Welcome to Naples, city of art, sea, culture… and good food. If you already spent the day exploring the city with my self guided tour, then you’re probably very hungry. Let me walk you through the best things to eat in Naples, the dishes that you should never, ever skip if you want to live my city for real, just like a local.
Us Neapolitans are passionate and quite opinionated about our cuisine. Our food is as passionate as us, with strong flavors from the sea and ingredients enhanced by the sun and the fertile soil of our land. 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 (seafood) to mozzarella di bufala. Do you want the truth? At least for us, the best dishes will always be those cooked by mamma (mom) or nonna (grandmom)!
Things to eat in Naples: Pizza
The pizza margherita as we know it, is the most famous type of pizza. Topped with tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese (have you watched our video to discover how it’s traditionally cooked?), it was originally created in Naples in the early nineteeth century. The pizza maker Raffaele Esposito wanted to represent the national colours of the Italian flag on a pizza, to honor the Italian Queen Margherita di Savoia. Many countries and other Italian regions try to copy the original Neapolitan pizza, but it has a different taste even if you just eat it in another city other than Naples, so go figure! The secret is probably in the water and in the natural leavening that can take from 8 to 12 hours (some pizzerias also work with a 24 hours leavening!). That’s why you can’t visit Naples without trying the real pizza. The original version is soft, thin and pliable, while in Rome and other Italian cities they make a different version, more crispy: Neapolitan purists refuse to consider that “real pizza”.
Nowadays two places are competing for the title of best pizzeria in Italy. Michele is also lovingly called “Temple of the Holy Pizza“. It has made the history of pizza since the second half of the nineteenth 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.
Sorbillo was opened in 1935 and yet it has found a 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 cheese. Pizzeria Sorbillo has won the award for “Best Neapolitan pizzeria in the world” in 2016: booking in advance is mandatory. The line outside is always pretty long but the service is quick!
If you want to try another (my favorite) alternative, let me suggest you a trip to the Pizzeria Trianon. It’s a place I’ve been to since when I was a little kid and it never changed. Forget the classy restaurants: here you sit at marble tables, with no frills at all, and you get to order a pizza that the old Neapolitans call “rota e carretto” (chart wheel). Why? Of course because it IS huge and delicious! They offer the basic kinds of pizza, margherita with mozzarella di bufala and a few others. It’s a pizza experience with nothing else that might distract you. A paper tablecloth and a view on one of the most important theaters in Naples: Teatro Trianon. Here our most famous artists like Totò have performed on stage, and as the Pizzeria Trianon proudly states, they were eating their pizza almost every day. Because the “rota e carretto” is the way to go if you want your traditional pizza without jumping into a tourist trap or standing in line for hours. It’s generally very quiet at lunch!
Things to eat in Naples: Ragù
In Naples there’s one tradition you can’t escape. The family lunch with ragù sauce on Sundays. Moms and grandmoms start cooking it early in the morning, because it has to simmer on low heat for several hours. The Neapolitan ragù is used on fresh pasta (a lot of Neapolitan moms and grandmoms still make fresh pasta from scratch!), served with some grated parmesan. When you finish your pasta, you are allowed to eat the sauce in your plate with some freshly baked bread. It’s called “scarpetta“. If you are visiting, there’s only one place in Naples where you can eat the traditional ragù: Tandem restaurant. 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.
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!
Things to eat in Naples: Polpette
Directly tied to the ragù sauce, Neapolitan polpette (meatballs) become part of this list of things to eat in Naples, especially if served with the “cuzzetiello”, one of the most loved foods in my area. It’s the final part of the loaf of bread, emptied so that only the thick crust remains. It then becomes a deliciously scented bowl that is filled with hot polpette with ragù sauce.
Lately this delicious dish (that was usually served at home) has become a particularly popular kind of street food that we eat while walking down the street (and when we’re very hungry!). The prices are quite low, we’re talking of about 5€ for a serving, which can contain from 2 to 3 meatballs, and the scent is divine! Ask anybody in Naples: they’ll confirm that the cuzzitiello with polpette can awaken the dead!
One of the most famous places where you can eat this delicious thing is O Cuzzetiello, a take away that offers several kinds of fillings for your bread bowl. Another very cute and romantic bistrot is Salumeria Upnea, that mixes chabby chic and traditional elements. You can either get your cuzzetiello to go, or eat panini, wine, cheese and mozzarella di bufala sitting at one of the nice tables.
Things to eat in Naples: Sfogliatella
The sfogliatella is a traditional pastry that you can order in two versions: riccia or frolla. The first one looks like a clam, crispy and filled with ricotta cheese, vanilla, cinnamon and candied fruit. The second one has the same filling but the outside is made of soft shortcrust pastry. They have to be eaten warm and possibly with a cup of espresso. Yeah you can have one whenever you want, but us Neapolitan prefer to eat it in the morning for a real “breakfast of champions”!
