Hey there, foodie friend. Have you ever dreamed of indulging in authentic Italian home cooking in the stunning surroundings of Naples? Then you need to get to know napolità, the traditional cuisine of Naples. Forget what you think you know about Italian food from those fancy Tuscan cookbooks and restaurants. Naples is where pizza was born, and napolità is all about simple but explosively flavorful comfort food made from the freshest local ingredients. The Mediterranean sun and sea, combined with a history of poverty, have inspired resourceful and vibrant dishes that will awaken your taste buds. Get ready to dive in and discover the soul of Naples through its most iconic foods. This is going to be one delicious adventure.
What Is Napolità? Defining Italy’s Traditional Cuisine
So what exactly is Napolità cuisine? It originated in Naples, Italy and is all about fresh, high-quality ingredients and simplicity. The cuisine is more spicy and reliant on sun-kissed vegetables, including artichokes and eggplant.
- Neapolitan pizza: You’ve probably heard of Naples’ most famous export, pizza! Neapolitan-style pizza has a thin crust and is baked in an extremely hot wood-fired oven. Toppings are minimal, usually just tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil.
- Pasta: Two popular Neapolitan pasta dishes are spaghetti alla puttanesca, tossed with olives, capers, garlic, and chili peppers, and lasagna Napoletana, made with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and tomato sauce.
- Seafood: As a coastal city, seafood like clams, mussels, octopus, and shrimp are central to Napolità cuisine. A popular dish is spaghetti alle vongole, spaghetti with clam sauce.
- Vegetables: Sun-drenched Campanian vegetables like eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes are staples. Try parmigiana di melanzane, fried eggplant layered with cheese and tomato sauce.
- Dessert: For something sweet, enjoy pastiera Napoletana, a buttery cake filled with ricotta and candied fruit, or baba al rum, a spongey cake soaked in rum syrup.
With a focus on high-quality ingredients and bold flavors, Napolità cuisine is all about celebrating the tastes of Southern Italy. Mangia!
The History and Origins of Napolità
The cuisine of Naples, known as Napolità, has origins dating back centuries and is a fusion of cultures. Naples has a long and varied history, established by Greek settlers in the 2nd millennium BC. Napolità cuisine can be traced to the Greeks, who founded Neápolis, meaning “new city.”
A Melting Pot of Influences
Over time, Naples was ruled by Romans, Normans, Spanish, and French, incorporating elements of each culture into the local fare. Pasta shapes, olive oil, herbs, and seafood were adapted from the Greeks. The Spanish introduced tomatoes, peppers, and chocolate. Meat ragù (sauce) and cheeses came from the French and northern Italians.
- Olive oil, garlic, basil and oregano are staples.
- Tomato sauce, known as ragù, features in many dishes.
- Pasta, like spaghetti, ziti and fusilli, are commonly topped with seafood and vegetables.
- Pizza originated here, topped simply with tomato sauce, cheese, and fresh basil.
Seafood Reigns Supreme
With its location on the Gulf of Naples, fresh seafood like shrimp, clams, mussels, and fish are central to Napolità cuisine. A popular dish is zuppa di pesce, a spicy seafood stew laden with shrimp, squid, mussels and fish in a tomato broth. Frittura mista features fried calamari, shrimp and fish.
Napolità cooking is a source of regional pride. Meals are long, social occasions meant for enjoying life’s simple pleasures – good company, delicious food, and wine. Understanding its origins and influences helps appreciate this distinctive and vibrant cuisine. Mangia!
Characteristics and Ingredients of Napolità Dishes
The cuisine of Naples, Italy—known as Napolità—is defined by fresh, high-quality ingredients and simplicity. Some of the key ingredients you’ll find in traditional Napolità dishes include:
- Eggplants: Eggplant parmesan, stuffed eggplant, and eggplant caponata are popular dishes. Eggplant is a staple ingredient, used in many ways.
- Tomatoes: San Marzano tomatoes from the Naples region are prized for their sweet flavor and used to make authentic Neapolitan pizza sauces and pasta sauces.
- Mozzarella cheese: Soft, creamy buffalo mozzarella cheese made from the milk of water buffalo is a specialty of the Campania region around Naples. It’s used in dishes like caprese salad, pizza, and pasta.
- Seafood: With Naples located along the coast, fresh seafood like mussels, clams, calamari, and snapper are common. Zuppa di pesce, a spicy seafood stew, is a traditional dish.
