With first-rate produce, including Vesuvian tomatoes and DOP-designated mozzarella made on the city’s doorstep, it seems only natural that Naples should present some fine eating opportunities. Ask any Neapolitan where you can find the best local food and they may somewhat smugly suggest it can only be found at their own family home. Of course, not all of us have a Neapolitan nonna to feed us, which is why we’ve put together a guide to the next best thing: where to try regional staples at the city’s finest eating establishments.
Indulge in Ice Cream
According to food historians, it’s likely the Neapolitans have been eating frozen desserts since ancient times, when serfs would have brought snow down from the upper slopes of Mount Vesuvius, and drizzled it with honey and fruit to please sweet-toothed Roman emperors. Later, the Neapolitans invented spumoni, which combined layers of different flavored ice creams with candied fruit and nuts. This is thought to be the predecessor for the now-widespread Neapolitan ice cream. Though spumoni is still readily available in many parts of America, particularly those with a strong Italian heritage, it is not so popular in Naples. You can, however, still find delicious single-flavor Neapolitan ice creams in gelaterie all across the city. Otranto Gelateria on Piazza Cosimo Fanzago and Casa Infante on Via Repubbliche Marinare are among the biggest crowd-pleasers.
Devour a Margherita Pizza
Margherita pizza, that delicious wood-burning oven-cooked disk of airy dough topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil, is probably Naples’ most famous food export. According to an oft-recounted but difficult to authenticate tale, the original pizza margherita was the brainchild of Pizzeria Brandi’s chef Raffaele Esposito and his wife, who – inspired by the three colors of the Italian flag – concocted the recipe in 1889 in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, who was visiting Naples at the time.
Though this story is peddled wherever anyone writes about the genesis of pizza, the truth about the pizza margherita’s origins are anything but certain. All we know for sure is that flatbreads came to Naples via the Middle East during ancient times and at some point after that, some bright spark decided to add tomatoes, a drizzle of oil, garlic and a pinch of oregano (making pizza marinara), before mozzarella finally made its way onto the plate. You can still try pizza margherita at its birthplace in the pedigreed dining room of Pizzeria Brandi. Da Michele on Via Cesare Sersale, meanwhile, offers an extremely popular and somewhat soupy version, while the Bill Clinton-approved Di Matteo on Via dei Tribunali serves up a slightly crispier pizza. Expect line-ups at both during lunchtime.
Tantalizing Traditional Pasta
During the 17th century, Neapolitans ate so much pasta, they came to be known as mangiamaccheroni (macaroni-eaters). These days, pasta is still very much a staple in this city, with hundreds of different pasta-oriented dishes available. Genovesa, a beef and onion-based pasta sauce that is slow-cooked for around eight hours until the meat is fall-apart tender and the sauce deliciously rich, is a local favorite that never made it to foreign lands. If you want to sample this Neapolitan classic, head for Osteria Donna Teresa on Via Michele Kerbaker.
Eat Scrumptious Sfogliatella
This almost-too-pretty-to-eat shell-shaped pastry was created by the nuns in the Santa Rosa monastery in Conca dei Marini on the Amalfi Coast. But it was Neapolitan pastry chef, Pasquale Pintauro, who – having known a good thing when he saw and tasted it – got his hands on the secret recipe and started selling a simplified version of the delicious ricotta-filled pastries from his shop in Via Toledo in Naples. Pintaruo’s original pasticceria, which bears his name, still stands on Via Toledo and still specializes in sfogliatella which – thanks to the high turnover – are often served still-warm.
If you fancy chomping your way through Naples’ fabulous food scene, you can meet a mozzarella cheesemaker and taste their deliciously creamy product during our Amalfi Coast Tour from Rome or enjoy a three-course lunch of local food and wine-tasting on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius during our Pompeii Tour from Naples.