Golden Day Ninety-Five: Mola di Bari with Rossella Rago
It 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.
I 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.
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.
Calarena, 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.
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!
There 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…