Back on that unbeaten trail of authentic eateries with no frills but no end of flavour, how about a meaty meal straight from a charcoal oven in a butcher’s shop? And that means Apulia or thereabouts, and particularly the little towns in the Itria Valley (also renowned for their trulli, their olive oil and their wines), and foremost among these Cisternino. For Cisternino – though expect this to be hotly contested by the citizens of, say, Martina Franca or Locorotondo – probably gets the Oscar in the category fornello pronto, as these butcher’s-cum-rustic restaurants are called locally. With just a few tables and fewer formalities, some will serve you a matter-of-fact platter of cured meats and cheeses and/or a pile of steaming orecchiette with a homemade ragù, maybe tripe, and a donkey or horse meat stew according to local custom. They may not be suited to the gastronomically squeamish, by the way.
Whatever’s cooked has been simmering slowly in the same wood-fired oven in which mouthwatering sausages, gnumeredd’ and bombette, ordered by weight, are then roasted on skewers. Meaning? On the gnumeredd’, sometimes gnummareddi and indeed a score of other denominations depending on the local parlance in various parts of the South, you may prefer to pass, as I do: they’re little lamb or kid offal rolls tied up with gut. But no carnivore passes on the bombette. These little bombs are the legendary delicacies, the true protagonists, definitely the Best Actors of the whole Apulian street food tradition: slices of pork wrapped around a chunk of provolone cheese. Just that, or, in the really classy joints, flavoured with sun-dried tomatoes or mushrooms. All to be washed down generous gulps of an unassuming local red, of course. Of the 12 or so fornelli pronti scattered among the charming, narrow streets of historic Cisternino and around its fine central square, probably the best, the best-known, the one where you really need to book to get a table, is Rosticceria L’Antico Borgo, owned and run by larger-than-life Piero Menga and his lovely wife Giovanna.