In the shadow of Vesuvius.

Vesuvius – Photo © www.stuckincustoms.com
Vesuvius – Photo © www.stuckincustoms.com

If we had been able to visit Naples just a few centuries ago we would have certainly encountered along its narrow streets “o maccaronaro”, i.e. an itinerant vendor of pasta dishes. A precursor of the fast-food concept, he is depicted in paintings of the day with his steaming caldron of boiling water, a bowl full of grated pecorino cheese and black pepper always ready to spice up the pasta. A real bargain for just two cents.

Those were other times, of course, but to fully appreciate Neapolitan cuisine we must not forget the century’s old tradition that this ancient city’s cuisine is based upon.

MORE THAN SPAGHETTI
A history of pasta and inventiveness that culminates in a glorious example of simplicity and flavor, namely, Spaghetti with tomato sauce. But a quick survey of typical Neapolitan first courses wouldn’t be complete without mentioning mussel soup, baked Rigatoni and Vermicelli with clams. One has to also mention arancini (fried rice balls) and “gatto’” (another fried specialty) with potatoes, excellent both as an antipasto or a quick snack to eat at any time of day.

As a matter of fact, the fried-food shops happen to be an excellent way to get to know authentic Neapolitan cooking, everything from the potato croquettes to mozzarella in carrozza (fried mozzarella sandwiches), to be eaten piping hot and stringy, straight from the boiling oil. All you have to do is stop at any restaurant and browse through the menu to find stuffed eggplant, fried anchovies, stewed rabbit all’ischitana, tripe, liver roulades or the typical thin veal cutlets (scaloppine) cooked in a delightfully fragrant oregano sauce.

Neapolitan Pastiera – Photo © grantouritaly.blogspot.com
Neapolitan Pastiera – Photo © grantouritaly.blogspot.com

DON’T MISS THESE DESSERTS
The pastries deserve special mention, especially the Neapolitan pastiera (Easter cake), a genuine highpoint of the local gastronomic tradition. This tantalizing delicacy is stuffed with grain that’s been boiled in milk, ricotta, citron, candied orange and other ingredients brimming with Mediterranean flavors and aromas, like orange-blossom essential oil. Or let yourself be tempted by a sfogliatella (puff pastry), best if still hot from the oven, filled with creamy ricotta and served with a generous dusting of powdered sugar, or a baba’, a spongy, rum-soaked Neapolitan delight, a real must for any self-respecting food and wine tour in Naples. As is the world-famous almond torrone, a type of Neapolitan nougat specialty.

Pizza Margherita – Photo © David Bishop
Pizza Margherita – Photo © David Bishop

IT ALL STARTED IN NAPLES
We have not come around to pizza yet because it has become practically synonymous with this city of irrepressible vitality. Naples has managed to transform a humble, working-class dish into a symbol of Italy that is known and copied throughout the world. Try a pizza in Naples and you’ll discover the difference for yourself. Maybe it’s the water, or the tomatoes, or the local mozzarella, who knows? But a Margherita prepared in Piedigrotta is truly in a category all by itself.

Where to stay in Naples

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