Bari – Barivecchia – eating cheaply and well in the old town

Barivecchia, also know as Quartiere San Nicola, was once quite dodgy, virtually a no-go area for tourists at night. Nowadays, thanks to redevelopment, it’s much safer, though still a thoroughly working class area.

The people here are nationally famous for having their own dialect, related to Greek, that even the rest of the city finds hard to understand.

There’s little point using a map in this warren of alleys and narrow streets. It’s best just to wander around and try to keep a sense of direction.

At the heart of the maze is the Duomo di Bari, or Cattedrale di San Sabino, built in the late 12th century.

Please click on any of these photos to get a full screen slideshow.

Thanks to the redevelopment, Barivecchia is now full of small eateries offering traditional Barese cuisine at very low prices. I’ve collected the ones to avoid in the Piazza Ferrarese post. The following are all places I’d recommend for a cheap meal. For posher places see the posts on the new town.

Osteria del Travi (Elementary A), 12 Largo Chiurlia

A bit hard to find but if you walk straight along Via Sparano da Bari, cross over Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and keep going till you get to the arches, turn left through an arch and you’ll see it in front of you)

Another place bearing the title ‘Vini e Cucina’ (the name of a cheap type of restaurant) above its door, it’s similar in many ways to the famous Paglionico in the Piazza Ferrarese post, but so much better in my opinion. Again I decided to try it a second time after a five year absence to see if my original comparison with its competitor was still true and fair, and it was.

In 2009 I wrote this about lunch:

This place scores for simplicity of decor (wooden tables and benches) and having good simple food at a very cheap price.

We piled our plates high with antipasti and had a whole grilled bream with salad and a quarter of red for only €15 euro each.

In 2014 I wrote this about dinner:

Apparently the oldest eatery in the old town, founded in 1813, it has been run by a pair of brothers since 1980.

The brother I met, while being dour at first (a local quality I can appreciate as a Yorkshireman) is capable of the occasional smile and will stand and chat with his customers.

The atmosphere is simple but pleasant with wooden benches and tables covered with paper tablecloths. It probably hasn’t changed much inside since medieval times, nor have the traditional recipes it dishes up.

This time I passed on the antipasti buffet and I also decided to leave the pasta with horse gravy and horse steak till another time.

20140627_202612Instead I opted for the daily special Patate e Cozze (potato, rice and mussels) which allowed me to make a direct comparison with the more famous Paglionico where I’d had the same dish. It was so much better here, again a bit singed as it probably should be, and really delicious (A-).

20140627_205336I followed this with the ‘Arrosto di Carne’ (actually just pork) involving an excellent local sausage (A), a skewer of pork and a fillet of pork, all of which were a bit tasteless (B-). On the side a decent salad (B) and some ‘french fries’, which were more like crisps and tasted much better while hot (B-)

The rough house wine was also better (B-) than the horrible stuff at Paglionico.

20140627_213022To finish, a slab of apple pie (B-)…

20140627_212923… and a glass of their own homemade dessert wine (B) and a homemade limoncello (B).

Total cost, a miserly €25, excellent value. Go here and not the other place.

Cianna Cianne (Intermediate B), 5 Via Corsoli, Tel. 080 528 9382, www.lacantinadiciannecianne.com

This place was a tip from a Guardian reader and I’d agree with their synopsis of it being a ‘no nonsense place’ serving cucina tradizionale Pugiiese.  The service isn’t the best, but who cares if the food is as good as it is here. I’m guessing mum (Caterina Percoco) is in the kitchen performing the magic while her dour son is the floor manager. The nice waitress I had on both visits was capable of smiling though.

It’s quite hard to find being down in a dead end alley that runs up against the old city wall. It might be easiest to locate by walking along the wall and looking down into the alleys until you see it. Coming up the ramp, from Piazza Mercantile and walking along scenic Via Venezia, it’s in the fourth alley along, although you will have to descend into the fifth alley and then walk back round.

There’s lots of room inside but if you want to sit outside you should arrive at 8 as all the seats were taken by locals by 9 on the rainy Monday night I was there.

20140616_205910I had to wait what seemed like an eternity while all the Italian customers who had arrived after me feasted on multiple plates of antipasti while I only had a few rectangular cubes of sgagliozze (fried polenta cubes) (A)…

20140616_205128… and a bottle of Salento Malvasia (B+) to keep me company. It was worth the wait in the end though.

In response to my request for ‘piatti typici’ they suggested ‘a little fish with some pasta’ which didn’t sound like much but turned out to be two huge plates of food that I struggled to finish.

20140616_211327The pasta was the ubiquitous Orichiette (little ears) in a simple sauce of baby tomatoes (B) which also accompanied the sizable Scorfino (Scorpion fish), along with some toasted bread to soak up the sauce.

20140616_211409Even though I’ve never been a fan of the bony Scorfino in the past I couldn’t fault any of it (all A).

20140616_215715In terms of a digestivo, I was tempted by the cream version of the Padre Peppe amaro that I’d tried at Il Pescatore below, but plumped instead for their homemade ‘grappa’, served with raisins that had been soaking in a large jar behind the bar before being ladled out by the waiter. It certainly put hairs on my chest! (B+) I got all this for €40.

20140614_204205My second visit was a bit of a let down sadly, which is why the overall rating has sunk to a B. I had the antipasti which were all a tasteless C, and in the case of the cozze e patate, an inedible D.

Not sure why, perhaps because it had all been pre-prepared. I would come again but would just have first and second courses.

This next place is located next to Castello Svevo, the old Norman castle.

Al Pescatore (High Intermediate B), 6/7 Piazza Federico II di Svevia, Tel. 080 523 7039

20140614_223810This mid-range place is described by Fodor’s  as one of Bari’s best fish restaurants.

20140614_204644I’m sure that description is true if you are prepared to spend a bit of money, but I was on a budget and so probably didn’t experience the best this place has to offer, hence the B.

20140614_204205The Antipasti di Mare was fine if unexciting (mostly B).

20140614_215754The following Tubettini con le Cozze was slightly oversalted but fine (B).

20140614_203604A glass of the 2013 Chardonnay called ‘Cantele’ from the Salento IGT was good (B).

Although I enjoyed the Negroamaro ‘Illiria’, also from Salento, even more (B+).

20140614_215327The red negroamaro grape is found only in Puglia, and especially in the Salento IGP.

20140614_224308Finally I tasted a shot of dark treacly amaro called Padre Peppe which seems to be the most commercially available local bitter in Bari (B+). Also described as a ‘nocino’ or ‘elixir di noci’, as it’s made with walnuts I think.

I went to the next place hoping Panaficio Antonio Fiore at #38 would be open for some of their famous focaccia, but it seems to just be a day time thing.

Antipasteria Pizzeria Borgo Antico (Elementary B), 46 Strada Palazzo di Citta

Very popular with the locals, perhaps because there’s lots of outdoor seating on the street, but otherwise it looks like somewhere to avoid due to the huge posters displaying their very reasonable fixed menu deals outside the front door.

I had a pretty ugly looking Pizza Margherita di Bufala (the tomato sauce only covering about two thirds of it) but it tasted ok (B) and the limoncello was homemade and strong. Might come and try their antipasti next time I’m in town.

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