- Meat: Veal, pork, and chicken are used in dishes like parmigiana, marsala, and cacciatore. Sausage and prosciutto are also popular.
Spices and Herbs
Fragrant herbs like basil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme and spices such as chili peppers, black pepper, and garlic provide flavor to many Neapolitan dishes. Chili pepperoncino adds heat and spice.
To create authentic Napolità cuisine at home, use high quality, fresh ingredients and keep preparations simple. Sauté vegetables, make your own tomato sauce, and toss with pasta such as spaghetti, penne or ziti. Top with buffalo mozzarella, parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil. Buon appetito!
Popular Napolità Foods to Try
Some of the most popular and traditional Neapolitan foods you simply must try include:
Neapolitans are famous for their robust tomato-based pasta sauces, like ragù. Ragù is a meat-based sauce, usually made with beef or pork, simmered for hours. It is traditionally served with pasta such as ziti, penne, or spaghetti. San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius, are key to the distinctive flavor of Neapolitan pasta sauces.
You can’t talk about Neapolitan cuisine without mentioning pizza. Neapolitan pizza, with its chewy crust, simple toppings, and wood-fired ovens, earned UNESCO World Heritage status. The classic Neapolitan pizza has a thin crust, San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, and olive oil.
With Naples located along the coast, seafood is plentiful in Neapolitan cuisine. Dishes like spaghetti alle vongole feature fresh clams in a garlicky white wine sauce. Fritto misto, mixed fried seafood, is also popular. Baccalà, or salted cod, is featured in dishes like baccalà fritters or the potato and baccalà casserole known as gateau di patate.
Meat and Cheese
Neapolitans also love their meat and cheese. Dishes like parmigiana, fried chicken cutlets topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella, are common. Provolone, mozzarella, ricotta, and parmesan are all used in Neapolitan cooking. Caciocavallo, a hard cheese made from cow’s milk, is also popular.
From pasta to pizza, seafood to cheese, the flavors of Naples are bold, rustic, and meant to be shared. Trying some traditional Neapolitan recipes is a great way to enhance your culinary skills with authentic Italian flavors.
Where to Experience Authentic Napolità Cuisine in Italy
If you want to experience authentic Napolità cuisine, head to where the locals eat. Some of the best places are hidden gems not found in most tourist guides.
This family-run trattoria in the Quartieri Spagnoli district is adored by Neapolitans. Enjoy homemade pasta, fresh seafood, and traditional Neapolitan desserts in a casual setting. Don’t miss their baked pasta dishes like ziti or lasagna. Reservations recommended.
Trattoria da Nennella
This noisy, no-frills trattoria in the Spanish Quarter is perfect for an affordable, authentic meal. Expect communal tables, plastic plates, and lively banter. Their pasta al forno, like baked ziti, and fried treats are scrumptious. Cash only.
Cibi Cotti ‘Nonna Anna’
Run by a real Nonna Anna for over 50 years, this tiny restaurant in the Sanità district serves comforting home cooking. Their pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) and polpette (meatballs) are legendary. Bring your appetite and patience—meals are made to order and the wait can be long. Cash only.
Other highly-rated spots where locals flock include:
- Pizzeria Augusteo for wood-fired pizza in the historic center
- Volta, an old-school pizzeria that’s been around since 1918
- La Locanda Gesu Vecchio Civico 4, a rustic trattoria featuring regional specialties
- Palazzo Petrucci, an elegant restaurant highlighting quality ingredients and traditional recipes
- Umberto, a historic seafood restaurant open since 1916 known for linguine alla vongole (pasta with clams)
By dining where the locals do, you’ll experience the true essence of Napolità cooking in a vibrant setting. Don’t forget to end your meal with a classic Neapolitan coffee and sweet pastry like sfogliatelle. Buon appetito!
After reading about the ingredients, dishes, and culture that define napolità, hopefully you have a better sense of what makes Neapolitan cuisine so special. More than just pizza and pasta, it’s a way of life that revolves around fresh, high-quality ingredients, time-honored recipes, and the joy of sharing a meal with friends and family. The next time you’re enjoying a bowl of pasta e fagioli, a slice of pizza, or a lemon granita, take a moment to appreciate the rich history behind those classic flavors. A visit to Naples may not be in the cards for everyone, but through its delicious traditional fare, you can get a taste of life in Southern Italy and understand why napolità is considered Italy’s most representative cuisine. Buon appetito!