Luke organised a four hour food tour with a company he found through Tripadvisor, and we walked the short distance to Bellini Piazza to meet our guide for the day, Mario, and another couple who were from London.
First Mario gave us a super quick history of Naples, which basically fell into periods. First Greek settlers in two waves, then French and Spanish rulers, then eventually unification of Italy in the 19th century. It’s easy as a tourist to forget, with so much history around that points to ancient traditions, that the country we think of as Italy is younger than most, having completed unifying in 1871 (or some would say 1918 for the last few states). I looked at the wikipedia page to find out and my gosh did Italy go through a lot in the 19th century. I wasn’t really into modern history in high school so my understanding of everything after about 30AD is rubbish. That’s quite a period of events to have missed.
Anyhow, Mario seemed to understand that, while interested in history, food was our primary goal and started handing it out right from the first moment. He’d bought a bag of biscuits (called Tarelli) that looked sweet but turned out to be salty and contained nuts. Apparently a little like a small, biscuity pretzel, they were popularly paired with beer.
We walked past churches and statues as we went along. A few seemed to involve good or bad luck. The one below is Pulcinella, the female part of the traditional puppetry that seems to revolve around domestic abuse.
Apparently she’s the ‘good’ character so you touch her nose for luck. Mario explained that Neopolitan Catholics are very superstitious, which makes absolutely no sense to me – if you believe God’s in charge shouldn’t that make you less worried about bad luck? Unless you think that God’s a tricksy fellow who likes to catch people out with tests that he never properly explains, in which case it seems like God’s not really on your side at all. Very confusing.
First sit-down stop was a deli and a glass of wine with a plate of antipasto.
We’d tried everything before except the fresh mozzarella. I was expecting something bland and rubbery like the mozzarella we get at home from the supermarket but it was nothing like it. A white, milky and dripping ball that had quite fibrous texture and a pleasant salty taste. I immediately felt sad that I couldn’t get it at home (real mozzarella must be eaten within two days and not be refrigerated, according to Mario) but then I googled it and there’s a place in Thomastown (just outside of Melbourne) that has a herd of buffalo and a shopfront where you can buy it fresh. Hello!
First stop for hot food was for deep-fried pizza. Not like the one yesterday where Luke’s pizza base was cooked separately. This one was a round of dough with a filling folded in (ricotta, provolone, tomato sauce, and ham) then the whole deep-fried and super puffy. It was also super hot! We shared one between two and we found the dough became more chewy than crunchy.
Next we shared a traditional Margherita which we enjoyed but agreed wasn’t as good as Starita’s.
I had brought a pair of scissors with me to cut pizza as Luke and I had planned to share some on our excursions and they were good for the task. Much easier than trying to cut with a plastic knife on the paper pizza is often served in… although I did look like a bit of a weirdo no doubt.
By this time, and less than an hour in, we were all feeling pretty full and I was regretting the slice of toast I’d had for breakfast.
Next stop was some pasta and grilled vegetables at a restaurant where the tables were across the road from the shopfront.
They were all lovely and I felt bad for not finishing them – it was just as well all our plates were for sharing. I found it funny that as each course was cleared the waiter would scrape the plates into a bin that was obviously just the council rubbish bin nearby – like one you’d find in park at home. Another of those little things that, while quite practical, would just never happen in Melbourne.
More looking at churches etc then a walk down the famous little street where nativity items are sold. If you’ve ever watched a travel doco on Naples you’ll know the one I mean.
I’ve posted a little video on Instagram too as quite a few had moving parts.
Locals add to their nativity scenes each year, often creating little villages over time. The makers of theses pieces have gone far, far beyond the items related in the Bible and not only can you buy an electrically-operated pizza maker, working mill, washerwoman or farmer for your village, you can buy a statue of Maradona or any member of the British royal family. It’s insanely charming and most of the pieces we could see were super cheap too. I might go back ;-).
Then it was time for LIMONCELLO!
My new favourite Italian thing. We went to a shop where they made it out the back and we tasted limoncello balls that looked a little like little malteasers and also tasted traditional and cream limoncello.
Apparently you keep the traditional style in the freezer. I plan to buy some when I get back to Melbourne and do exactly that!
Next stop was for cuoppo, deep fried food in a paper cone. Just what we needed after pizza and pasta obviously. Good god.
These were ok. We shared two cones. One had a mix of vegetarian items and the other was like fish and chips. The cod pieces were very tender and moist but we had to take the bones out.
We had to keep moving our tables and chairs because cars were trying to get past in the narrow space. So Italian.
On the way to our last stop we walked through a huge Belle Epoque mall (seems like the wrong word but I can’t think what would be better) that had an astonishing glass ceiling, somewhat in the style of the original Crystal Palace, and marble everywhere.
Finally it was time for a small dessert and coffee if we wanted it. We stopped at Gambrinus Cafe on the huge Piazza del Plebiscito. I had a pastry with layers of cream and tiny wild strawberries (called a Matilda if you’d like the same) and Luke had a rum baba and the tiniest coffee I’ve ever seen.
We filled in a short survey, paid the somewhat steep 85 euros each, and said goodbye to Mario, who had been a congenial and knowledgable guide. It was a very interesting and fact-filled excursion that I’d definitely recommend to people who like food but don’t know where to start in Naples.
I did a bit of research when I came home!
For your information (in case you were wondering) the word pizza first appeared in writing over a thousand years ago in 997AD in Gaeta, a central Italian town, where a tenant was required to deliver 12 pizzas to the bishop every Christmas and Easter. Of course these were probably just some form of flatbreads and definitely didn’t involved tomatoes. Depending on your source, the word pizza is derived either from its ingredients, the word ‘clamp’, or ‘mouthful’.
Either way it is the world’s most ubiquitous and best-loved food and we can’t get enough of it!