Flying into Bari from Dusseldorf, our pilot informed the passengers that the temperature at our destination had reached 37 degrees celsius. “Bollucks!” we scoffed (we had just come from England, after all). “A typo was what he read!” we protested. We had come to eat things from a pizza oven, not live in a pizza oven. Yet a pizza oven was what we entered when we got off the plane. And I didn’t pack shorts.
A small aside – you know how when you watch a movie either made in or depicting the 50’s or 60’s, and people have to get on or off a plane right on the tarmac? It seems so romantic or cool or powerful as they stride down the steps from the plane door, waving at their admirers or beckoning their butler to fetch the car. But you know what? It actually sucks. Especially when you almost trip down the steps and then you have to share a packed bus to the terminal full of obnoxious Italian teenagers and fanny-packed German tourists.
Tim and Debbie picked us up at the airport and we drove south along the coast to Polignano a Mare, where we stayed for two nights.
As a welcome dinner for our first evening in Italy, we went to nice restaurant just around the corner from our B&B, called L’osteria di Chichibio. We shared all the plates we ordered, starting with a plate of assorted shellfish and fried shrimp, both of which were fresh and cooked perfectly. Those descriptions may not sound very exciting, but consider what a blessing it is to be so close to a source of fresh seafood – we could see the fishing boats out in the morning from our B&B.
We then had a heavenly antipasti plate, as pictured below. I’ll start with the little round cake with the tomato on top and describe each item clockwise. The round cake with the tomato was actually a delightful fish soufflé, lightly fried, which simply melted in the mouth. Next, a fried cylinder of ricotta, where the crunchy batter nicely contrasted with the smooth, soft cheese inside. Next, grilled octopus in a delicate white sauce. After that, a fried ball of ground tuna, not dry at all but tender and juicy (a surprising amount of fried things, but done just right and so well). Finally, a Puglian tipico, or typical dish, of puréed fava beans with shrimp and red onion.
Our primo (first) dish was scampi, or large shrimp (or small lobster?), grilled in olive oil and butter. I have never tasted shrimp like this. Like I said, it was simply grilled, but oh my goodness, the flesh was sweet, sweet like grilling a ripe peach and sprinkling some salt on it. And it had the faint scent and taste of the ocean, in a very good way.
As a secondi (I’ll let you guess what that means), we enjoyed salt-encrusted sea bass. The bass is baked in a thick layer of coarse salt which hardens into crusty shell around the whole fish. When it is cooked, the salty crust is broken away and there is only a subtle saltiness left with the served fish.
We had also ordered porcini risotto, and though they forgot it, we did not insist on it as we were stuffed by the time we realized this. We did, however, have just enough room for our first gelato in Italy.
The town of Polignano is divided by a small ravine which ends in a gorgeous cove, and we walked over the bridge that spans the ravine. See one of the pictures for a view of the cove from the bridge. Entering a gelateria, I asked in broken Italian what gelato is the local favourite. Or he may have thought I asked what his favourite was. In any case, first he put a dab of whipped cream in the cone, then he swirled together a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of coffee, and finally dipped the gelato into the vat of whipped cream so that the gelato was coated with whipped cream. Fantastico!