To clued-in gourmands, the mere mention of Naples makes the mouth water. This loud, ancient metropolis is home to Italy’s finest pizza, silkiest mozzarella, and richest coffee. Each day spent in the city is an endless feast, peppered with cinnamon-scented pastries and silky market seafood, golden street snacks and savoury Aglianico wine.
8am: sfogaliatelle and espresso
Neapolitan mornings are a hot, decadent affair. This is the time for the city’s famous sfogliatella, a sweet, ricotta-filled pastry that is as Neapolitan as voluptuous silver-screen sirens and recalcitrant motorists. You’ll find the best of the lot at Pintauro, a veteran, hole-in-the-wall pastry shop whose cashier could pass for Sophia Loren’s sterner-looking sibling. Whether you choose the crisp, classic sfoglia (puff-pastry version) or the denser frolla (shortcrust version), expect a creamy, citrusy, cinnamon-spiked mouthful of heaven; understandable given the pastry’s origins are said to be an Amalfi Coast convent.
Naples’ other morning essential is thick, potent espresso, served in scalding cups and always with a small glass of mineral water to first cleanse the palate. The city’s most illustrious coffee peddler is belle époque Gran Caffè Gambrinus. You’ll find it at the southern end of Via Toledo, a palazzo-flanked shopping street speckled with fur-clad matriarchs and strutting lotharios. Go local and swig your caffè (espresso) standing at the bar. Charged up, take a peek at the café’s vaulted salons, scanning the walls for a 19th-century depiction of a cigarette-smoking woman. Scandaloso!
10am: market trawls
Just as ancient Neapolitan sirens (mermaids) once lured sailors, shrewd chefs and casalinghe (homemakers) heed the call of Naples’ market vendors. One of the city’s most evocative produce markets is Mercato di Porta Nolana. Occupying the gritty streets southwest of Stazione Centrale (Central Station), it’s a cornucopia of crunchy pane casareccio (a dense local bread), succulent buffalo mozzarella and volcanic San Marzano tomatoes. Just-caught seafood fills giant plastic tubs. Hours later the fresh squid and shellfish will be hitting hot, chilli-spiked saucepans across town, playing their role in local classics like spaghetti con le vongole (spaghetti with clams).
Prime edibles underscore the altogether more contemporary Eccellenze Campane, a slick, airy emporium showcasing the best in regional produce, ready-to-eat dishes, wines, beers and liqueurs. This is the place to fill your bags with alici di Cetara (Cetara anchovies), coveted Gragnano pasta and take-home sugo genovese (a rich, onion-based pasta sauce); just make sure you leave room for a bottle of aromatic Finocchietto (a wild-fennel digestivo).
1pm: pizza perfection
Fuelled with oak, ash, beech or maple timber, Naples’ wood-fired ovens turn out Italy’s finest pizzas – gently charred revelations distinctly thicker and chewier than their thin, crispy Roman counterparts. Join the queue at Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo, a two-level eatery slap-bang in the heart of Naples’ Unesco-listed centro storico (historic centre). Its namesake owner is a minor celebrity in town. He even attempted running for mayor a few years back, earning him the nickname ‘il Sindaco’ (the Mayor) among more ironic Neapolitans. Although his political career never took off, his giant, epic pies could make a president weep. To really understand the beauty of simplicity, order a classic marinara. Topped with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra-virgin olive oil, the one ingredient it doesn’t have is seafood: the pizza got its name from the fishermen who would devour it out at sea.
Neapolitan pizza’s more reckless cousin is pizza fritta; deep-fried pizza dough stuffed with dried lard cubes, salumi, ham, smoked provola cheese, ricotta and tomato. To savour the best, dive into the halogen glow of La Masardona. At the helm is blue-eyed charmer Enzo Piccirillo, whose cult-status version is so light you’ll be showing your cardiologist the door. The secret: pure, high-quality oil and generations of knowhow. For the complete experience, wash your pizza down with a glass or two of sweet Marsala-like wine. The bottle is simply plonked on your table – once you’re done, your waiter will eye the bottle and work out the total.
4pm: sweet treats
Neapolitans generally dine late, making late afternoon the right time for a sweet pick-me-up. Local cioccolato (chocolate) fiends find their happy place at Gay Odin, a tiny Neapolitan chocolate shop with an epic reputation. Opt for one of their vintage-style chocolate boxes and have it filled with the chocolatier’s luscious concoctions – the chocolate cozze (mussels) and chilli-laced pralines make for perfect souvenirs.
Close by is another sweet-tooth paradiso – Scaturchio. Flanking sun-soaked Piazza San Domenico, this pasticceria (pastry shop) serves a spirit-lifting lemon caprese (a citrusy twist on the almond cake classic). But you’re here for the ministeriale, a dense dark-chocolate medallion with a secret-recipe liqueur ganache.
7pm: aperitivo hour
As afternoon sinks into evening, Neapolitans pique their appetite with a spot of aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks and snacks). The city’s aperitivo epicentre is the salubrious district of Chiaia; a demimonde of Gucci heels, pampered pooches and molto-trendy bars like Chandelier and Ba-Bar. Complimentary morsels range from briny olives and herb-pimped focaccia, to heaving bowls of fragrant cous cous.
The neighbourhood is also home to Enoteca Belledonne. Starting life as a ‘Vini e Olii’ (old-style grocery shop) in the 1960s, it’s now one of Naples’ best-loved wine bars, with around 30 vini available by the glass alone. Ask sibling owners Antonio and Ciro to recommend a nutty local Fiano or a bold, brassy Aglianico, and squeeze in among their loyal regulars, who spill out onto the street each night for the next round of political debate, gossip and effortless flirtation.
9pm: locavore dining
At around 9pm, locals plunge fork and knife into cena (dinner). For one you won’t forget, settle in among the gleaming bottles at intimate L’Ebbrezza di Noè, a daytime wine store that turns into a culinary hotspot at night. You’ll need to book a day or two ahead, as its linen-clad tables are much loved by well-spoken Neapolitan academics, businesspeople and buongustai (gastronomes). You’ll find sommelier-owner Luca Di Leva behind the counter, his passion for wines matched by a deep, genuine love of seasonal dishes. The result is a daily menu dictated by the morning’s market trawl. One classic with no shortage of lovers is the paccheri fritti; fried tubular pasta stuffed with silky eggplant and served with rich tomato sugo and aromatic basil.
Morning, noon, or night, one thing is certain: Naples is Italy’s best-fed metropolis. Buon appetito, ragazzi!