I would argue that the Italian is the best cuisine on the planet, she would differ. I ‘d cry out that mozzarella is not a cheese but just mozzarella, she’d laugh. I loved pasta, it was barely eaten by her, and she called it boring. If I said that every area had its own life and that Italians were not all the same, it would perplex her.
My wife is Spanish/American, and I needed to do something. So we chose to embark on a journey. Last October, we bought a plane ticket direction Italia took some time off, leased a car and travelled Italy bottom up. It was time to Italianize her.
In the places which will follow and this, I’ll help you through our trip.
Our first stop was Napoli: My birthplace. The city I grew up in. I left when I was just nineteen years old. Lately, the world found a side of Napoli so far hidden. Today folks ask me whether Napoli is actually the way he described it. Unfortunately, it is. Yet, Napoli along with the region Campania are also areas with a sublime cuisine, a fantastic past as well as warm people. As for Saviano, I greatly admire his courage in writing that book.
As you land in Napoli, there is a metamorphosis of time. Its perception is really different from London and New York. There is absolutely no sense of immediacy. So reach out to that little button on the back of your head, which says “haste”, and turn it off. It will not work in Napoli. Get ready for the passport control encounter, as you get off the airplane. Remember Neapolitan never completely adopted the principle of queuing. About queuing before, I’ve argued, and I’ve reached a simple conclusion: as Neapolitans, we were not taught the craft of queuing. I would like to kill a metropolitan legend as we get to baggage claim. It has been told that luggage goes missing in Napoli. I can personally say that mine was never lost. On the contrary, I once took the bag of someone else by mistake. As I arrived home, the mix-up was clear when my mum shouted from the other room “Gianluca since when you wear G-strings?”
It’s not a riot as you exit the terminal, if you hear yelling, do not stress, it’s only the way we convey. Remember, if a Neapolitan whispers, he is about to provide you with a dodgy affair, so long as he yells you should be good.
My wife and I spent a couple of days at my parent’s house. We arrived at lunchtime, and for people that understand me, that is my favorite part of the day. It was time to prove my wife Italian food is the best in the world. At home, a traditional Neapolitan lunch had been prepared by my parents. Recently made pane cafone – the conventional Neapolitan bread. Created from natural yeast and cooked in a wooden oven that was fired. It’s exquisite with a little olive oil, when in Napoli, request to try it. By the bread there she was, the queen of the table – the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. I understood that from that day on she would have never called a mozzarella: cheese as my wife took her first bite. A note for Londoners and New Yorkers, don’t store the mozzarella in the icebox. No topping enabled.
The mozzarella was served with Neapolitan Salami and a delectable thinly sliced San Daniele Ham. The latter tasted like the Mediterranean Sea. The pasta was al dente – softer pasta is not tolerated by Neapolitans. It was from Gragnano, a town on the outskirts of Napoli. Their pasta is made of durum wheat, as opposed to one that was softer. It’s worth a try for any pasta lovers.
With our lunch, we had a wine from the Feudi di San Gregorio. This vineyard pioneered the wines, which to the exterior world has little exposure until the nineties in Campania. Their wines that are best are Falanghina, Greco di Tufo, the Fiano along with the Aglianico. Anyone passionate about wine should take time to go to with the Irpinia region, revel in and it is one hour away from Napoli and an excellent spot to discover sublime wines. Some vineyards are still run by old school farmers, time appears to have ceased out there.
To conclude our lunch, we’d a Limoncello from Sorrento and a Neapolitan Espresso – using a conventional Moka; java in new machines is not the same. You’ve got to understand that for Neapolitans coffee is much more than just a beverage, should you see Napoli. It’s an old heritage and precise customs. Coffee in Napoli is not on the go. Java is not taken whilst seated – unless you are at home. You drink a coffee standing up at the counter of a bar. Before drinking a coffee, a barista (bartender) will provide you with a cup of water. To be able to better taste the coffee after the water is for rinsing one’s mouth. The coffee is served as a 3cs come cazz coce (how the hell does it burn). If the cup doesn’t burn, good it is not a real Neapolitan coffee. My wife nearly divide the whole cup on her first effort. Coffee isn’t measured in one shot, medium, large, small or two shots. Luciano De Crescenzo- one of my favorite Neapolitan writers – goes beyond when he conveys the history of java in Napoli. He writes “Back in the days, the convention of the caffe sospeso existed in Napoli. Affluent people used to cover the barista for extra coffees. Later in the day, anyone who was worse off could enjoy an already paid caffe sospeso”.
As for my parents, they are both excellent cooks, and they work perfectly together. Dad is usually the head chef – it is not uncommon for an Italian man to love cooking- and my mum is the sous chef. In case you love Neapolitan cousin as I do, Chef Cannavacciulo’s novel is a must to read – he’s initially from the Amalfi coast.
We spent the next few days discovering Napoli. It is really unfortunate that the city is usually avoided by tourists. After landed, they travel right to the Amalfi coast and the islands. The city is accused of being dangerous. Well, every big city may be dangerous. You simply have to be cautious. Napoli has, in reality, a lot to provide. A must see if you visit Napoli. It is part of the old city. The road is famous for its presepi (native scenes), made by hand by the neighborhood workshops. Close by you’ll find the Basilica of San Gennaro, the patron of the city. The Basilica houses the blood of San Gennaro, which is brought out – on the 19th of September and on the first Saturday of May. In case the blood does not liquefy, the legend goes that a catastrophe will hit on the city. The beliefs of Neapolitan is a mixture of Christianity and superstition. As we moved on we reached the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) in Piazza Plebiscito – the house of the Spanish Borbones. Napoli was under the Spanish influence for several years; the insane way we live is a clear example of it. Our dialect has also words that we borrowed from the Spaniards. Napoli reached its ethnic pinnacle during the Borbone’s influence. Some Neapolitan mesmerizing on our past that is rich , still wish the Borbones would return – that tells you a lot about Italians as one state. On a clear day, you can see Capri and Ischia – it’s a beautiful scene.
I had narrated tales of the Neapolitan pizza to my wife, now it was time for her to try it. The Margherita is probably the greatest development of Neapolitan. Cooked in a wood-fired oven, the Margherita was made for the very first time in 1889 by Raffaele Esposito in honor of queen Margherita of Savoy – hence the name Margherita. Thin in the middle, high on the side, tomato sauce, small olive oil, mozzarella di bufata, a leaf of basel and voila’.
We saw the sunset on the Mediterranean Sea. Around us there were kids running around, a waiter yelling, scooters parked on the sidewalk. There was confusion, but in a way that is peaceful. Napoli was supposed to be, because that’s how. An intriguing mix of confusion, beauty, love and despair. In that instant I felt home, and thought back on a well-known quote from Toto – the acclaimed Neapolitan artist – “See Napoli afterward expire.”