Takeaway

Noshing in Naples

Latha Srinivasan | Updated on October 23, 2020 Published on October 23, 2020

Neapolitan cravings: For five euros, you can feast on heavenly pizza and a beverage as you explore the city   -  ISTOCK.COM

The Italian city’s food obsession calls out to you from street corners and winding alleys

* Feeling like something sweet, I walked into a pastry shop and ordered a babà (a mushroom-shaped rum sponge cake that originated in Poland) and a ricotta Sfogliatella (puff pastry filled with bran, ricotta and candied fruit). The babà comes with other fillings, too — chocolate, cream, fruits — but the classic allows you to taste the rum

* The aroma of a fresh pizza cooking in a traditional wood-fire oven wafts in almost street corner. Pizza Neapolitan — a version of the Margherita pizza made of soft dough, mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes with fresh basil — is what most buyers opt for

When I decided to visit Italy again in 2019 after decades, I didn’t want to be a typical tourist and explore only Rome. Just an hour away from the capital by train, Naples along the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy — despite the stories of the mafia, pickpockets and bag snatchers — was right on my radar. Naples may be the poorer cousin of Rome and Milan, but it is food-obsessed and has one of the highest number of restaurants with a Michelin star in the country.

As soon as you arrive in Naples, you find yourself in a milieu that’s congested and chaotic, with life literally out on the narrow cobbled streets. But I discovered that getting to know the city was best done by savouring its street food and famous pizzas.

One of the main attractions in Naples is the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli with its artefacts from the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and an Egyptian collection. Walking to the museum, I spotted a vendor selling tarallo Neapolitan, a local bagel-shaped savoury with pepper and almonds. Bakers who didn’t want to throw away the scraps of dough left after making bread came up with this pretzel-like treat that could be baked along with the bread. This is a great snack (similar to the Indian chakli or murukku) that can be eaten at any time of the day. I packed up some for later.

Ricotta Sfogliatella (puff pastry filled with bran, ricotta and candied fruit)   -  ISTOCK.COM

 

Naples is also known as the city of 500 domes and ancient churches, such as the Naples Duomo, Cappella Sansevero and the Gesù Nuovo. The touristy Duomo is on my list and, along the way, I crossed countless cosy shops that sell snacks, pastries and desserts. Feeling like something sweet, I walked into a pastry shop and ordered a babà (a mushroom-shaped rum sponge cake that originated in Poland) and a ricotta Sfogliatella (puff pastry filled with bran, ricotta and candied fruit). The babà comes with other fillings, too — chocolate, cream, fruits — but the classic allows you to taste the rum. According to folklore, an exiled Polish king, Stanislaw Leszczynski, dunked a local cake in sweet wine (the rum was a pastry chef’s touch) to enhance the taste and thus was born the babà. These cost a few euros each and you find the locals enjoying these pastries with coffee through the day.

Food on the go is a Neapolitan trait, and it is true of shopping in the city, too. While Milan is the fashion capital, Naples produces the best figurines and other accessories for Italian nativity scenes along with Christmas ornaments. One item a visitor must consider buying is a Pulcinella figurine, a Neapolitan character that originated from the commedia dell’arte (an improvised kind of popular comedy in Italian theatres in the 16th-18th centuries). And if the heart cries out for some fashion-related buying, Via Toledo, one of the lifelines of Naples, is the best place to start the day. My shopping for street fashion at Via Toledo was interrupted by gelato cravings. It has popular gelato spots such as Rol Gelateria, Fantasia Gelati and Il Gelato Mennella, but every gelateria in the city dishes out interesting flavours in a bouquet of pastel shades. My choices for the summer day were the refreshing lemon and tasty pistachio.

Being on the Amalfi Coast, the city also puts out top-quality seafood. If you stroll down the narrow lanes of the Spanish Quarter in the morning, you’ll find fishermen selling their early catch of the day — fish, crabs, clams and so on. Given the abundance of fresh produce used in everyday cooking, the food even in a mom-and-pop joint or grocery shop tickles the taste buds.

But who can go to Naples and not have the pizza?

The aroma of a fresh pizza cooking in a traditional wood-fire oven wafts in almost street corner. Pizza Neapolitan — a version of the Margherita pizza made of soft dough, mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes with fresh basil — is what most buyers opt for. The local tale is that in 1889, the pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito invented this pizza and named it after the Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy. Whatever may be the tale, for five euros, you can feast on heavenly pizza and a beverage as you explore the city.

Speaking of drinks, Naples is home to limoncello (a lemon-flavoured liqueur), which most Neapolitans make at home too. Served chilled post meals, its popularity in the country is beaten by only Campari. The liqueur is also used in pastries and ice creams but I liked it best after dinner.

A sip of chilled limoncello, after a meal of fettuccine al pomodoro, was indeed a good way of winding up in Naples.

Latha Srinivasan is a journalist based in Chennai

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Published on October 23, 2020
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