The makings of a Bari fable: handmade orecchiete (ear-shaped pasta) and Basilica San Nicola. All photos by Erica Firpo.
In the Italian Adriatic port city of Bari, the food — and the people who make it — weave a sensory tale. Contributing editor Erica Firpo takes folklore icon Italo Calvino along as her unexpected travel companion.
BARI, Italy – There are two Marias: a Nunzia and a tiny street where women make pasta all day and night. That sounds like the beginning of Italian Fables by Italo Calvino that my nonno used to read to me — incredulous stories of mean men with no noses, clever old witches, picky young women, persistent princes, outrageous problems, and even more outrageous endings.
But it's not. Instead, I am walking around Bari Vecchia, the historic center of Puglia's largest port city on the Adriatic Coast. This place is a delicious and living food fable.
In a tiny alley called via dell'Arco Basso, women of all ages spend their days and evenings mixing, rolling, cutting, and drying Bari's bounty: beautiful handmade pasta of varying sizes that will go into my mouth and on the tables of houses and restaurants throughout the province. Orecchiette, cavatelli, flour pasta, chick pea flour pasta. This is their job, life, and love. I can't help but feel like one of Calvino's capricious characters, maybe the girl from "And Seven!" (the fifth story in the Italian Fables collection). I peek through windows and stick my head into open doors, gazing in awe as they make and organize thousands of tiny, ear-shaped pasta.