The joy of food in Puglia – land of bread and sausages, porcini spread and bunga bunga chilis – taralli and indomitable old ladies


Last week I was in the South of Italy, where women, usually loving mothers, get up at 4am to peel and wash and puree in order to make sure the food is ready, fresh and plentiful for noon. Where  mother-in-laws of others proffer home-made limoncello when you stop in to say hello, and daughters of cousins pop by with chocolate molten baby cakes,  made specially for you. Southern Italy, where even if you are 72 you wouldn’t dream of using tinned tomatoes (heavens, the preservatives!) but nope you buy kilos of tomatoes in the summer and then you get up at 4am (it’s a recurring theme) to make sugo before it gets too hot later in the day. Where it seems the original super-woman-mother must hail from, as these ladies don’t just make a couple of liters nope, they are super-mom and  make 500 liters, to a) store in  the pantry, b)  give to “u filiu” the sons (roughly translates “as, oh my poor dear sons, who are so far away it breaks a mothers heart”  who live far away, so that they get a taste of home whenever nostalgia hits.  Of course these ladies also serve  hand-made pasta, with home-made meat-balls  and I find myself feeling old, old, old in the face of Southern Italian exuberance, vitality and the energy to get up at 4am, even if you are retired and could therefore with a good conscience stay in bed..

And the worst of it is, these women are not smug and proud for churning out delicacies and intricate foods as though on a factor conveyor belt, nope, when you say “wow, that must have been a lot of work” they wave their hands self-deprecatingly and say “Oh,this, no this is nothing.. I got up at 4am and I have been kneading and chopping since then, or cleaning pulpo or mussels, or putting sea-grass in brine…..” They don’t even want any gratitude or admiration, they really just do the work to make others happy. Truly advanced souls, these women.

After a week in the old world with wine for lunch and dinner (rough from the neighbours garden, every time a bottle is opened I find myself saying “is this how it is meant to taste?”), visiting uncles and aunts, neighbours and more neighbours, sitting and chatting and valiantly refusing the biscuits, cookies and cakes on offer (I did try the limoncello though)  I find myself 10 kgs heavier, back in my faster paced world and ill-equipped to handle even the thought of going into my kitchen. Why, you might ask. The answer is simple:   the house has been cleaned and the kitchen is pristine,  soon guests will be here, and I want the place to  be perfect (without putting any work in). So instead of cooking we’ve been eating with local relatives, or making  it to the sushi place just on time to pick some up (no 24 hour service here) or picking up kebab (sadly not the Iranian kind, what can you do). Terrible I know but I will be cooking tomorrow.

In the meantime I wanted to share some photographs of Puglian delights with you. There is a beauty in the pride of a salesman in his wares, I think. I find it truly touching. The young man below was so happy with our interest in his sausages and breads that he kept giving me tastes, and of course in order to support the economy we bought a lot from him, it was a real experience.


Very big, very tasty bread:


IMG_2917IMG_2922 IMG_2923 IMG_2924It was Palm Friday hence the leaves, although they do look more like olive branches now I come to think of it.

IMG_2925I find myself childishly delighted by silly things, the sausage above, which reminds me of a pine-cone, is actually called “le palle del nonno”, a very fine, very tasty pork sausage. The nonno is a grand-dad the palle, well I leave it to your imagination. The little round things below, are wonderful, addictive, and one of the best things to enjoy with a glass of wine: taralli, there they even sound divine. My favourite are taralli with fennel, the ones below are plain with olive oil, and being small taralli, they are called tarallini, the ones at the bottom taste of onion. If you can get your hands on the artisanal ones, get them and try them. The mass-produced ones aren’t half as good, but hey, at a pinch they will do. Serve with nice crisp white wine, in the garden on a warm spring day.

IMG_2926 IMG_2927

IMG_2920Feeding the curious :). He was a lovely guy.



cheese and another sausage, this one is called “coglione del mulio” – where mulio is mule and the “coglione” – well your guess is as good as mine.IMG_2929 IMG_2930


Oh and the bunga bunga chili – if your presidents make you cry (in the case of  a recent Italian president there would be quite a lot to make you cry, especially as a woman) – it’s best to make a joke and make bunga bunga chilis. IMG_2931

PS before anyone points out that some of the produce above came from Calabria, or other regions, I know, but the title would have become a little overloaded at that point, so tis artistic license.

13 thoughts on “The joy of food in Puglia – land of bread and sausages, porcini spread and bunga bunga chilis – taralli and indomitable old ladies

  1. I love this post! 4am…and here I am complaining about doing a work phone call at 7am…will stop now. 🙂
    Such a lot of sausages, wouldn’t it be great if I can get a slice of each through the computer screen?

    • 🙂 I would complain about work phone calls (or any other) at 7am too, 8am as well, 8pm however would be ok, 🙂 – yes it would be great if you could just try stuff on screen :- maybe not at 4am though!

    • why hello – a blog titled beautiful Puglia, I must stop by and see it. Sweet old grannies and sugo -it is amazing the amount of work these old ladies put in, cheerfully and without ever seeming to get tired. Thanks for confirming that i am not making the hard working women in puglia up 🙂

  2. Ahah no bother at all…old ladies in Puglia love cooking…just one advice. If they offer you something to eat never say no or say you are full…that will be an offence 🙂 🙂

    • 🙂 – thanks for the recommendation – I am a very happy gourmand – 3 course lunches and 3 course dinners daily interspersed with coffee and cakes in the afternoon challenges the more happy eater…..I took my cues from the ladies, if they offered me something and didnt eat themselves then I felt ok to not eat too 🙂

    • Dear Georgina, thank you very much, I am glad you enjoyed it, the abundance of specialty ingredients is very tempting, I agree. the blog format allows for vicarious sausage eating!

  3. What a delicious post!! I have to admit, I’m a little jealous of all the travel/eating you’re able to do. And do you have relatives in so. Italy? How did you get in on all that sumptuous granny cooking?? What fun to read it all. thanks!

    • hello there dear Rhonda – easier to travel from country to country over here than in the US as you of course know so well, as everything is so much smaller 🙂 – made me smile all the travel and eating – yes – its a lot of both, not only beneficial but enjoyable. The sumptuous granny cooking is due to my partner – his parents and extended family, cousins, uncles, aunties, more cousins etc all live down in the south of Italy and when we go visit we get to enjoy them all 🙂 – on the other hand as one Apulian poster commented on my blog if you dont go and dont eat they are insulted so I was perpetually stuffed….

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