Put your hand up if you’ve heard this one before – the world is a much smaller place than it used to be.Well pardon the cliche, but yes it is. Regular world travel was once only for the uber-rich, the airline crew who serve them, and the cruise ship oldies who use the last of their pension circumnavigating the globe until their number comes up. These days, the world is open to so many more of us, and we do it so often, a new breed of
fussy well informed travel connoiseurs has arisen. These days, we can spot a tourist trap at a hundred paces, and we do all we can to unearth that illusive ‘authentic’ travel experience.
In Italy, for me, these kinds of experiences can often be found in the food (although even Italy has its share of tourist traps where food is concerned). I strive to have at least one authentic food experience each trip to The Boot. This time, in Galatina, it was dinner with a wolf.
Like most of the best things in life, Trattoria La Tana Del Lupo (Lair of the Wolf) is easy to find if you know where to look. Hidden down a small street off the main Piazza San Pietro, the ‘dining room’ consists of a mere four tables. Sitting down you’ll soon realise you’re actually in the front room of the house of two people I’m going to name Mama and Papa – both out of affection and because I forgot to ask their names. Papa serves as Maitre’d while Mama cooks. If you’re facing the right way,you can observe Mama through an open door to the kitchen. You can also observe an increasingly jovial Papa as he pours more wine for his guests and adheres to the “one for them, one for me” rule.
The food here is exactly what we now expect of good Italian meals; fresh, simple, divine. There’s no menu (and a set price of 25 Euros per person) and you’re served whatever Mama has cooked that day. It’s not fancy and the plates aren’t dressed to look like an abstract painting because nobody’s trying to get a Michelin star. It’s the type of food Italian Mamas would serve their family, probably from recipes handed down over many generations.
Plate after plate of incredibly tasty anti-pasta appeared almost immediately. Truthfully, I couldn’t even tell you what most of it was. The table was full to bursting and ten minutes later, so was I. I could have happily finished there, but then came the primi piatti (first dish) – Puglia’s famous orecchiette (little ears) pasta. It was topped with a tomato sauce that has ruined me for tomato sauce forever, again simple, but so unlike anything you’d ever buy. The secondi piatti is meat, or fish if you prefer (and ask). Then comes dolce (sweets), which for me was almond biscotti -again something I’ve since failed to find the equal of in shops. All the while you can have as much wine as you like and it’s finished off with a limoncello or coffee digestive – again as much as you like, or as much of the potent stuff you can handle before you’ll no longer be able to make it back to your room.
I found out about La Tana Del Lupo from the guest book at the apartment I was staying in (which I wrote about here). Conspicuous amid the effusively positive reviews were two negative ones, the guests both saying the place had no atmosphere. I think you need to understand though that La Tana Del Lupo is someone’s front room. There’s no background music to set a mood and the only interior design comes from rows of empty bottles and some framed pictures. Papa runs the dining area, but if you don’t speak Italian there’s not going to be a lot of conversation happening, although he tries. Indeed, when I first sat down, the room was deathly quiet, the two couples at the other tables whispering so quietly to each other you felt obliged to do the same. But Papa knew enough English to ask where I was from and he spoke at length to the table behind me, a Swiss German couple who also spoke some Italian.
Now I’m not the most outgoing person in public, but in times of liquid encouragement I’m a regular hostess with the mostest. So the half a bottle of Prosecco I’d had before dinner, a glass of Papa’s wine, and hearing the word ‘Australia’ again as he spoke to the Swermans gave me the, shall we say ‘cheek’, to turn around and ask what he saying about me.
And miraculously, the silence was no more. Soon, the whole restaurant began chatting to each other and it suddenly felt like we were guests at one of Mama and Papa’s own dinner parties.
So if it’s noise you want with your dinner, you have three choice at La Tana Del Lupo; make the effort to talk to your fellow diners and BYO atmosphere, give Papa a break and learn to speak some Italian, or book your dinner from 10pm onwards. That way you’ll be there when the Italians start to arrive and you can sit back and watch the theater which naturally evolves whenever Italians sit down to eat.
In the end I only I got a glimpse of a wolf while I was there, but I suspect if I spoke Italian his presence would have been felt much more. Right before I left, and to the amusement of the rest of the diners, Papa suddenly and bizarrely seemed intent on restyling my hair. It was only when a group of his friends bounded in and he made a beeline for one of them, followed by not very subtle glances in my direction, that I realised perhaps just why the place was his (or his friends in this case) lair.
Address – Via del Balzo 26, Galatina, Italy
Phone – +390836552592 – Best to book to avoid disappointment but remember if you don’t speak Italian, get somebody to book for you.