Don’t fall prey to tourist traps. When it comes to where to eat in Matera, go with this local recommendation. At La Lopa, you can taste traditional specialties and food in a unique setting unlike any other.
As we headed out to explore Matera, we asked Marienza, the local staff member at our cave hotel Sextianto Le Grotte della Civita, for a local dinner recommendation. We weren’t looking to eat in Matera at a fancy restaurant. We were looking for homemade food made by Nonna‘s (grandmas), local pastas of the day, simple fare etc. Marienza taught me that Matera actually doesn’t have any longstanding historic eateries or restaurants. Matera was such a poor village, that back in the day no one could afford to open up a restaurant. However, new restaurants have opened up in the last few years. Some have stood out more than others and are notable for making local food. Marienza gave us two of her personal recommendations on where to eat in Matera:
- Osteria Casale: A trattoria (small informal Italian restaurant)/pizzeria with a beautiful terrace overlooking Matera. Good, low prices.
- La Lopa: An old cellar converted into a restaurant that makes typical Materan cuisine including a changing local specialty pasta every Sunday. All pasta is made by hand in house and the place has good, low prices. The cellar has been converted into a unique movie studio…
My mother and I decided that if we were going to eat in Matera for only one night, it would be at La Lopa. I mean, if we were staying in a cave hotel, we had to also eat in a cave restaurant right? After wandering around Matera for a few hours we made our way to the restaurant.
Local Spumante and Meteoron Candles
Like much of Matera, La Lopa was located inside a beautifully lit cave. The atmosphere and service felt somewhat elegant upon arrival. But as we settled in, it became more laidback. Thanks to Sextianto Le Grotte della Civita, we were offered a glass of complimentary local spumante, or champagne, upon arrival. Sextianto wanted us to help us experience the best that Matera has to offer and not miss a beat! It was sweet, semi-dry, and perfectly bubbly spumante that never left your taste buds. I looked down and noticed a candle made in the shape of Matera on the table. The owner of La Lopa restaurant, Antonella, makes these candles called Meteoron, which translates to star-studded sky. If you fall for them as hard as I did, just ask and you can buy one to take home with you as a keepsake!
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Pane di Matera
Next up, we were brought the well-known pane di Matera, or bread of Matera. You can’t eat in Matera and leave without having tried pane di Matera. I had walked by a lot of pane di Matera on exposition on the street, but still hadn’t tasted it. Biting into the pane di Matera is partaking and living through history. The technique used has been the same for many centuries and has now become a preserved tradition. Pane di Matera is protected by the European Union Denomination of Protected Origin (DOP). What does that mean you may ask? It means the real pane di Matera can only be made in Matera–just like sparkling wine can’t be called Champagne unless it is produced in the Champagne region of France.
The bread was once made in the sassi, or these cave dwellings, that still exist today in Matera–like the one I stayed in at the cave hotel Sextianto Le Grotte della Civita. The caves provided a consistent temperature that allowed the grain and dough to ferment at the perfect pace. The final product is an enormous bread with a hard, dark crust and soft yellow inside. The shape resembles the nearby mountains of Murgia (pictured above).Because the bread uses a rare Lucanian-milled semolina grain known as Senatore Cappelli, the taste is intense, like sourdough. Good luck finding that in grocery stores if you’re looking to recreate pane di Matera! The long fermentation process uses natural yeast taken from grapes and figs fermented in local spring water. The fermentation gives the bread’s shape large, irregular holes. They are often made in really big sizes and fun shapes and put on exposition on the streets.
How is pane di Matera baked today vs. back in the day?
Up until the 1950s, local families would take their dough to be baked in the town’s communal ovens – people would book a time in the morning to bake their bread, and an oven assistant would walk through the streets of Matera, announcing the start of each slot (at six, eight and ten o’clock) with a shrill blast of their whistle. These communal wood ovens are no longer used and a lot of the bread is made using the same technique, but using industrial bakeries ovens.
Starter: Peperoni Cruschi
For starters, I ordered a local seasonal dish, peperoni cruschi, only available to eat in Matera from September to October. The red peppers, which are dried out in the sun for a month, are fried lightly in olive oil for a few minutes. The skin from the peppers is so thick, that during the frying process they don’t absorb the olive oil so aren’t greasy. The texture took me aback within the first bite. The peperoni cruschi were thin and crispy like a potato chip, which I did not expect, yet chewy inside. You could really taste the strong pepper flavor. Honestly, it was delicious and better and healthier than potato chips!
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Entrée: Pasta della Domenica
Every Sunday La Lopa makes a homemade pasta sauce. The Sunday we were there, the main pasta dish was a mix of two different pastas. My first thought was that combining two different types of pasta was too much and a bit strange. After some thought, I decided to give it a try. After all, it was the pasta of the day. The pasta was a mix of orecchiette with tomato sauce on the top and ravioli with lemon zest hidden on the bottom. The combination was explosive. Hidden in between the two pastas was a homemade sausage made with fennel. It was like finding a little hidden surprise and delight in the middle of your pasta. Fresh shaved ricotta topped this exquisite concoction. To this date, it was one of the most unforgettable and unique pastas I‘ve had in my life.
The cellar now converted into a small movie room is best part about La Lopa restaurant. Following your meal, you can choose to enjoy dessert, such as Tiramisu, at your table or down in the movie room. The movie room has chairs and beanbags for people to sit on and showcases a series of short clips of movies filmed in Matera since the 1950s. You’ll notice a common theme, which is that most of the movies are dramatic or religious in nature. Some movies filmed in Matera that you may be familiar with include: The Omen, King David, The Passion of the Christ, and Wonder Woman.
You leave La Lopa restaurant in Matera with a smile on your face that starts at one ear and reaches the other. You’re satiated, satisfied with the fact that you got to taste exceptional local flavors, and happy that you did so in one of the more unique restaurants in Matera.
>> Next: Sleep in Cave Hotel Sextianto Le Grotte della Civita in Matera, Basilicata
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