Through the narrow cobbled streets of the old town, the narrow streets scattered as picturesque nooks overlooking the blue easterly sea, a lovable smell of frying creeps in Bari evenings and takes you there, where fairs and generous women keep alive an ancient tradition, deeply rooted in the people of memory of the elderlies.
Following the grateful smell of frying you reach a big steaming frying pan where locals fry sgagliozze and pòpizze. The entrance of sgagliozze in popular gastronomy Bari is lost in the history of this city, closely linked to the generosity of olive oil and flour. So, from semolina polenta which also is not typical of the Bari tradition, made stale, sliced and deep fried, you get sumptuous gems to eaten strictly hot.
Making sgagliozze is an old habit. The elders remember when in the early twentieth century, a certain gentleman called in mockery “zu fiete de le sgagliozze” was selling his wares on the corner of the municipality building. Today his ideal heirs continue the tradition frying also pòpizze, delicious spherical fritters, soft inside and crispy outside. Among the countries of the hinterland pòpizze are best known by the name of pettole, poor and rich food made from a dough of flour rather slow, carefully dipped by spoon in pans filled with boiling oil. Among the narrow streets of the old town lit by the lights of the evening, between the whitewashed walls and narrow streets to the gloom of the evening, walking with a steaming bag of sgagliozze and pòpizze in hand is nearly compulsory.
But from the old town, ancient heart and soul of this industrious city creep other smells, flavors, carefully handed down that became the flagship of the most prestigious menu. The scent of the ragù, a gastronomic treat that refers to festive Sunday morning, when the bells of the basilica and churches remind the faithful to mass. Right in the day of celebration housewives woke up early to cook the tasty macaroni seasoning and homemade orecchiette, prepared with tomato paste and pieces of lamb, veal, pork, beef and horse meat – yes horse!. Oil, onion and chilli for the first mixture, red wine and cloves for the whole season, left to cook for hours and hours until you get a thick sauce and a creamy and tender meat like butter.
However in a fishing village, the smells and the taste of the sea intertwine and mingle in a city menu even more typically then the customs and mores of its inhabitants. Beginning with the marinara sauce variant, the ciambotto, a fish sauce of various qualities cooked in the same manner as that of meat; cozze arraganate, the upper valve private mussels, baked in an earthenware dish with bread crumbs and white wine; crudo di mare, a prerogative of Bari, a variety of raw mussels blade knife opened and eaten with a dash of lemon; cuttlefish and octopuses, “beaten” on the rocks to soften and “curled” in wicker baskets with an all baresian technique.
A separate discussion is necessary deserves the fish. Sea bream, baked with potatoes and pecorino. Roasted on the grill or baked in foil with lemon. Red snapper, baked in a mixture of oil and vinegar, enriched halfway in the cooking process with a handful of black olives. Mackerel, freshly boiled and flavored with vinegar and seasoned with olive oil, mint and chopped garlic.
But from the old village, the Murat quarter, to the most modern districts of the city a unanimous chorus of agreement indicates the Tiella d patan, ris e cozz (baking dish of potatoes, rice and mussels) to be the symbol and emblem of this cuisine so generous of flavors, smells and colors. It is a dish known throughout the culinary world, distinguished by the simplicity of the ingredients as well as for the desired quality of the same. The women of the village teach that the choice of ingredients must ensure that the mussels are the right ones, with a large, white fruit, the yellow potatoes, suitable for cooking rice and sweet and delicate onions. This assortment is put in the oven, possibly a wooden fired one, and left to cook slowly. If necessary, a few slices of courgette scattered here and there in the pan can be used to maintain the necessary moisture to the ideal maintenance of cooking.
At the end of this trip, in addition to smells and flavors you’ll keep with you colors and images, unique and unrepeatable, of this city. The blue sea that looks toward east, the women of the old town washing the piece of road in front of their house, the screams confused at the fish market, moored boats and nets left to dry. And when you’re back home a glass of red wine, of a garnet red tinting the glass, of local grapes salice, primitivo and negramaro will be enough to keep dreaming about Puglia once again.