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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

I decided to take the Ferry from Corfu to Bari and start my month in Italy in Puglia. A chef friend in Hawaii, Donato, hails from this region and told me to visit his hometown of Alberobello. The town is a 2 hour bus ride from Bari and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its building’s cylindrical roofs.
The last time I was in Italy, I “borrowed” my friends’ Slow Food Guide to Italy and it has served as my bible in Italy ever since (sorry Rob and Laura). It has a town by town breakdown of the restaurants that adhere to the Slow Food principles and produce amazing food. It just so happens that Donato’s good friend from home, Domenico, is the owner of a restaurant featured in the book called L’Aritro. He told me to go there, ask for Domenico, and say that he sent me.
Domenico spoke little English, but when I said our friend’s name, his eyes lit up and he whisked me away to a table. He appeared to tell the staff to take very, very good care of me. They did. It was as if I had uttered the secret password to enter a world of culinary delight. There would be no need for a menu as I was soon barraged with an onslaught of the finest antipasti I’ve ever come across. Highlights included sun dried tomatoes with a big cheese ball that was like a cream dumpling in a cheese case, minced meat with tomato sauce, cheese wrapped in prosciutto, and focaccia with cherry tomatoes. I was more than full before the pasta course arrived. It was the Alberobello specialty of orecchiette pasta and it was served over polenta. Pasta over polenta on an already full stomach was too much for me and I had to throw in the towel before the meat course arrived. The local red I had to wash everything down was very nice and the service could not have been better.
My experience at L’Aratro led me to believe that Domenico owed Donato money, but it wasn’t that. This was respect between two lifelong friends. As I was leaving the restaurant, Domenico was talking with another one of Donato’s buddies. This guy owned a shop across the street from the restaurant and wouldn’t let me leave without taking some local snacks called taralli alla cipolla for the road. The treatment I got from simply saying someone’s name blew me away. Donato may have left Alberobello, but his hometown has certainly not forgotten him.
The town itself was beautiful and would have been worth the trip without my L’Aratro experience. The meal itself ranks highly among the best meals of my life, it was perfect. I can’t thing of a better way to spend my first day back in Italy. The food set the bar so high, that I doubt the rest of the country, and we’re talking italy here, will be able to match it. We’ll have to see!

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