As soon as you set foot in Naples, you’re enveloped in a world of perfect chaos. Caught in a flurry of scattered pedestrians, speedy vespas, and crumbling alleyways, you’re a mere dot splattered on a canvas.
There’s the banter and shouting of animated locals and the impatient, aggressive honking of congested traffic squeezed into the tiny, twisted streets. There’s the aroma of fried local goodies, of freshly baked bread and pizza a portafoglio. There’s wonderfully brewed espresso. There’s babà with custard! There’s sfogliatella. Amidst the confusion, there are historical gems like Castel dell’Ovo and beautiful old churches around every corner. There are the ramshackle alleyways of the Spanish quarters and hardhearted Spaccanapoli. There’s Via San Gregorio Armeno, which swells with tourists coming to admire the intricately crafted nativity scenes during Christmastime. The backdrop of all of this hustle and bustle is the magnificent outline of Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance.
As a diehard foodie, the only thing that completes this masterpiece is a taste of local flavors. Other than its world famous pizza, Naples is a utopia for cheap and yummy street food. While exploring the family-run boutiques, trattorias and pizzerias, you will find a ton of smaller vendors that offer a quick bite to eat that you can enjoy on the go.
Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of my favorite quick eats that you can find around the city for under 10 euros:
Pizza fritta. Yes, fried pizza. They deep fry small blobs of pizza dough filled with ingredients like cheese, ham, salame and mushrooms. They are a bit fluffier than an actual pizza since the dough contains more water. Another version called the montanara is not stuffed, but on top of the fried dough they sprinkle some grated cheese, pour on some tomato sauce, and then garnish with basil leaves. Their shape kind of depends on how they come out after being fried. Sometimes they are round, and sometimes whoever made them simply smushes them flat.
Crocchè di patate. How would I describe them to my American friends? They are like big tater tots, but the potato inside isn’t chunky, it’s smooth almost like it’s been blended. So basically they are like fried pieces of mashed potatoes. The potatoes have also been seasoned (and sometimes mixed with cheese) prior to frying, making them ready to eat, no condiments necessary (although I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind having a little ketchup with these. My husband looked at me confused when I mentioned this. He said, “Why? They’re already flavored!” Italians aren’t big on condiments). Crocchè are usually small and cylinder shaped.
Panino con wurstel e patatine. Don’t know which genius (and American at heart it seems!) invented this one. It’s a sandwich made of fried bread filled with hot dogs and french fries. The warm, salted bread has the exact same consistency as a freshly fried donut. Bet you didn’t think Italy, one of the culinary capitals of the universe, would offer something like this. I guess that’s why it’s “street” food and not served in a Michelin restaurant.
Panino con salsiccia e friarielli. This sandwich has a pair of ingredients that are the epitome of Naples. Any time you see the words “Salsiccia and friarielli” you can bet that the food has something to do with Naples. Friarielli are turnip greens (for the longest time I never knew what they were called in English, since i’ve never actually eaten them back home). In other parts of Italy they call them “Cime di Rapa.” Sausage and turnip greens are the go-to combo for Neapolitans, and they are often seen together on pizza, with pasta, or just by themselves as a meal. I find this combination of bitter and salty flavorful, but sort of an acquired taste.
Mozzarella in Carrozza. This means “mozzarella in a carriage,” and by carriage they mean fried carriage. These are fried mozzarella (usually fior di latte, not mozzarella di bufala) squares.
Cuoppo / Cuppetiello. This is a cone made of brown paper that is filled with fried seafood like calamari, sardines, and prawns. Cuoppo just means cone in Neapolitan dialect. They also sell them filled with bite-sized crocchè, arancini, fried pasta (fritattine di maccheroni), fried salted dough balls (zeppoline), and fried vegetables (verdure in pastella). Cuoppo is the big cone, and cuppetiello is the smaller one.
Italians always turn their noses up at Americans for our fried eating habits, and I used to let this slide, until I married into a Neapolitan family and I realized that they fry a lot of stuff! In addition to the aforementioned fried foods, they have little fried fish (bianchetti), fried pumpkin blossoms (fiori di zucca), and something I discovered this Christmas – zeppoline di alghe – fried algae dough balls, just to name a few. Even their beloved holiday dessert struffoli are fried.
At the annual county fair back home in San Diego, we have fried butter, so we definitely win this pointless argument, but next time Neapolitans try to tell you American food is too fried, just tell them: Ma statt zitt (mah sta-tet-zeet). That is: Oh, shut up. 🙂
Main photo: Youssef Amaaou
All others were taken by me unless otherwise credited.