Naples, a City Tasting Tour
First of all comes the street food, the people's version, that of the “mangiamaccheroni” (pasta eaters), with its corner shop windows. But then there are also the recipes of the monzù (deriving from the French word monsieur), the professional chefs who used to work in the homes of the nobility in the more bourgeois parts of the city.
This is Naples: dichotomic and contradictory. Vulgar, yet refined at the same time. Exaggeratedly over the top, in each and every manifestation. Take for example “Miseria e Nobiltà", written for the theatre by Eduardo Scarpetta – or the film starring Totò in the timeless spaghetti-scoffing scene – to recount a city that proudly preserves some extraordinary rituals and products and is capable of regaling some memorable gastronomic experiences deriving from centuries of cultural crossover.
And while it is true that tradition in the shade of Vesuvius is experienced as almost (or even more than) a religion, in recent years Naples has been strengthening its contemporary and creative spirit and breaking free from its stereotyped image.
Here are the best places to eat in Naples for discovering its more authentic side, from cafés to markets and restaurants, starting of course from its most beloved and planetary-famous symbol: pizza.
The Best pizza in Naples
Among the many pizzerias in town, 50 Kalò owned by Ciro Salvo, just a few steps away from the Mergellina sea front, certainly deserves a place on the podium thanks to its research into flour, the lightness of the pizza dough and the selection of local ingredients used in the fillings.
For example, the pizza with buffalo ricotta from the region of Campania, tomato, pork crackling, provola cheese from Agerola and pepper. Without forgetting, of course, some artfully executed classics such as the Margherita.
Also well worth the journey (from any part of the world) are the little frittatas filled with bucatini pasta and the montanara, that is to say, deep-fried pizza. The establishment is run in a modern key and well kept with an added bonus of a small yet well compiled wine list whose pairings are perfect.
San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil from the hills of Salerno, garlic, oregano, basil and anchovies from the Tyrrhenian Sea: this is the recipe for an (apparently) simple work of art, that of the marinara pizza served at La Notizia by Enzo Coccia, one of the undisputed masters of the Neapolitan pizza. There are also several excellent versions of the Margherita, to be enjoyed with a good selection of craft beers.
TRADITIONAL OR CREATIVE
You have to climb the scenic winding road of Corso Vittorio Emanuele to find a table at Veritas one of the few city restaurants that succeeds admirably in casting off the fetters of tradition without losing sight of its Parthenopean identity.
Gianluca D’Agostino puts his name to some modern and elegant dishes of perfectly contrived contrasts, such as his spaghetti with prawns, pecorino cheese, courgettes, mint and lime or his roast mackerel with tomatoes from Sorrento, cucumber and aioli sauce. The three gourmet menus offer an affordable solution (4 courses at 48 Euro, 6 at 58, 7 at 68) and a most original wine list, rich in its offering by the glass.
Those, on the other hand, who seek an authentic cuisine of times gone by will not want to miss the Europeo di Mattozzi. In a dining room of old worldly charm and pampered by a homely and courteous service, it is possible to enjoy some fantastic antipasti, comprising fried prawns, stuffed peppers and grilled artichokes, before going on (if you still have room) to taste the traditional first courses.
Few other cities in the world offer such a selection of takeaway food. On every street corner, you encounter shop windows filled with high calorie comfort foods sending out enticing aromas, which, served in “cuoppi” (cones made from recycled paper), are hard to resist: fried batter specialities, deep-fried pizzas either flat or folded over, panzerotti, croquettes and taralli.
All of them may be enjoyed from morning until late at night at the historical establishment of the Friggitoria Vomero, particularly renowned for its mozzarella in carrozza (a sort of fried bread sandwich filled with mozzarella). Deep-fried pizza (aka “montanara”) is one of the greatest inventions of Neapolitan cuisine.
To enjoy it at its very best, go to Zia Esterina, a small venue opened by celebrity pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo, or to La Masardona owned by Vincenzo Piccirillo, close to the Central Station, to try the one with the double round of pizza dough filled with pork crackling, buffalo ricotta, pepper and basil.
The last stop takes us to the premises of Gourmeet, a fusion of goodies (tavern, wine-bar and market) where you cannot afford to miss the sweet or savoury fried bombe (doughnuts without holes) signed by the three Michelin starred chef from Abruzzo, Niko Romito.
COFFEE AND PATISSERIE
“It is easier to change your religion than your coffee,” Georges Courteline used to say. And he was right. Particularly in Naples, where coffee is a cult, along with traditional pastries, from baba to sfogliatella. Everyone has his or her favourite, so here are ours.
The day may start (or rather it must start) with an espresso or mocha coffee at the Gran Caffè La Caffettiera, an elegant bar in the Chiaia district offering select blends from South America and Asia prepared in different ways, along with an excellent aperitif in the late afternoon.
The best traditional baba is probably that of Capparelli, the famous cake shop of the Decumano Maggiore, whose soft mixture is artfully saturated with liquor.
To enjoy an excellent sfogliatella you should move on to Pintauro, the historical venue where the atmosphere has remained almost unchanged since its opening in 1785. Extremely fragrant with its rich filling and served at an ideal temperature: whether “riccia” or “sfoglia” (layered or smooth pastry), here the sfogliatella is guaranteed.
If you wish to compare it with another fine example, try that of La Sfogliatella Mary as well, a tiny shop with a window between via Toledo and the Galleria Umberto I.
HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY MARKETS
To familiarise oneself with the historical quarters and the most authentic (and noisy) spirit of the city, what could be better than a walk through one of the local food markets.
The Neapolitans go to Pignasecca to buy bread, seafood and the best friarielli (turnip tops) when in season. Torretta is one of the few surviving indoor markets and the quality of the food on offer – from fresh fish to vegetables, tomatoes and particularly artichokes – is excellent.
Besides, inside its premises there is a precious address for real locals: look for the sign Cibi Cotti - Nonna Anna, an extremely informal trattoria in which to taste a small selection of excellent traditional dishes such as pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans), at a ridiculously low price.
Grangusto is not a street market but a quality supermarket located right on the seafront: inside you can buy meat, fish, cheese, bread, sweets, fruit and vegetables, as well as some great wines from all over the world. You may even stop off for lunch or dinner at the excellent restaurant to enjoy the wholemeal linguine made by the Gentile pasta firm, served with mullet, breadcrumbs and wild fennel.
BISTROS AND MIXOLOGY
Even the city's mixology scene is experiencing a moment of great ferment. Gin and tonic enthusiasts will find a list of almost one hundred gin labels at Ba-bar along with premium rums and single malts. But the venue is also a bistro and here you can order carpaccio, hamburgers and cheese platters in an eclectic and sociable environment, furnished with objects picked up all over the world and complete with a table football set.
A speakeasy atmosphere reigns at the Antiquario, the cocktail bar run by Alex Frezza serving the great classics alongside creative recipes, all of which are impeccably mixed. These include Fish House Punch made from Jamaican rum, peach liquor, lemon juice and sugar.