As any traveller knows, you can always eat well in Italy. The Gargano Peninsula in Puglia is no exception, but it has some added advantages. The fields, hills and coastline of the Gargano National Park, and the surrounding Puglian countryside, are responsible for the production of much of Italy’s food, meaning that everything is made with fresh local ingredients. And the coastal area is famous for its seafood.
Food Production in Puglia
Travelling towards the Gargano Peninsula through the Puglia countryside you will pass vast fields of wheat. These date back to Mussolini’s “Battle for Wheat” after the First World War, when he aimed to make Italy self sufficient for food. Today Puglia continues to supply the country with wheat and flour products, and 80% of Italy’s pasta is produced here.
The Gargano Peninsula itself is too hilly for wheat growing but it is still important for food production. The area is covered with olive groves, grape vines and citrus orchards, and wherever you go you will see roadside stalls selling local produce.
The region produces 50% of Italy’s olive oil. The hill town of Carpino has been dubbed “Oil City” on account of the quality of its extra virgin olive oil. And in Vico del Gargano you can visit the Trappeto Maratea, an oil museum housed in an underground mill dating back to the 14th century.
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Seafood of the Gargano Peninsula
Gargano is just as important for its seafood as for its fruit and olives. Fishing tends to be done in the traditional way, by small scale enterprises. Much of it is done in the coastal lagoons of Varano and Lesina. As you travel around look out for the wooden fishing machines, or trabucchi: an ancient fishing practice that is still in use today.
The main attraction of the area is its mussels and clams. But any restaurant will also serve you a meal of freshly caught fish, squid or cuttlefish. Or you can try the fish soup (ciambotto) that is a speciality of the region.
The Cucina Povera of the Gargano Region
Locally produced meats include lamb and goat, and herbs grow wild on the hillsides. Because Puglia is a wheat growing region pasta is a staple, often made in the local fashion, without egg. And, like all Italian regions, Gargano has its own wines, cheeses and dried meats which you can find in the markets and grocery shops.
But the Gargano Peninsula best known for its cucina povera (peasant cooking). As the name implies, this is simple food, recalling the days when people had to make do with whatever was available. But it was made exceptional by the freshness of the ingredients; there is no need for rich food when you have produce of this quality.