When it comes to Italian food, Naples surely has something to say: food in Naples is more than just sitting around a table and eating, it’s almost a ritual made of repetitive gestures, traditions and habits carried on for generations.
Cooking in Naples and the Campania region is a way to express love and gratitude, and food is one of the main gatherings for people — the other is soccer. None of the ingredients used are crazy expensive because Neapolitan cuisine is all about seasonal, fresh, local and cheap foods. Flour is the main ingredient together with pasta, and it’s not hard to understand why all the main dishes in Naples and surrounding areas are carbohydrates.
Here a few of the dishes you need to try in Naples; once you’re finished, don't forget to ask for a cup of coffee.
Pizza & Calzones
Known everywhere in the world, the original pizza was born in Naples many years ago. Forget about chicken and pineapple; the margherita pizza, with fiordilatte mozzarella cheese or buffalo mozzarella, or the marinara one with tomato, garlic, oregano, and oil, are the must-haves when you’re in Naples.
The secret of a great Neapolitan pizza is the dough: high, quite fluffy, cooked in the wood oven and seasoned with first quality, seasonal, and local ingredients. It is a simple dish that has been officially recognized as a guaranteed traditional specialty by the European Union.
The calzone is the evolution of the pizza: same exact dough, filled with different ingredients (ricotta, ham, tomato, etc.) and folded in the shape of a half moon. It looks less heavy than a regular pizza, but it usually contains more ingredients and can also be heavier.
The same dough used for pizza is stretched and fried in olive oil. Once fried and crispy, it’s topped with tomato sauce, fior di latte mozzarella, a bit of Parmesan cheese and basil. Usually considered one of the many Neapolitan street foods, the pizza fritta is served as antipasto in almost every pizzeria. Sometimes it’s also served as a main dish instead of a pizza.
Imagine a classical sponge, more bubbly and soaked in limoncello, or more often in rum and topped with whipped cream, custard, and seasonal fruit. Describing a babà is not that easy, but for sure it’s one of the most representative Neapolitan cakes which perfectly expresses the love for cooking and eating. Taste it with a shot of homemade limoncello and you will find happiness.
Fun fact: if you say to someone “si nu' babbà” (you are a baba), you’re complimenting this person in one of the sweetest ways possible.
Ricotta cheese, candied peels, and spices: this is the essence of this traditional pastry. You can order a “sfogliatella riccia” (curly sfogliatella) or a “sfogliatella frolla”; the first one is made with a dough similar to a puff pastry, but more elaborate. The second one is a shortcrust dough and it comes with a different shape, like a small ball dusted with powdered sugar.
Under the category of “street food”, you’ll find so many dishes it will be hard to choose just one: mozzarella in carrozza, potatoes croquettes, rice balls, fries and much more. You can choose just one of these dishes or go for a “cuoppo”, a selection of fried things which can be “di terra” or “di mare”.
The first one is made of dishes from the mainland (charcuterie, cheese, vegetables, etc.) while the second one only includes fish. You can also mix the two types, but the smartest choice is to buy the two of them in one of the many “friggitorie” and enjoy while hanging around Naples or just relaxing overlooking the sea.
Parmigiana di Melanzane
The origin of this dish is still unknown, and there are a few Italian regions who claim it. For sure, it’s a Neapolitan dish and it’s also one of the most typical, to be eaten on a Sunday for lunch. It’s made with deep-fried sliced eggplant layered with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, then baked.
Frittata di Pasta
If you have a certain idea of pasta, the frittata di pasta will make you change your mind for sure. It’s a rich dish made with spaghetti or maccheroni pasta, eggs, bacon, mozzarella cheese. The pasta is cooked per usual, seasoned with all the other ingredients, and deep fried in a pan until it becomes a giant omelet. The final result is a heavy yet incredible dish people eat alone or with bread, at home but also on the street or, during summer, at the beach.
Fish is a big deal in Naples and there are so many fish-based dishes that it’s almost impossible to choose just one: spaghetti with clams, fish soup, fried fish; but also oven-baked local fish with cherry tomatoes and olive oil, and many many more. Eating fish is a feast and if you choose your restaurant carefully, you won’t ever be disappointed in terms of portions and taste. Choose the fish of the day or the chef’s selection for a proper local experience.
Pizza di Scarola
Strongly seasonal, the pizza di scarola is one of the most traditional Neapolitan dishes ever, the one you expect from an Italian nonna or mamma. It’s called pizza but the dough is slightly different and more similar to a pie, filled with “scarola” (escarole) and black olives and oven baked. The final result is a pie to die for, one of those dishes capable of causing addiction.
Even if it’s not a proper dish, Neapolitan coffee has to be tried at least once. Neapolitans know how to brew a perfect espresso: short, strong, traditionally served in a very hot cup and accompanied by a glass of water. Italians go to Naples from everywhere just for an espresso, and the bar culture is one of the best in all of Italy.
If you want to order your coffee like a local, be part of the “caffè sospeso” (suspended/pending coffee) tradition: order two coffees instead of just one to receive and consume only one, leaving the other one to a totally stranger person coming after you.