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Golden Day Ninety-Five: Mola di Bari with Rossella Rago

August 12, 2013

rossella-bio-pageIt was such a pleasure last spring to finally meet Rossella Rago, host of a web series I adore: Cooking With Nonna.   In each episode Rossella brings in a Nonna from a different region of Italy, who tells the story of how she learned to cook in the old country, and then demonstrates a specialty. In some episodes Rossella brings in her very own Nonna Romana, who along with Rossella’s parents, came from Mola di Bari, a tiny fishing village in the region of Puglia.

My caffe date with Rossella at Lavazza in New York’s EATALY stretched into entertaining hours. Rossella regaled me with stories of her Italian family, visits to her homeland, and life in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where her family settled, joining many who came from “Mola.” Rossella is an amazing young woman who has turned her family traditions and passion into a beautiful, successful business: Cooking with Nonna is in its 4th season, Rossella travels around the country presenting live cooking demos with local nonnas, and she will be leading a Culinary Tour to Sorrento this fall.

I’m so grateful she is joining in to give her advice about the place where her family originated:  A Golden Day in Mola di Bari:

Ever since I was 7 years old, my  mother Angela would ship my brother and I off with my Nonna Romana to Mola di Bari to spend the summer at my Zia Chiara’s  villa.  Yes, I began to “summer”  as a verb at an early age, and could later scoff at kids who told  me their months off from school were  spent in the Hamptons, or the Jersey shore.

800px-Mola-ArialI remember my very first time arriving  at Bari International Airport in Palese,  which was only a 20 minute drive  from Mola di Bari.  I immediately  began speaking Italian again, which I had learned as a baby, but had stopped, switching to English,  in an effort to assimilate into American  childhood. “Nonna! Mi piace l’italia!” I exclaimed as we rode in my zio Cesare’s 1986 Peugot down a busy Italian highway. Nonna’s face lit up when she realized I had felt the connection with the motherland.


I was lucky enough to have an aunt  who had an apartment in town and  a summer home 5 minutes away in the  beach community of Cozze, so I was able to immerse myself totally in  the environment.

However, it wasn’t until my late teens  that I found myself asking the same  question young women ask themselves when they find themselves drunk on the enchanting cocktail of sun, gelato, and Italian men. Why don’t I move here? Yes, the thought had crossed my mind, and I even thought about becoming an Italian teacher so I would at least have summers off!

Even though I never ended  up making the big move, I can still  appreciate Mola every time I visit.  

MOLAVECCHIAThe town is like a beautiful flower that blooms during the summer months, and  its natural beauty and charm never cease to  amaze me.

My golden day in Mola  begins with a classic Cornetto and Cappuccino  at Bar Moderno, (Piazza XX Settembre 57)…followed by a trip to Lido Calarena  for a swim.  

calarenaCalarena, known for its sandy  shore is one of the most beautiful beaches  in the Mola area.  It’s located just five minutes away from Mola in the beach community of Cozze.   The beach offers a day rate for umbrella  rentals or season passes.  You can  also visit some of the beaches in  Mola– the Braccio is a long  cement pier in the town itself, particularly frequented by locals.

After a swim you’ll probably  be due for lunch. I recommend Ristorante  Nicolo Van Westerhout (Via De amicis 3)  for some classic Peppata di Cozze  or fritto misto.  This restaurant keeps  a traditional Pugliese menu and an 1800’s-style, named after Mola’s most famous composer.

vanwesterhoutrestaurantCheck out the Van  Westerhout Theater (Via Van Westerhout 19),   which has been open since 1896.


This Theater is special to me because  this is where my mother first took  to the stage as an actress, at age 16!

Mola takes pride in its  beautiful Piazza, which distinguishes itself  from others with its fountain and circular  structure.  The piazza is the lifeline of the town, connecting everything  together.


Off the piazza is the Castello  Angioino, which was built to protect the  town from pirates. The castle now serves  as an art gallery and meeting place  for the youth of Mola.


When you’re in the mood  for a Gelato, which is all the time  for me at least, head across the  Piazza to L’arte del Gelo (Via Bovio  2) Where Master Gelataio Mario Palumbo  and his wife Sabrina run one of the  most successful gelaterie in southern Italy.  Every flavor is hand crafted by Mario  and is absolutely perfect.


For an evening aperitivo, or late night cocktail, All’Angolo Bux  (Via Giuseppe Parini 54)  is small  hole in the wall bar that is always  lively and entertaining.  Owner Mimmo  Bux will make sure you’re having a  memorable time.

A pizza at Da Angelo  Pizzeria (Via Van Westerhout 34) is not  to be missed in Mola. Tourists  and locals gather there nightly to taste  the classic panzerotti, pizza, and medaglioni.   Seats usually fill up so I would  suggest getting there earlier than planned.


For a traditional Molese meal,  try Rosticceria Zio Luigi (Via Dalmazia  4), overlooking Mola’s port. Zio Luigi  serves its patrons the catch of the  day (usually fresh tenderized Octopus) or  a selection of meat that changes daily.   The seating is communal and I assure  you you’ll be best friends with the  people next to you by the end of  the meal!

ziluigioctopusThere are a few great  places to stay in Mola. Both are  centrally located and convenient. One is  the Hotel Gabbiano (Via Piero Delfino  Pesce 24), which is located by Mola’s  Lungomare.  The Gabbiano is a 2 minute  walk to the Piazza and close to the beach.


For a more intimate stay  you can try B&B Donna Flor (Via  R. Sanzio 7). The rooms at this charming  bed and breakfast give you a cozy  Italian feel inside, almost as if relatives  were letting you crash at their place  for the day.  Their rates are very  reasonable and include breakfast.


Grazie Mille Rossella! I WILL get to Mola di Bari someday with your delicious advice, and in the meantime, I’ll be enjoying Cooking with Nonna…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lee Childs permalink
    December 10, 2013 8:08 am

    One of my favorite places in Italy is the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza in Cinque Terre along the Ligurian coast. When I was there in June, unbeknownst to me, the trail was closed for safety reasons. Others were hiking & seemed unaware, too. It was a strenuous hike over rocks and at times, almost a vertical climb. I was sweating, aching (even though I worked out with a passion prior to my trip), panting, etc. At this point, well over an hour into the hike, I was questioning why I had ever ventured onto this trail. Then, in a moment I will never forget, I turned a corner and there sat the fairy tale village of Vernazza below me. The colorful fishing boats could be seen bobbing on the harbor and the beautiful cathedral with a cherub weathervane was prominent. It was as if I suddenly had a burst of energy and could not wait to maneuver my way in to this magical place!

  2. john szuchan permalink
    August 15, 2013 11:08 pm

    Nicely written wish I was there but ill be following your wonderful trip thru your blogs pictures 🙂 have an safe and g8 time:)

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