Naples is one of Italy's gastronomic darlings, and the bonus of a bayside setting makes for some seriously memorable meals. While white linen, candlelight and €50 bills are readily available, some of the best bites await in the city's spit-and-sawdust trattorias, where two courses and house wine can cost under €20.
Courses & Tours
Eating well is a Neapolitan obsession, and the city's cornucopia of speciality food stores, markets and time-tested eateries may well ignite a desire to delve into Naples' culinary traditions and secrets. If so, Toffini Academy offers single-session cooking lessons in an intimate, contemporary setting. Courses are available in Italian and English. Across town, sustainability-focused Centro di Alimentazione Consapevole offers bespoke private courses for groups of five or more, with enlightened themes like gluten-free cooking and vegan pastry making. For gluttons who prefer sampling to stirring, Culinary Backstreets offers food-themed walking tours of the appetite-whetting centro storico.
From juicy mozzarella di bufala (buffalo-milk mozzarella) to boozy babà (rum-soaked sponge cake), Naples isn't short of iconic eats. Indeed, the sheer number of local specialties could fill a very long banqueting table. And while all deserve a little room to be made, there are some Neapolitan classics that are simply non-negotiable. Whet your appetite with the following must-try standouts.
In 2017, Unesco declared Neapolitan pizza part of the 'intangible cultural heritage of humanity'. Indeed, wood-fired pizza is one of the city's most famous exports and tucking into a thin-based, raised-crust pizza napoletana at Pizzeria Starita, Da Michele or new-school Concettina Ai Tre Santi is as important a cultural experience as viewing Giuseppe Sanmartino's Cristo velato sculpture.
According to the official Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association), Neapolitan pizza dough must be made using highly refined type 00 wheat flour (a small dash of type 0 flour is permitted), compressed or natural yeast, salt, and water with a pH level between six and seven. While a low-speed mixer can be used for kneading the dough, only hands can be used to form the disco di pasta (pizza base), which should not be thicker than 3mm. The pizza itself should be cooked at 485°C (905°F) in a doubled-domed, wood-fired oven using oak, ash, beech or maple timber.
Naples is also famous for pizza fritta (fried pizza), a deep-fried, calzone-like concoction traditionally stuffed with provola (provolone cheese), ricotta, cicoli (dried lard) and a dash of tomato sugo (sauce). Good pizza fritta is light and easily digestible, not to mention a cheap, satisfying lunch staple. To tuck into some of the best, hit La Masardona or Antica Pizza Fritta da Zia Esterina Sorbillo.
Italy's first pasta plant was opened in 1840 in the Naples suburb of Torre Annunziata, and the nearby hill town of Gragnano is world-famous for its artisan pasta secca: dry pasta made from grano duro (durum wheat) flour and water. Naples' classic pasta dishes include spaghetti alle vongole, a simple yet spectacular concoction of spaghetti with clams, garlic, peperoncino (red chilli pepper) and fresh parsley. Some versions add fresh tomato. Another favourite is the racily named spaghetti alla puttanesca (whore's spaghetti), served with a sugo of tomato, black olives, capers, anchovies and (in some cases) a dash of peperoncino. A significantly heartier staple is slow-cooked pasta alla genovese, a rich onion-and-beef sauce commonly paired with ziti (a thin, tubular pasta). Its soulmate is ragù napoletano, a rich, intense combination of slow-cooked tomato sugo, onion and meat that is a Sunday staple. Equally decadent is pasta al forno (baked pasta), a combination of macaroni, tomato sauce, mozzarella and, depending on the recipe, hard-boiled egg, meatballs and sausage.
Given Naples' coastal location, it's a no-brainer that surf dishes are especially prominent on Neapolitan menus. Popular staples include seppia (cuttlefish), often served alla griglia (grilled) with nothing more than a splash of olive oil, chopped parsley and a wedge of lemon. Baccalà (salted cod) is also popular; the hearty Neapolitan version sees it served in a puttanesca sauce made of tomato, garlic, olives, capers and parsley. The seafront district of Santa Lucia is the traditional home of polpi alla luciana (Lucia-style octopus), a stew-like dish of octopus cooked with tomato and peperoncino. Standout seafood-centric eateries in the city include Officina del Mare, La Frescheria, and tiny Pescheria Mattiucci, the latter a local fishmonger where the crudo (raw fish) is prepared to order and diners dine on bar stools at the shop counter.
Fruits & Vegetables
Some of Italy's finest produce is grown in the mineral-rich volcanic soil of Mt Vesuvius and its surrounding plain, including sweet albicocce vesuviana (Vesuvian apricots), cachi (persimmons) and tender carciofi (artichokes). It also produces Campania's unique green friarielli, a broccoli-like vegetable saltata in padella (pan fried) and spiked with peperoncino. The bitter green is commonly served with salsiccia di maiale (pork sausage). The area is also home to a number of celebrated tomato varieties. These include the intense, sweet pomodoro San Marzano, the pointed-tip pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio, and the pomodorino giallo da Serbo, an orange-hued variety. The queen of the city's meat-free dishes is the decadent parmigiana di melanzana, fried aubergines layered with hard-boiled eggs, mozzarella, onion, tomato sauce and basil. Simpler but equally delicious is zucchine alla scapece, a side dish of fried zucchini served with garlic, vinegar and fresh mint.
The undisputed star of local formaggi (cheeses) is mozzarella di bufala. Made around Caserta to the north of Naples or in Paestum to the southeast, the silky, chewy cheese can be found fresh at latterie (dairies), sold lukewarm in a plastic bag filled with a slightly cloudy liquid: the run-off from the mozzarella making. It's a common antipasto option in Naples, which also offers a dedicated mozzarella lounge, Muu Muuzzarella Bar. Its lighter, less chewy version is fior di latte, made with cow's milk and a more common topping on pizzas. Campania's most decadent mozzarella dish is mozzarella in carrozza. Literally translating as 'mozzarella in a carriage', it consists of fresh mozzarella sliced, sandwiched in white bread, coated in flour and egg yolk, and fried to golden perfection.
Naples is no place for counting calories. Neapolitans adore their sweets and no Sunday lunch is complete without a tray of fresh, runny, succulent paste (pastries) from the local pasticceria (pastry shop). Locals have a particular soft spot for babà, a moist, rum-soaked sponge cake that attests to the city's historical French influence. Its equally iconic rival is the sfogliatella. Filled with cinnamon-spiced, sweetened ricotta, the pastry comes in two forms: denser frolla (made with shortbread pastry) and flakier riccia (made using filo pastry). The city's oldest sfogliatella bakery is Pintauro, though it receives stiff competition from neighbouring Sfogliatella Mary. Traditionally baked at Easter (but available year-round), latticed, shortcrust tart pastiera is filled with ricotta, cream, candied fruit and cereals flavoured with orange-blossom water. Some of the city's pastry shops enjoy celebrity status for their own specialties. Among them, Scaturchio is famous for its ministeriale dark-chocolate medallions, Pasticceria Mennella for its frolla al limone (shortbread pastry filled with lemon cream) and hazelnut-cream sciù (choux pastry), and Pasticceria Poppella for its fioccho di neve (vanilla-scented cream brioche). Close to the latter is Pasticceria Di Costanzo, which has foodies in a buzz with its highly Instagramable contemporary creations.