Taralli: Food in Puglia
noun. Doughy nodules of joy shaped (somewhat deceivingly) like small doughnuts
Anyone who has visited Italy’s southernmost region will recognise them - they’re a staple of the Southern Italian shopping basket and are plonked down on the table at every opportunity.
They might seem like a superfluous snack at first, but after tasting a few you’ll be pondering how you ever survived on gourmet crisps and grissini sticks, and conniving the best method to import a few kilos back in your hand luggage.
What are they?
Taralli are not biscuits or crackers as Wikipedia will have you believe. They are small scraps of dough which are flavoured, moulded into the shape of little doughnuts and boiled to give them that lovely shiny texture. They were invented during the late 8th Century by impoverished workers in Puglia who, starving, decided to make something edible (and wonderful) out of left over scraps of dough to sustain them through periods of famine. Nowadays everybody eats them. The perfect Taralli is smooth on the surface, with a firm bite and a crumbly interior which is so addictive I can only assume they are filled with the human equivalent of catnip.
Where do I eat them?
Southern Italians plonk them down on the table at every opportunity. Aperitivo, lunch, as an afternoon snack. So concerned are the Southern Italians that you might pass out from hunger during the time between ordering your meal and receiving it, they will provide you with some Taralli along with your breadbasket (the bread FYI is not for eating during this time).
They’ve come a long way in the last thousands years or so - sweet or savoury, cheesy or peppery, herby or chocolaty - take your pick. Alarmingly, I have noted a few flavours which are a bit too sophisticated/ Walkers Sensations for my palate, like gorgonzola or sweet chilli. These are best avoided.
Where do I find them?
Supermarkets, markets, restaurants, bakeries. Essentially everywhere. You'll find the best ones at good bakeries, stored in large plastic boxes and served in little plastic bags.
Taralli were created to be shared. As difficult as it might be to convivially share a basket, you will need to learn to try.