You’ll be licking your lips after you read about these six authentic Italian staples, all popular in the city of Naples. Local, Dany Caputo, tells you all and where to get your Italian foodie fix.
Neapolitans are passionate and quite opinionated about their cuisine. Particularly evident are the strong flavors from the sea and ingredients enhanced by the sun and the fertile soil. We tend to use fresh produce as much as we can, cooking dishes that focus on fragrance and simplicity. In Naples there’s something for every taste, from frutti di mare to mozzarella di bufala, but the best dishes will always be those homemade classics cooked by mamme (mothers) and nonne (grandmothers) for generations. To ensure you have the best foodie experience in Naples, local Dany Caputo lists six top Italian staples you can’t miss in this city and recommends local hotspots that even a Neapolitan mamma would approve of.
1. Ragù at Tandem
In Naples, there’s one tradition you can’t escape: ragù on Sundays. Grandmothers start cooking it early in the morning because it has to simmer on a low heat for several hours. The Neapolitan ragù is served on fresh pasta (not necessarily spaghetti as those in the UK are used to) and topped with some grated Parmesan. A lot of Neapolitan grandmothers still make fresh pasta from scratch. When you finish your pasta, you can mop up the sauce on your plate with some freshly baked bread. Hungry yet?
If you are visiting, there’s only one place in Naples where you can eat the traditional ragù: Tandem (Address: Via Paladino 51, Naples). Booking in advance is your best chance to find a table. The place is tiny and exactly as you’d expect it. Red and white tablecloths, wooden chairs, and old photographs on the walls depict a traditional Italian eatery. You can choose the pasta you want with your ragù but I especially recommend the Neapolitan classics: ziti, mezzani, manfredi or rigatoni. The chef here demands that you do the ‘scarpetta’, so unless you want to offend him, clean the ragù off your plate with some bread. Bonus: the servings are huge and the scent is divine!
2. Pizza at Michele or Sorbillo
The Margherita pizza as we know it, the simplest pizza of all (tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese), was actually born in Naples in the early 19th century, to honor the Italian Queen Margherita di Savoia. Many countries try to copy the original Neapolitan pizza, but it has a distinctive taste that locals will tell you is different to even the replicas in other Italian regions. That’s why you can’t visit Naples without trying the original quintessentially Neapolitan pizza. With competition rife in the city, there are two places in the city regarded as two of the best pizzerias around.
Michele (Address: Via Cesare Sersale 1/3, Naples) is lovingly called “Temple of the Holy Pizza”. It has been a bookmark in the history of pizza since the second half of the 19th century. The secret is the exclusive use of fresh products and the traditional phase of the dough rising. Here you will only find two simple types of pizza: Marinara (tomato, garlic and oregano) and Margherita.
On the other hand, Sorbillo (Address: Via dei Tribunali 32, Naples) is a pizzeria that opened sometime later in 1935, finding new success after a series of cooking shows on TV. The owners, Gino, and Antonio ‘Totò’, will welcome you with the latest pizza trends or meatballs with tomato sauce. They are especially famous for their fried pizza, filled with ricotta cheese, pepper and mozzarella. Pizzeria Sorbillo also won the award for the ‘Best Neapolitan pizzeria in the world’ in 2016. Booking in advance is mandatory. The line outside is always pretty long but the service is usually quick!
3. Gourmet burgers at Puok Burger
The gourmet burgers in these parts aren’t your usual burgers; they are centered around fresh ingredients and incorporate Neapolitan traditions. And no one makes a better one than local ‘celebrity’ Egidio Cerrone. He first became famous in Italy for a video he made in response to the McDonald’s advertisement that said their burgers were better than our traditional Neapolitan pizza. He’s been blogging for years, looking for the best pizza, huge buns, Italian focaccia, ragù and traditional dishes, while never forgetting that he learned everything about food from his mum, his grandmother, and his aunts. (You could say he’s our Italian Adam Richman.) Now Egidio, better known as Puok e Med, has thousands of views on YouTube, and he’s a social star.