My favorite? Sfogliatella frolla, because I think that there’s nothing better than the spicy scent of cinnamon, mixed with the buttery one of the shortcrust pastry.
The most famous places where you can eat delicious sfogliatella are Sfogliatelle Mary, in Galleria Umberto I, Attanasio, near the Central station, and Pintauro, a typical shop specialized in the sfogliatella frolla. You can find it on Via Toledo.
Things to eat in Naples: Caffè espresso
Yes, you’re right. You don’t “eat” a coffee. But for us Neapolitans, the caffè espresso is a truly important ritual that I couldn’t avoid. The cup has to be very, very hot, because it is believed that it enhances the aroma of the coffee. The espresso is always served with a glass of water that you have to drink before the coffee, to freshen your mouth. Real Neapolitan espresso can be particularly strong if you’re not used to it! Oh, and a few bars will also spoil you with butter cookies or chocolate. Let’s face it: without espresso we couldn’t live!
You probably didn’t know (or did you?) but in Naples we have one of the 10 best cafes in Italy. 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. This historical café was opened in 1860 and it was an immediate success. During the Belle Epoque its golden rooms were filled with artists and writers 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, deemed too dangerous for the regime. It was luckily reopened right after the war, to give back to Naples 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 drinking espresso and eating gelato and sfogliatella at Gambrinus. Stepping inside this illustrious cafè will make you feel like walking into another era. Because it is filled with marbles, tapestries, paintings and bas reliefs: I suggest you to grab an espresso and a babà here, while enjoying this living art gallery, the quintessence of Naples.
Things to eat in Naples: Alici fritte
The Neapolitan “Cuoppo” is a cone of paper filled with delicious stuff (more on this later on in the article), and it’s a classic street food in my area. Generally served to go, lately it has been seen also at restaurants or in pizzeria in a smaller version, usually as a starter. Well, alici fritte (fried anchovies) are the queens of the cuoppo. We’ve had anchovies on our tables for centuries, because they are a cheap kind of fish, abundant in our area, that can be cooked in several (all delicious) ways. The most famous anchovies are those from Cetara, a tiny village on the Amalfi Coast, that you can also find also in Naples.
If you want to try a cuoppo di alici fritte, the 3 main places where you can eat the best ones are Il Cuoppo – Friggitori Napoletani, that makes several fillings for cuoppo, even sweet ones. Then Friggitoria Verace, where they only make fish cuoppo, but sometimes you can also buy a sfogliatella as a dessert. And Pasione di Sofì, another to go place, with a cute, traditional setting that seems to recall the old Naples with modern tastes, scents and looks.
Things to eat in Naples: Fiocco di neve
If you want to see snow in Naples, then there’s only one place you can go to: Pasticceria Poppella. Because our city is so hot, we never really get some snow. So this little pastry shop, opened since 1920, decided to make a particular kind of Neapolitan snow. Ciro “Poppella” Scognamillo and Ciro Oliva created the “Fiocco di Neve” (“snowflake” in Italian), a special pastry that has to be eaten within 12-36 hours from the making, to preserve its quality. The original recipe is top secret, but we know it’s some kind of sweet and soft pastry (they let the dough rise for 8 hours) filled with a velvety and light cream that might be a mix of goat ricotta cheese, whipped cream and yellow cream, with a taste of citrus liquor. When it’s ready, the Fiocco di neve is topped with powdered sugar and served. You finish it in 1-2 morsels, because it’s small, and you’ll immediately want another one!
While the line in front of the shop is always pretty long, Poppella hasn’t been resting on laurels: they keep on creating new pastries, like the new, limited edition, “Bombetta di Totò“.
Things to eat in Naples: Parmigiana di melanzane
The Parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmesan) is a typical Neapolitan dish that every grandmom cooks for her children and grandchildren. It’s made with local products and so irresistible that even those who are dieting can’t say no, no matter how many (too many!!!) calories it has.
It is made of layers of fried eggplants (the long ones) with tomato sauce and basil, alternated to layers of mozzarella cheese or smoked provola cheese (the fresh kind). The last layer is generally tomato sauce with abundant parmesan on the top. The parmesan has to be cooked a second time (after frying the eggplants) in the oven, so that the layers and the flavours can mix. It takes a long time to make Parmigiana, but once done, it never lasts much! A few pizzerias have started to top pizzas with Parmigiana di melanzane. Try it if you want, but it’s… so. Very. Heavy.
The restaurants that make the best Parmigiana in Naples are Ristorante e Pizzeria Leon d’Oro, where also celebrities often eat, and situated in a spectacular location, Piazza Dante, that you can reach using the Art Metro. And Osteria da Carmela, that has been feeding Neapolitans for the last 50 years with traditional dishes. It’s always better to book a table in advance!
