Not one to turn down a dinner invitation, I headed to the relatively unknown town of Villa Castelli, in the province of Brindisi, and went to a traditional trattoria, ‘Antichi Sapori’. My good friend and wine producer, Giuseppe Schiena had recommended the place, and told me that the owner, Cirone, is extremely passionate about locally sourced, fresh Puglian food and wine (of course!). So it was no surprise that everything we ate was freshly prepared that day and all the meat and cheeses were bought from Masseria Sciaiani just a few kilometres away. Naturally Cirone stocked Schiena Vini and we drank his premium red wine, Angioino.
If you want to experience real Puglian hospitality, then this is the place. They serve simple yet delicious fresh food. There isn’t a menu, but the format is similar to most Italian restaurants, antipasti, pasta, meat and fresh fruit. The restaurant is tucked away down a small side street behind the main Piazza, in ‘Piazza Duca’, which used to be the main Piazza before the city was remodelled and ‘Piazza Municipo’ was built.
First up, antipasti, the first plate was something I’d never had before, neither had any of my friends (some of whom are Italian!): Fresh firone figs, sliced in half, sprinkled with cacciaricotta cheese and black pepper, served on a bamboo platter, decorated with fig leaves. Very impressive and very tasty! It might sound like a crazy combination but it really does go well together! Try it!
Midway through the huge antipasti of various local cheeses, salami, polpette, parmigiana, a couple of young teenagers started to entertain us with traditional Pizzica music. Wow, I wasn’t expecting that! With just a harmonica, tambourine and a set of castanets, they sang with passion in dialect of times of a bygone era. Unfamiliar with the dielect of Villa Castelli (Italian is difficult enough, so i don’t even try to get my head around the various dialects of each town!), my Italian friend explained what these young boys were singing about. It turns out that most of the Pizzica music is about love, sex and trying to find a way of getting together to ‘fare amore’, make love, without ‘Mamma’ finding out! No wonder these teenagers seemed a little shy at first! Some of the songs included tales of young couples chatting through the rezza, or sneaking around the back of the house to steal a kiss while mamma was out the front.
As usual, music always brings Italians together and soon a small crowd gathered at the back to listen. One old gentleman, tapped his foot in time with the music, while another passerby just couldn’t help himself, and started to sing along with the two boys. This made for a magical evening, great food, music, wine and of course fabulous friends. Ah, ‘la dolce vita’.
After they had finished their set, they pulled up a chair and joined us for dinner. They enthusiastically talked about music, and even though they were only 14 and 15 years old, they both decided 4 years ago that music was their life and this is what they wanted to do.
Next course, pasta, frusciddate, one stuffed with ricottaforte and the other with a delicious ragu sauce. Before this course arrived I was already full, but I tried a bit of each to be polite. OMG, next course, two huge platters of meat, legs of lamb, sausages, liver. And a large T-bone veal steak. The thought of eating anything else at this point was absurd, but again I did so to be polite. Note to oneself, I must go running in the morning! I really don’t know where the Italians put all this food, it’s just incredible! Finally desserts; fortunately it was a plate of small cakes, nothing too overwhelming. All washed down with a selection of liquores, ‘digestivi’. Which, I’ve been informed helps you to digest your meal, which is just as well!
Dining at Antichi Sapori restaurant was truly a taste of Puglia, fantastic food, wine, music and gracious hosts, what more could you ask for!