Eating Out in Naples
It may not have the bustling squares of Florence, the imposing monuments of Rome or the flowing canals of Venice, but Naples is where you will get to know the ‘heart of Italy’. The city may be noisy, polluted, overcrowded, and slightly intimidating, but it is equally intriguing and engaging, and boasts a spectacular selection of tasty dishes.
Neapolitan cuisine owes much to the fertile soil which offers up some unique crops, above all the San Marzano tomato, as well as the sea which is the basis for all the seafood dishes. Mussels, clams and other shellfish all play a huge part in the cuisine of the city. From the simple ‘impepata di cozze’ (mussels, hot pepper, parsley, lemon juice and some bread), to far more elaborate recipes, the mussel rules. The rest of the local seafood is treated equally well. A classic ‘frittura mista’ might include ring sliced squids, small whole fishes, little shrimps and big prawns.
One of the best places to enjoy a traditional Neapolitan meal is behind Castel dell’Ovo, in the small district known as ‘Borgo Marinari’ where many small and pretty tratorias offers a good selection of dishes based on the typical southern Italian fare. This is also a relatively cheap area in which to eat, especially when compared with nearby Santa Lucia or Mergellina. If you are on a tight budget, the ‘Centro Storico’ has plenty of places serving traditional dishes at reasonable prices. Needless to say, this is where you will have the chance to eat along with the locals.
Naples is the proud birthplace of pizza: halfway between refined cuisine and traditional working-class meal, Neapolitan pizza became one of the main dishes and a symbol of Neapolitan cuisine in the 18th Century. It was finally consecrated in 1889, when the famous pizza maker Raffaele Esposito offered it to the Queen Margherita di Savoia. The recipe the queen liked best, topped with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, was later named ‘Pizza Margherita’ in her honor.
If you are interested in history as well as food and want to visit the place where this pizza was invented you are in luck because it is still around and is now known as Pizzeria Brandi. At this moment you could consider that place a bit of a tourist trap but it should be worth the visit just to say that you have ate in the pizzeria where the pizza was invented. There are other well known and notable pizzerias as well such as Da Michele, Di Matteo, Trianon da Ciro, as well as Cafasso but to tell the truth, it is really difficult to eat a bad pizza in Naples. You could even grab a pizza from one of the street-side stalls, eating it folded into quarters and find it to be tastier than the ones made by your local pizza maker.
Unlike pizza, pasta was not invented in Naples, but it was in the nearby Gragnano that the industrial production of pasta started, together with the techniques to dry and preserve it. Made out of durum wheat, harder to manipulate than soft wheat, the industrial made pasta was more successful here than in northern Italy, where home-made pasta was (and still is) more popular. Pasta from Gragnano is still acknowledged for the quality of the wheat and the slow drying process. The most popular variety,, besides the classic spaghetti and linguine, are the ‘paccheri’ (large hollow tube shaped pasta) and ‘ziti’, long pipe-shaped pasta, broken by hand before cooking and usually topped with rag?r />
In Naples you can have pasta with almost everything: vegetables, meat, fish, butter or even olive oil alone. Even with so many recipes to choose from, Neapolitans have their «holy trinity» of pasta sauces: ‘pummarola’, ‘rag?nd ‘genovese’. Pummarola, a basic tomato sauce without extra flavors except basil,only tastes the way it should only if made with the proper ‘san marzano’ tomatoes. Rag? actually a tomato based stew where the meat is eaten on the side. Genovese is similar to rag?t, instead of the tomato, there is a large amount of onions which are stewed with the meat.
Genovese and rag?e two of those dishes that need time, three hours being the absolute minimum, to be cooked. As a result they are classical home-cooked dishes not too popular with restaurants. If you want to taste a good genovese or rag?our best bet is to get invited to a Neapolitan home since restaurants either didn’t serve them or only knock up a poor version.
A typical Neapolitan menu may start with a ‘mozzarella in carrozza’ (literally ‘mozzarella in a carriage’, the carriage being two slices of bread dipped in beaten egg and deep-fried) or a ‘caprese’ salad (mozzarella, tomato and basil) and then continue with a pasta dish such as ‘spaghetti alle vongole veraci’ (spaghetti with clams), or ‘maccheroni al rag?As a main course, you can have either ‘impepata di cozze’ or oven-baked mullet. Then to freshen up your mouth after fish dishes, there is nothing better than a good mature cheese like ‘scamorza’ or ‘caciocavallo’.
Finally, you just cannot miss out on tasting one of the typical Neapolitan pastries such as ‘bab?(made with light flour, eggs, and yeast and bathed in rum or limoncello), ‘sfogliatella’ (a shell shaped pastry made out of several thin layers of dough filled with orange-flavored ricotta), ‘struffoli’ (grape-size, deep-fried dough balls dipped in honey) and, last but not least, ‘pastiera napoletana’ (an orange blossom flavored wheat and ricotta pie, traditionally made at Easter). Needless to say, these delicacies are always accompanied by a cup of coffee or a glass of flavored liqueurs (namely rosolio, limoncello or walnut-flavored nocillo).
This article is part of a series covering the most important italian travel destinations and regional cuisines. You can find similar articles about eating out in Rome, Florence, Milan. Venice. Elba Island and the Tuscan Archipelago.