Five girls sharing a strong craving for Italian food pack their bags and go on a low cost flight to Bari for the weekend. “To Bali?” everyone kept asking. “No, to Bari, Italy.”
The truth is I didn’t have much idea either about this part of Italy, but it proved to be a beautiful discovery. Bari is an Italian city on the Adriatic coast, in the Puglia region, just on the heel of the boot.
Bari is about tasty cheap local food, interesting buildings and very beautiful surroundings: several cities on the coast with impressive maize-like old towns, baroque architecture and idyllic sea view. If you rent a car, you should take the tour of the cities down to the toe of the boot. Unfortunately, our short stay only allowed us to visit the city of Matera, but places like Alberobello, Gallipolli, Lecce, Ostuni (“the white city”) are on the to-do list.
In terms of food, Bari was, for me at least, especially about focaccia. I stepped onto the plane dreaming of pizza and pasta dishes, but I ended up eating tons of focaccia and I wanted more. Focaccia is here like nowhere else, that no-bread-no-pizza goodie, smeared with cherry tomatoes, olives and local olive oil, literally melting in your mouth. For focaccia, they say Panificio Fiore is the place.
Although I’m not much of a sweet tooth, I got addicted to a pastry goodie named pasticciotto shortly after my arrival in Bari, when I entered the first pasticceria in the old town. This heavenly dessert is a shortcrust pastry filled with custard, baked in the oven and served warm and it’s obviously highly addictive. It seems that this old recipe is typical of this region, so do not miss it! I couldn’t get enough of the ones with almonds, I bought some for the road as well. And since Puglia is an important almond-growing area, there are a lot of sweets based on almond meal – the pasticcini alle mandorle (almond cookies) are also to die for – soft and chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside.
Food and Restaurants
Being a predominantly agricultural region, Puglia prides itself on one of the best olive oils in Europe (producing around 40% of Italy’s olive oil). In terms of pasta, dishes include Puglian signature orecchiette – little ear-shaped shells which are still handmade and usually accompanied by vegetable sauces. Almost everything here is locally produced so fresh vegetables are used abundantly, along with tasty meats, amazing sea food, durum wheat pasta and delicious cheeses. A famous Puglian cheese is the burrata – a mozzarella like version, with a soft and creamy inside. As for the restaurants, we only visited two on this trip: one for seafood and pasta (La Tana del Polpo) and one for pizza (Da Gianni), both offering tasty food at reasonable prices.
The staff at La Tana del Polpo were super friendly and nice – it was Friday night and we hadn’t booked any table, Bari seemed deserted as most restaurants are closed before 7-8 p.m., we were tired and hungry and they were so kind to open earlier for us :), recommended dishes. We had wine on the house and a part of the antipasti as well. The food was,of course, amazing. As antipasti, we had grilled octopus (yum!), mussels, salami, burrata – local cheese specialty, delicious bread. Followed by orecchiette with horse meat (photo above) and orecchiette with seafood as typical dishes of the region. For dessert – almond cookies, lemon ice cream.
Da Gianni Pizza was as expected – simple, tasty pizza as only Italians can make. And very good prices, as everywhere in Bari and surroundings.
Last, but not least, I came across Il Salumiere Nino and I instantly fell in love! A small place in the old city center where you can have a snack or buy local cheeses and meats. A must!
We found a very good deal and booked 2 rooms in Hotel Palace, a 4 star hotel on Via Lombardi. Excellent location, elegant rooms, nice service and amazing breakfast.
When in Bari, do not miss:
- A walk in the city center “Bari Vecchia”.
- Focaccia – Check Panifico Fiori on Strada Palazzo di Cita 38, only a few minutes’ walk from Piazza Mercantile.
- Pasticciotto.- Check Pasticceria Martinucci in Piazza Mercantile.
- Il Salumiere Nino.
- Sgagliozze (polenta fritters) – street food.
- Fish and seafood restaurants and the Fish Market by the sea.