Things to eat in Naples: Sfoglia campanella
In Naples there’s always something new to try, because our bakers definitely like to spoil us. Because two sfogliatella weren’t enough, a pastry shop has invented a new variation on the theme that has immediately gone viral on the net… and in every other shop. It’s called “sfoglia campanella“, because it looks like a little bell, with the same crispy outside of the sfogliatella riccia. Yet this one is filled with a tiny babà (more on this later on in this article), enveloped in creamy white or dark chocolate, that blocks inside a ricotta cheese cream filling. It’s an explosion of flavours that you just won’t forget. A taste of Naples with each bite.
Many shops have created different variations of the sfoglia campanella, but the original version can be found only at Sfogliatelab, where the mind behind this masterpiece, Vincenzo Ferrieri, is still on the lookout for new ideas.
Things to eat in Naples: Impepata di cozze
In every street or restaurant in Naples you will find this dish, also seen as “zuppa di cozze” (a name that might make you think of a mussels soup, which is not). Impepata di cozze means “mussels with pepper” and it’s one of the most loved recipes of our tradition, served as a main dish. It’s more delicious in the months when the local mussels are bigger. My dad, like every other Neapolitan who loves to eath seafood, could be able to tell you in a second the months of the year when the mussels are bigger and tastier!
The legend states that the King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies fell in love with this dish from Naples, because of the strong taste. There are version of the Impepata di cozze with a lot of pepper of even with hot sauce… I prefer the basic version!
One of the places my dad loves the most for the Impepata di cozze is Da Corrado, in via Foria. Here you will sit a tiny tables on the stairs of the Botanical Gardens. Another famous restaurant is also A taverna do’ Re, in the Old Town. Their dishes are very nice to look at, and the prices are absolutely fair. If you’re looking for a romantic location for your evening dinner in Naples, then head over to Castel dell’Ovo, where you can eat at Da Patrizia, in Borgo Marinari. They have tiny tables near the sea, next to the Egg Castle, in one of the most beautiful and romantic areas in Naples. The prices are fair, all things considered!
Things to eat in Naples: Babà
A few days ago me and Aldo were drinking an espresso at one of the kiosks on Lungomare Caracciolo. A tourist came in with his wife, asking in a perfect English if he could have “the best typical pastry”. The barman didn’t hesitate: he served them a babà with rhum, whipped cream and fresh fruit. They wolfed it down within minutes.
Babà is in fact one of the classic pastries of Naples, that you absolutely have to try. This pastry was created in Poland, then modified in France, and became the symbol of Naples, where they finally gave it the “mushroom” shape we see today. It’s spongey and very soft inside, and has a light brownish crust on the outside. They soak it with rhum, water and sugar, and serve it alone, or with whipped cream, chocolate, strawberries or fresh fruit. Lately I’ve also seen a new version that you can eat with a fork while watching the shops say in Via Toledo. It’s a tall plastic glass filled with several tiny babà and gelato, whipped cream or fruit.
I am in love with the babà that Sfogliatelle Mary makes, both the basic one and those with whipped cream and tiny strawberries. Pasticceria Scaturchio is another famous spot, where they invented the “babà Vesuvio“, which is a babà shaped like the Vesuvius, surrounded by several tiny mushroom-shaped babà. If you are at the Central Station, ready to leave, then think about buying some sfogliatelle and babà at Attanasio, the closest one to the Central Station. Because it’s usual that people want to buy pastries before to return home, there’s always a bit of a line, but the service is quick so you won’t have to wait too much!
Things to eat in Naples: Zeppole e Panzerotti
As I mentioned previously, there are several kinds of cuoppo in Naples. If the fried anchovies are the favorite street food for fish lovers, then the cuoppo with zeppole and panzerotti is for everyone. In Naples you get into a “friggitoria” (fried food shop) and you just ask “Can I have 2€ of zeppole and panzerotti?“. They will fill your cuoppo or a paper bag with scorching hot delicacies that you can eat while walking. Zeppole and Panzerotti are very cheap and many young fellas here buy them when they don’t have enough money to buy a pizza. It’s one of the things to eat in Naples in the evening, when they want to spend time with their friends, eating something cheap and good.
The Zeppole aren’t the sweet version you might have heard about. They’re made with flour, water, salt and yeast. Some make them with algae or wurstel, but the original version that you’ll also find at every food truck in Naples is the plain one. The Panzerotti are made with potatoes, salt, pepper, fresh parsley and parmigiano. In the Neapolitan recipe there aren’t eggs or bred crumbs (but some today still use the bred crumbs)!
For this cuoppo I don’t have any specific place other than the ones I’ve suggested for the Alici Fritte. Zeppole and Panzerotti will be delicious wherever you buy them, be it at a food truck or at a restaurant. The most important thing is that they have to be scorching hot!
If you’re planning a trip at Naples, don’t forget to visit Pompeii too!
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