KASLIK, Lebanon: What would the boot of Italy be without its heel – a narrow slice of land called Puglia surrounded by four bodies of water.
Guests at the Casino du Liban in Kaslik got to experience this part of southern Italy over the weekend as representatives from Puglia came to tempt Lebanese to travel to the little-known region on the Mediterranean.
“ Italy is not only Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan for shopping,” Guiseppe Morabito, Italian ambassador to Lebanon, said in his speech to open the event. “This is why we try to promote different parts of Italy, starting with the region of Puglia.”
Italy is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Lebanese traveling to Europe. And this year, Lebanon’s travel agencies have opened up half a dozen new direct flights to areas on the Mediterranean. The Italian Embassy, in collaboration with the Regional Tourist Board of Puglia, hosted the event to showcase southeastern Italy’s cuisine and folk music, and to highlight the similarities between the area and Lebanon.
“They thought quite recently that Lebanon would be an ideal place to make this promotion because they are aware of the love of the Lebanese for Italy,” Palma D’Ambrosio, first secretary at the Italian Embassy, told The Daily Star.
While D’Ambrosio has been involved in the promotion for all of Italy’s regions and various national products in Lebanon, she herself hails from the region of Puglia.
“The region is very similar to Lebanon, and this is a chance to present the similarities,” she said.
One of the most obvious similarities is the use of chickpeas and olive oil. Seemingly a hybrid Lebanese-Italian creation, a classic Pugliese dish features chickpea-stuffed ravioli.
Geographically speaking, Puglia is also the closest region in Italy to Lebanon and it has approximately the same population.
“It is a very beautiful region in the south of Italy, very close to the Lebanese mentality,” said Antonio Righetti, press attaché for the Italian Embassy in Beirut.
According to Righetti, the people of Puglia, like the Lebanese, are well known for their hospitality, which is “one of their main concerns,” in addition to their love for life.
Apart from showcasing photographs illustrating the beauty of the region, the event also highlighted the exciting flavors of Pugliese cuisine, complemented by wine and music of the region.
Perhaps the most notable delicacy unique to Puglia is a disk-shaped pasta called “orecchiette.” The name comes from the Italian for “small ear,” a reference to its oval form with curled edges. One traditional meal from Puglia combines such orecchiette with bitter broccoli rabe and hot pepper.
Another distinctly Pugliese pasta is the “cavatelli” made from burnt wheat. The color resembles whole-wheat pasta but with a deep, toasted flavor and more density. The group promoting Puglia in Lebanon, Puglia Promozione, hosts a number of cooking workshops as part of its summer tour. Among the classes offered is a hands-on lesson in making orecchiette and a cavatelli dish with fennel and tomatoes.
A live performance by visiting musician “Donpasta,” showed a quirkier side of Puglia. With his unique “Food Sound System,” Donpasta transformed the act of cooking into musical entertainment by pairing a live cooking show with an accordion performance.
Industry Minister Vreij Sabounjian, who attended the event, travels to Italy frequently. Every visit, Sabounjian uncovers something new and beautiful, he said.
Sabounjian said he hoped for better Lebanese-Italian relations to help encourage the flow of tourism from Italy to Lebanon. Puglia offers another chance to strengthen those ties. “It’s an opportunity tonight to discover something else Italy has,” he said.
In his speech, Ambassador Morabito gave a solemn nod to Lebanon on behalf of Italy.
“This event is not only to promote Puglia but to be here, because we believe in this country,” he said.
Morabito emphasized the importance of investing in Lebanon and maintaining current relations.
“Life should go on,” he said. “We are here for the love of the country and we are staying.”