It's difficult to eat poorly in Salento. Everywhere there is a variety of fresh vegetables and fish especially in the winter. When you go out to eat, expect the portions to be large enough for two people. Keep this in mind when ordering and if you speak Italian well enough you might consider ordering a meal for one and splitting it. At many places there are no printed menus simply what the chef has decided to prepare that day. So the big question will be what sort of meat you prefer.
When you order a meal you will often be served antipasti, a first plate, and then a second plate. The antipasti are ten or more small plates of simple, but distinct, foods put on the table family style. There is often a legume-based dish, thinly sliced eggplant roasted and rolled with herbs and olive oil, or maybe eggplant baked with cheese and tomatoes on top. There are plates of baked mussels, a food close to the heart of locals. Dishes of roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella di buffala and fresh sardines are usually served with some other fresh vegetable. In the winter, fried zucchini blossoms are also common. The antipasti are more than enough, but keep in mind that there are still two courses to follow. The first plate which is served after the antipasti is often a pasta or salad. I recently had ravioli with mussels and shrimp that were beyond description. Everything is fresh and so the flavors are extreme and give your palate a work out. The second dish, according to what you have chosen, is usually a roasted meat often a mixture of cuts with a sampling of sausage.
Once you have finished the second plate you will be offered coffee or liquor and possibly a dessert. The coffee is strong and I think has the sole purpose of keeping everyone awake after eating enough to drop into a coma!
Written and photography by Kimberli Waack