Gourmet Christmas in Puglia
An unforgettable festive feast in the city of Lecce
Christmas is the perfect time to visit Lecce, not only because its baroque churches, palazzi and fountains appear all the more magnificent when adorned with festive lights, but because this city in the heart of Salento produces some of the finest sweet and savory seasonal treats ever.
Tucking into untucked shirttails
In Puglia, the dishes associated with Christmas time are the meat-free ones eaten on Christmas Eve and in which fresh and salted fish and seafood are the major protagonists.
Typical festive finger food, "pittule" (untucked shirttails) are small balls of fried dough, served either plain or stuffed with vegetables, cheese or fish. They are best eaten piping hot and accompanied by a glass of Salice Salentino wine, at the start of a meal.
You can expect to eat some of Puglia's finest pittule here:
- Trattoria Le Zie via Costadura 19 - Lecce Tel. +39 0832 245178.
- Osteria degli Spiriti via Cesare Battisti 4 - Tel. 0832 246274
Cakes and cribs
Christmas is especially sweet in Salento. A favorite festive treat, "Cartellate" are little spirals of fried pastry, dipped in vincotto or honey. Buy a bag of cartellate at Lecce's Fiera di Santa Lucia or Fiera dei Pupi in Piazza Sant'Oronzo. Here, in the city's most important Christmas markets, next to stalls piled high with chocolates, dried fruit, cakes and biscuits, you'll find traders selling statues in terracotta or papier-mâché for your crib scene too.
Whilst in Piazza Sant'Oronzo, stop to admire the nativity scene staged in the Roman ampitheater, in the center of the square
Other typical Christmas sweets include "purceddhuzzi": small balls of pastry aromatized with citrus fruit, which are fried, imbued with honey, and sprinkled with colored comfits.
Where to buy Puglia's traditional Christmas treats
Lecce's love of sweet things is confirmed by the city's numerous pastry shops, the counters of which are invariably piled high with mouthwatering mountains of pasticciotti, fruttoni, baci di dama, and mostaccioli.
If you only have time to visit two, we suggest:
- Pasticceria Natale via Trinchese 6 - Lecce Tel. +39 0832 256060
Within steps of Piazza Sant'Oronzo, this cake shop is famous for its cream-filled pasticciotto leccese: which the locals eat, freshly baked, for breakfast.
- Pasticceria Franchini via San Lazzaro 36 - Lecce Tel. +39 0832 349383
This is the place to purchase Lecce's legendary cotognata, a quince paste made in exactly the same way as it was centuries ago.
Fish made from marzipan
Lecce's most characteristic Christmas cake is the Pesce di Natale, a fish made from marzipan. The origins of the delicacy date back to the 18th century when the city's nuns started making it for visiting cardinals, bishops and other important personages.
It was Anna Fumarola, the Abbess of Lecce's Benedictine Convent of San Giovanni Evangelista, who first filled the marzipan fish with a delicious cream made from egg and sugar. Today's nuns use pear jam instead - to extend the sugary specialty's shelf life.
Believe it or not, the best Pesce di Natale are still those produced by the nuns who live in the convent, which was founded by Count Accardo in 1133. In the days before Christmas, a long line of locals can be seen, queuing outside the convent, waiting to purchase the nuns' marvelous marzipan fish.
Fancy some fish? You can order your Pesce di Natale by sending a mail to email@example.com, stating the day you will come to collect them
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