For far too long Naples was seen as merely a stepping stone to the Amalfi coast, held back in a shadow of post-war poverty and an unfair reputation for less than friendly street life. Those days are past; the city is now one of the most exciting foodie destinations in Europe. Sitting at the heart of Italy’s richest growing region, it is the birthplace of some of the nation’s most sanctified foodstuffs: mozzarella, pizza and bronze die pasta to name but a few. Its cuisine revolves around a few key elements executed in a nonchalant but exquisite fashion: startlingly fresh seafood, silky strings of pasta and of course, charred, mouth-wateringly good pizza. With an overwhelming range of fried foods to try as you walk through the streets, you’ll quite simply roll home at the end of your holiday.
Neapolitans stake a claim on the invention of pizza, their incarnation renowned for its crisp base and airy, blackened crust. We owe the city’s favourite topping to a visit from Queen Margherita in 1899 – pizzaiolos threw on red San Marzano tomatoes, white mozzarella and green basil to represent her nation’s flag. Look for a “Vera Pizza Napoletana” sign, alerting you to the fact that they’re using traditional ingredients and old school methods. For a quick fix, wolf down a pizza al portofoglio – literally wallet pizza – a small round version that you fold to eat.
Da Attilio, Via Pignasecca 17
Handed down from one Attilio Bachetti to another, this second generation pizza parlour has all the charm of the stereotypical gingham-tableclothed, celebrity photos on the walls haunt combined with a dynamic young chef at the helm. Try a sun-shaped Carnevale, the ricotta-filled pizza that keeps this place at the top of all the foodies’ hitlists.
Da Michele, Via Cesare Sersale 1-3
Pull up a pew and enjoy a slice at one of the city’s most hallowed institutions. Owned by the same family since 1870, true craftsmanship has been passed down through each paddle-wielding generation. They only make two pizzas but to perfection: the city’s own margherita and humble marinara.
50 Kalò, Piazza Sannazzaro 201B
A scenic walk along the seafront will bring you to Ciro Salvo’s place in Mergellina. This owner-come-chef is elevating Neapolitan pizza to its rightful place – an intelligent blend of craftsmanship and science. A third generation pizzaiolo, he meticulously studies his dough, producing pizzas that are lighter than air but with that trademark Neopolitan cornice – crust.
Neapolitans take their coffee very seriously. If offered a cup – be it by your AirBnB host, a particularly enthusiastic salesperson, unintelligible nonna leaning in a doorway – be sure to accept or risk causing serious offence. London has been overtaken by the Australian ‘new wave’ of coffee, but it’s well worth seeking out a hit of the original Neapolitan rocket fuel, especially after a fried pizza or three.
Mexico, Various branches around the city
Everything about these coffee bars is enchanting, from the 1960s stainless steel and orange plastic decor to the smell of their freshly-ground house coffee blend, Passalaqcua. Even the ordering system is an enjoyable novelty – pay at the till first and get handed a coupon, different colours for each kind of coffee.
Bar Nilo, Via San Biagio Dei Librai, 129
Home to a shrine to Napoli’s most beloved football player, Diego Maradona. Come for an amusing conversation with the bar’s owner, Bruno, and enjoy a quick jolt of intense Neapolitan caffè while you’re here.
Rather than wasting your precious holiday money on an overpriced cocktail at one of its less than appealing waterfront bars, head into the centro storico or up-and-coming Chiaia for a pre-dinner drink. Then head back towards the sea for an appetite-building walk along the front, stunning at any time but especially at sunset, when Vesuvius glows against a glorious pink backdrop.
Enoteca Belledonne, Vico Belledonne a Chiaia 18
Good local wines served by the glass in this modest but well run wine bar favoured by Napoli’s more discerning young people. Attempts to resist a plate of their bruschette or a local cheese board will prove futile, once spotted on your neighbour’s table.
Gambrinus, Via Chiaia, 1
Sit back under a crystal chandelier and treat yourselves to an atmospheric glass of frizzante, reveling in the fact that you’re following in Oscar Wilde’s footsteps. Known as the salon of Naples, its elegant marble café tables have played host to key figures of Italian literary history since the nineteenth century.
Head to Piazza Bellini in the centro storico for the buzz rather than to go to a particular bar. Once dusk falls, it’s the meeting place for the young and carefree, spritz in one hand, artistically poised cigarette in the other.The people-watching alone will keep you entertained for hours.
Neapolitan Cuisine (other than pizza)
With the finest ingredients that land and sea have to offer them, it’s hardly surprising that Neapolitan cuisine is considered to be one of Italy’s finest and most strictly seasonal. The volcanic soil does incredible things to the fruits and vegetables, to say nothing of the warm Mediterranean climate. Both traditional and modern cooks do little to embellish their raw ingredients and the result is spectacular.
Da Nennella, Vico Lungo Teatro Nuovo
Found next door to one of Naples’ most infamous aperitivo spots, it’s hardly surprising that the aim of the game here is to feed the hungry locals with authentic fare at a digestible price. Expect dishes like salsiccia e friarielli (sausages and a local variety of bitter greens) and pasta con provola e patate – yes, that means pasta, potatoes and cheese.
Veritas, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 141
Chef Gianluca D’Agostino’s menu reinvents traditional Campanian cuisine without losing holds of where its roots. The wine & craft beer list is all thoughtfully sourced, designed to complement his more adventurous dishes such as cuttlefish alla cacciatora and tubettoni with octopus and green chillies.
Pescheria Mattiucci, Viale Cavalleggeri D’Aosta 84
Run by three brothers, this is a fishmongers by day, standing-room only restaurant by night. Their mission was to bring to the restaurant scene the southern Italian tradition of eating raw fish, until then only done by fishermen with more catch than they could handle. Raw and marinated catch of the day enjoyed in local, lively company.
Must Sees & Eats
I’m sure there must be plenty of things to do in Naples other than eat, but I haven’t pushed myself to find them. I much rather enjoy soaking up the intoxicatingly chaotic streetlife, refuelling every now and then with one of the city’s many street foods. Join the nearest queue of Neapolitans and eat as they do; it will give you valuable insight into these gut-lead, quick-talking city-dwellers.
At the core of Neapolitan cuisine is the humble batter – I believe their motto to be ‘If in doubt, fry it’. This policy brings you all manner of crunchy deliciousness when it comes to streetfood, from stuffed courgette flowers to alici fritti (fried anchovies) and crocche’ di patate, essentially fried mashed potato. I urge you to try anything and everything you encounter battered and fried.
Neapolitan pastry shops offer many delights. Sfogliatella riccia (“curly pastry”) is shaped like a clamshell; the pastry is a continuous spiral of thin, crunchy layers filled with sweetened ricotta and candied citrus peel. Babà is a mushroom-shaped cake that usually gets doused in rum syrup just before serving, a fairly knockout pastry that I’d recommend following with a double espresso. Pastiera, popular around Easter, is a tart filled with ricotta, eggs, wheat, and candied citrus peels. Around New Year, you can find struffoli everywhere: these are little balls of fried dough topped with honey and colorful sprinkles. Divine.
Try Aruta (Via Porta San Gennaro 34), Mignone (Piazza Cavour 146), Angelo Carbone (Largo Regina Coeli 4).
Pignasecca Market, Via Pignasecca 28
The city’s oldest outdoor market, and an explosion of colour, noise and flavour. Open every morning; the fishmongers are especially spectacular, but there are also Babylon-esque fruit & vegetable stands, charcuterie vendors and of course, the ubiquitous fritti.