Your Best Food Memories Won’t Come From Restaurants in This Italian City
Eating in the streets of Bari, Puglia, can be magical
“Mangia, mangia!” (“Eat, eat!”) said Porzia Petrone, the nearly 90-year-old Italian woman I’d met an hour earlier. We were eating lunch in her home in Bari Vecchia, the historic center of Bari in the Puglia region of southern Italy.
Porzia’s daughter, Rosa, busily refreshed my plate with tuna-and-tomato bruschetta and fried cod, my glass with red wine from a plastic jug, and, later, my bowl with homemade stracciatella gelato and juicy plums. I could barely keep up with the family’s conversation in the unfamiliar Barese dialect, let alone focus on the constant influx of food.
Meanwhile, the granddaughter modeled her new sunglasses and the men asked me what beaches I’d visited in Puglia — everyone seemingly unfazed that a random foreigner was joining them for Tuesday lunch, apparently a common occurrence in Porzia’s house.
I met Porzia during a walking tour of Bari. She’s a fixture in the old town’s assortment of exuberant “pasta ladies” who spend their days making ear-shaped orecchiette at wooden tables in the narrow streets by their front doors. She’s passionate about passing on her pasta skills to younger generations. I liked her immediately and decided I would go back to her table after the tour. I’d buy her orecchiette, ask her what sauce to make, and put the dish together at my Airbnb.
My plan fell through when I found her street and saw through her open window that she was eating with her family. Before I could turn back, I heard, “Vieni, vieni, siediti.” (“Come, come, sit.”)
And so began my first meal in Bari. Though I didn’t manage to get invited to another hospitable nonna’s house during my trip, I was always able to find delicious, inexpensive meals without ever sitting down at a restaurant. In a city like Bari, that’s not hard to do.