and fried tagliatelle *tria*), grilled imperial prawns, fave e cicureddha (fava bean puree with braised wild chicory).

With only 4 days to fill up on pugliese cooking, I dove right in and went for dishes that I had no idea how to say correctly. Grecanico or griko is a neo-greek dialect spoken in the historical language of Greek Salento (Salento’s past is very interesting). Some of the names reflected that influence, as in fave e cicureddha (fava bean puree w/ braised chicory and fried bread), turcinieddhri (rolls made with lamb’s liver, heart, lungs, etc and cooked over hot coals), and taieddhra (a rice dish with zucchini, potatoes and mussels). I couldn’t touch any of the desserts because portions were more than ample and since we ate so late, I wasn’t going to risk having any weird dreams. And as a word of assurance, there are many other items on the menu that aren’t as overwhelming. Any plate with orecchiette pasta is a sure thing no matter how it’s prepared. Hands down, our favorite place to go was Olo Kalò in Corigliano d’Otranto. It means “all the best” which is to say that everything they put out are among the best dishes of the Salento area. Amen to that. The food, wine and service was excellent, down to the last crumb.

Pastry shops and gelato

I may have skipped dessert after dinner but I didn’t skip dessert before lunch. We went to Pasticceria Chèri in Campi Salentina (Via San Francesco, 3) just outside of Lecce and saw the chef working up a storm so. 12 pasticciotti is what we walked out with – 4 each of chocolate, pistacchio and regular cream. The chocolate was the best.


And what’s an eating tour without gelato to cool down the heat of the day? We didn’t search for any particular address – just plopped ourselves like heavy stones and ordered whatever looked good. Incidentally, the gelato shots below were taken at cafes in Galatina which says how much we loved hanging around. On silent streets there were churches with intricate carvings and curious histories. Directly below, La Basilica di Santa Caterina di Alessandria was right next to the cafe/gelateria and is worth visiting for its narrative frescoes. It’s easy to recognize as soon as you see Jesus and the 12 Apostles above the entrance.

La Basilica di Santa Caterina di Alessandria

So right when it's 23°C
Sit-down at the Caffè della Basilica: cream and cherry gelato, and a shakerato with the addition of almond milk – it was delicious.

Gelato twins
On the 2nd visit to Galatina: no calorie-counting when on vacation.

The Church of the Most Holy Trinity

Taken from the description fronting another church:
The Church of the Most Holy Trinity is an interesting example of both Renaissance architecture of the Salento area and religious life in the territory of Otranto. Its construction, commenced in 1579, is attributed to the Nardò-born architect Giovanni Maria Tarantino, and the edifice was the seat of the Brotherhood of Mercy or the Flagellants as they were called because of a severe regulation that obliged the brothers to practice bloody self-flagellation and to wear the cilice.


Side street in Galatina


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