Last time we went to Naples we enjoyed the pastiera and didn’t so much enjoy the pickpocketing. This time round there was, thankfully, none of the latter. Though because of the earlier experience we didn’t take a camera, and I kept neglecting to take photographs with my (crappy replacement-for-stolen) phone. Hence this one isn’t very well illustrated. Sorry – I realise food blogging needs fancy photography but, well…. Boh. È già.
Naples is a great city if you like stodge. Sure, it has amazing restaurants too, but the most tangible food, the food you’ll probably notice first – especially if you’re visiting the centro storico – is the street food.
Along Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunali are dozens of places selling, basically, deep-fried stodge. Who says Glaswegians invented deep-fried pizza? Apparently, there’s been stodgy, fried street-food in this ancient Greek then Roman town for millennia.
We tried a bread-crumbed, deep-fried pasta patty, a crochetta (potato croquette, with bits of mystery meat), and a sausage (with provolone in it) wrapped in dough and… deep-fried (possibly called “wurstel in camicia” – “vienna sausage in a shirt”). I love stodge and deep-fried food, but even I felt a bit wobbly after these items. (I would have been even wobblier if I’d been forced to try the tripe and lemon juice we saw for sale from a cart down by Castel dell’Ovo on the seafront.)
Later on, I fancied some beer (ofc). I’d tried looking up real beer places in Napoli, but I couldn’t really find any in the centro storico. Then we wandered past La Stanza del Gusto on Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli. It’s basically in Piazza Bellini, which is a great spot for an evening drink, amid the dilapidated, graffitied, litter-strewn grandeur. Most of the other bars there, however, only serve industrial beers, which gave La Stanza the edge for us as it had a good selection of international real beer.
I always prefer to eat and drink local, though it’s especially nice to be able to do this with beer. When we asked for something Italian, and local, the helpful guy went behind the bar as if he was digging into a special stash and gave us a slightly strange sales pitch. Fran had a Lemonale, which he referred to as a bit “gay” (so not exactly PC).
This is a top fermented beer from Birra Karma brewery, which is based in Alvignano, 45km north of Napoli. It’s a 5.5% ABV beer that’s made with water, malted barley, rye, organic honey, Fair Trade cane sugar, hops, spices and yeast: but no actual lemon. Despite this, it was very citrusy, a little sweet, with a smooth, even body and some coriander. Karma’s own site says it’s in the style of Belgian blanche. Very refreshing.
I had a Trentatré (33) Ambrate from AF Birra/Aeffe – another local Campania brewery, this time based near Salerno. Aeffe’s site describes it as a “Scottisch Ale” while the good old Guida alle birre d’Italian 2013 says it’s 6% ABV and made with Maris Otter barley malt, and refers to it being a beer “inspired by the English tradition”. Italians really aren’t very good when it comes to the whole English-British thing, with many using the former as a synonym for the latter (I’m constantly telling a highly educated historian friend there was no “English army” in WW2, it’s the “British army”).
Anyway, Trentatré Ambrate has a rich amber colour, with a nicely balanced, deep, slightly fruity flavour of malts and bitter hops. Just to continue his un-PC strain of jovial chat, the waiter said this was a better beer to “picchiare la moglie” (ie, he was calling it “wife-beater” – a name used in England for Stella Artois, for some reason).
Just to get the most out of our aperitivo, we tried Karma’s own amber ale, called Amber Doll. This wasn’t quite as full-bodied as the Trentatré and had a distinctly coppery flavour, with touches of chestnut.
The following day, we met some friends. They live in Rome, but have local family, and they took us for a pizza for lunch. This was at Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, which is located by the old gate Porta San Gennaro on Via Foria, a large road to the north of the centro storico and one of the many places one can see the city’s famed modern art installations that look just like massive piles of garbage. They’re uncannily realistic.
The pizzeria itself is one of the many where you’ll see a sign saying “Vera Pizza Napoletana” – Real Neopolitan Pizza – with a picture of the city’s famed folk figure Pulcinella. This guy, with his clown-like white garb and black mask, is the predecessor of Britain’s children’s entertainment psychopath Mr Punch, with his proclivity for killing (his wife, their baby, the arresting police officer). Encouraging you to eat pizza is certainly a more benign activity. The signs are organised by the AVPN, a not-for-profit founded in Naples in 1984.
Our friends said there were only really three genuinely Neopolitan pizzas on the menu: notably the Margherita, which legend says was created for Margherita of Savoy, queen consort of Italy’s King Umberto I, during a visit to Naples in 1889. Another was a calzone made with ricotta and prosciutto, which Fran had. She says “It was delicious and surprisingly light.”
Not so light, apparently, is the deep-fried version, which our friends warned us off – and indeed it looked massive, and coronary-inducing, when some other punters ordered them. I had another calzone, but this time with provolone, black olives and scarola (that is Cichorium endivia, curly endive, a form of chicory). Very nice it was too – with the olives providing a sharpness to contrast with the cheese and wilted greens.
The following morning, we tried just one more local speciality before we moved on down the coast to get a bit of sun and reprieve from the urban madness. This involved going to Giovanni Scaturchio, a famed historical (“since 1905”) pasticceria (pastry shop) in the head of the centro storico, on Piazza San Domenico Maggiore.
Our friends insisted we have sfogliatelle. These pastries come in a few forms, though the most famous in Naples is the sfogliatella riccia, a name that literally means “curly many-leaves/layers”. And indeed the pastry is not unlike say filo, in that it’s been rolled and stretched very thinly, before being layered and rolled, and filled with a mixture of ricotta, almond paste and candied peel. We had one riccia and one made with pasta frolla – shortcrust pastry. The latter, at first glance, looks more like a brioche bun, but when eaten is clearly pastry not enriched bread dough, and is also filled with ricotta and peel.
We were so busy talking about it all, then trying to get the waiter to bring a knife, then cutting them up, that by the time I thought about taking a photo there wasn’t much left. So instead, here’s the picture from Scaturchio’s site:
If you’re only in Naples for a few days, and fancy trying a distinctive local snack, I’d really recommend a good sfogliatella, or two. Slightly more refined than the deep-fried pizza sold on the street stalls. I’m saving that treat for next time we run the gauntlet of this astonishing city.
Birra Karma brewery
+39 0823 869 117 | firstname.lastname@example.org | birrakarma.com
AF Birra/Aeffe brewery
+39 081 516 2434 | email@example.com | afbirra.com
Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, Via Porta San Gennaro 2, 80138 Naples, Italy
+39 081 456 421