Bella Italia: Italian Local Life – It Really Is All About The Food.

On my recent trip to Italy, popular amongst tourists for its beautiful Roman architecture, vibrant culture and excellent food, I had the privilege of staying with an Italian family in Bari in the south of Italy. Over my time there I gained an insight into the culture of authentic Italian life and experienced some of the best food and culture Italy has to offer.

“…teaching their trade, their values, and their love of food to their children so that their passion could be fed through the generations.”

Food is a huge part of their lifestyle, with freshness and quality taking absolute precedence. And so, my trip was characterised largely by eating… a lot! The family that I stayed with would spend their afternoons visiting various different shops in order to track down the best mozzarella, or the best cuts of meat, often driving 45 minutes or more for the sole purpose of quality, only to drive another hour away for another delicacy to cook that night for dinner. Only the best of the best, the freshest of the fresh was acceptable. Small, local, yet crowded stores littered far and wide across the southern eastern coast. One in particular stuck in my mind, a tiny shop located in the town of Ostuni, selling some of the most refined mozzarella in Italy. The store was packed to the brim with food obsessed Italians. The owners there had their own farm, their lives sculpted around fresh produce and teaching their trade, their values, and their love of food to their children so that their passion could be fed through the generations. Although personally my lifestyle back home doesn’t typically allow travelling miles away for grocery shopping each evening, my experience in Bari of fine freshly cooked and lovingly prepared food was well worth it.

One of my favourite dishes was Panzerotti; a pastry dish with mozzarella and tomatoes melted inside it, like a closed pizza. Naturally, we went out of our way to get the best Panzerotti in town. I was told they’d had to move their shop to a different location as a mass of customers had been causing excessive traffic on the narrow roads to get the best Panzerotti from this one shop.

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Amidst the blazing hot Italian summer, the local seaside did not disappoint. The local beach at Torre Canne, was, unlike the Panzerotti shop, not crowded at all. A beach pretty much to ourselves was blissful, with the cool, crystal blue Adriatic Sea a welcome respite from the blazing summer heat. The majority of locals by the beach were fishing, in particular for octopus, typically found loitering near the rocks. Once the local fishermen had captured the octopuses and killed them, they would beat them with a bat in order to get the enzymes out and make the flesh tender. Although graphic to watch, this procedure has come to make octopus here a local speciality.

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Beyond the classic food and sun, this southern eastern region of Italy is famous for its stunning architecture. The small town of Ostuni, only 20 minutes away from Torre Canne, had countless scenic white buildings, quaintly complimented with brightly coloured window shutters, giving the whole town an intimate, classic charm. To add to its magical beauty was the local Cathedral which was characterised by its multiple mesmerizing works of art. Though I’m not religious myself there is certainly something about the immense and beautiful colours of such carefully detailed paintings that demand a sense of serenity. The statues too expressing a wondrous and admirable level of craftsmanship.

The town Trullo was another mesmerizing location to visit. Trullo, with its triangular roofed and spherical based houses is famous for these oddly shaped rooftops, constructed both for extra storage and in order to keep the house temperature cool from the blazing heat, possible because of their symmetrical shape. These roofs, I was told, were also a means of economy, as they played a part in hiding one of the floor levels from the tax man so that farmers could lessen their housing tariffs. This quaint triangular roofed town is also covered with symbols etched into the buildings in order to protect the households from evil spirits. Wandering around this spectacular town literally feels surreal, as though exploring a movie set.

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What inspired me most on my short, yet rich and fulfilling visit to Italy was how much the locals make of their culture and lifestyle. The fresh foods and the art works show how much Italy is booming with culture. My time in the proximity of a small but hearty Italian town, with passionate and local people, came to make me appreciate the reality of life over there and as always, to fuel my love for travel. Once you’ve got the bug, there’s no going back.