In 2016 Puok opened his first burger store in Naples – Puok Burger Store (Address: Via Francesco Cilea 104, Naples). They make about 400 buns per evening and every night they are sold out before 11 p.m., with Puok keeping his followers in-the-loop on his social media accounts. There are just a couple of tables on the street and the store only uses local products with the average price for a burger and a beer at around €10/€11. Whenever the eatery opens, the whole road gets blocked by people waiting in line for their mouth-watering comfort food. The ‘Mammà’ for example comes with ‘parmigiana di melanzane’, a typical Neapolitan dish made with fried eggplants, mozzarella cheese, ragù, a hamburger and provola fondue with fresh basil. It’s huge, delicious and thoroughly Neapolitan.
4. Fiocco di neve
If you want to see snow in Naples, then there’s only one place to go: Pasticceria Poppella (Address: Via Arena alla Sanità 24, Naples and Via Santa Brigida 69/70, Naples). Because our city is so hot, we never really get snow, so this little pastry shop, open since 1920, decided to make a special and alternative kind of Neapolitan snow.
Ciro ‘Poppella’ Scognamillo and Ciro Oliva created the ‘fiocco di neve’ (snowflake in Italian), a special sweet and soft pastry that has to be eaten within 12-36 hours from the making, to preserve its quality. The original recipe is top secret (they let the dough rise for 8 hours), and the pastry is filled with a velvety, light cream that is supposedly a mix of goat ricotta cheese, whipped cream and yellow cream, together with a splash of citrus liquor. When it’s ready, the fiocco di neve is topped with powdered sugar. While the line in front of the shop is always pretty long, Poppella hasn’t been resting on its laurels; they keep on creating new pastries too, like the new, limited edition ‘Bombetta di Totò’.
5. Sfoglia Campanella
Pastries are just as popular as pizza in Naples. There’s always something new to try, because the bakers here like to spoil their customers. The sfogliatella is a traditional pastry that you can order in two versions: riccia and frolla. The former looks like a clam, yet it’s crispy and filled with ricotta cheese, vanilla, cinnamon, and candied fruit; the latter has the same filling but the outside is made of soft shortcrust pastry.
If two tasty options weren’t already enough, a pastry shop here decided to invent a new variation on the theme, and it went immediately went viral across the net. It’s called ‘sfoglia campanella’, which looks like a little bell, with the same crispy outside of the sfogliatella riccia. Yet this one is filled with a tiny babà (another delicious Neapolitan pastry with rum), enveloped in creamy white or dark chocolate, that coats a ricotta cheese cream filling. When bitten into, you can guarantee an explosion of flavors you won’t forget. Many shops have created different variations of the sfoglia campanella, but the original version can only be found only at Sfogliatelab (Address: Piazza Garibaldi 82/84, Naples) where the mind behind this masterpiece, Vincenzo Ferrieri, is still on the lookout for new ideas.
6. Caffè espresso
Naples is home to one of the 10 best cafes in Italy and as the espresso is such a staple in the city, you can bet this particular cafe does one of the best espressos around. Situated between the beautiful piazza del Plebiscito and via Chiaia – not too far away from the Royal Palace of Naples, the Theater San Carlo and the Galleria Umberto I – it’s impossible to miss the Gran Caffè Gambrinus (Address: Via Chiaia 1, Naples).
This historical café opened in 1860 and it was an immediate success. During the Belle Epoque, its golden rooms were filled with artists and writers who gathered to attend the Cafè Chantant (live concerts famous among the nobles). The Gambrinus was so open-minded and liberal that during the Fascist era it was closed after being deemed too dangerous for the regime. Luckily for us, it reopened right after the war, to give back the city its most iconic cafè.
The Gambrinus is one of the spots in Naples where you can easily meet actors, celebrities, politicians, and intellectuals. Totò, the De Filippo brothers, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Paul Sartre and many others have been seen drinking espresso and eating gelato and sfogliatella at Gambrinus. Stepping inside this illustrious cafè will feel like walking into another era, mainly because of the decor made up of marbles, tapestries, paintings and bas reliefs. Simply put, there’s no better place to enjoy an espresso and a babà in the city.