The Best Things to Do in Naples

The true gateway to southern Italy, Naples is home to some of the world’s most famous foods, but it’s also the base of a cultural collision that would make a surrealist happy. Nearly anyone who is anyone in the history of the Mediterranean has tromped through the city and left their mark including Spaniards, Ancient Romans, Arabs, Fascists, and American GIs after the war.

Riviera di Chiaia, 287, 80122 Napoli NA, Italy
Tiemaker Maurizio Marinella was 10 years old when his grandfather Eugenio and father, Luigi, began teaching him the essentials of tailoring. Now he oversees the waterfront salon, founded in 1914, that has created ties for style-conscious customers from around the world, including John F. Kennedy and Jacques Chirac. 39/081-245-1182.
Via Pignasecca, 80134 Napoli NA, Italy
La Pignasecca is renowned for its abundance of cheese, pastry, and fresh fish stalls. As you shop, don’t miss snacking on the biscuits (tarrale) from Panificio Vincenzo Coppola. Open daily, Via Pignasecca.
Via Capodimonte, 19a, 80131 Napoli NA, Italy
This summer Eddy Bourdages, 33, and his mother, Mireille Anderson, 57, made their first trip to Italy. “We wanted to open an authentic Neapolitan wood oven pizzeria, so we went to the source,” says Bourdages. Anderson has owned L’Odyssée Bistro & Steakhouse in Labrador City, in eastern Canada, since 2008. Her son, however, is a computer scientist who quit six years ago to attend culinary school. “I had never made a pizza in my life,” he says.

They enrolled in a weeklong pizza boot camp run by the Naples-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (Real Neapolitan Pizza Association), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Neapolitan pizza traditions. The five students, who ranged in age from 18 to 56, attended lectures on ingredients, visited a flour mill and a mozzarella producer, and spent 28 hours making pizza under the supervision of master pizzaiolos. By day, the apprentices learned how to make the Neapolitan pie’s characteristic thick outer crust. At night, they worked at historic pizzerias throughout the city.

Bourdages was assigned to Al 22 (Via Pignasecca 22, 39/ (0) 81-552-2726), located on a street that is famous for its food market. “There were always two pizza masters at the front of the restaurant,” he says. “One stretches, dresses, and places the pizza on a traditional wooden peel being held by the second pizzaiolo, who loads it into the oven and plates it. During service I stretched dough alongside the pizzaiolo. Sometimes I’d get a thumbs-up; sometimes my dough would get restretched.” Bourdages and Anderson also signed on for an extra week of unpaid pizzeria work. “The dough making is the hardest part,” Bourdages says. “You have to know when to stop adding flour. That changes each day, depending on the humidity in the air. The pizzaiolos could stick a finger in the dough and tell it was ready.”

The program culminates with a written and practical exam that Bourdages says is like an episode of America’s Got Talent. “Three AVPN members watched us make a margherita pizza (crushed, peeled tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, basil, olive oil) and a marinara pizza (garlic, oregano, olive oil, and two spoons of tomato sauce). They tasted them and evaluated every bite. It was quite nerve-racking.”

Bourdages and Anderson both passed, and celebrated by spending a day in Capri. Their pizzeria, Punchinello’s, will open in early 2013 in Labrador City. “We sourced an oven from Italy. We want people to feel like they’re in a pizzeria in Naples,” he says. “My experience changed my perception of pizza. But after living in a place where people eat pizza three meals a day, it also made me excited to eat sushi.”

From $1,720. 39/(0) 81-420-1205. This appeared in the October 2012 issue.

Via Cesare Sersale, 1, 80139 Napoli NA, Italy
A Naples legend well before Julia Roberts (in Eat, Pray, Love) gave it celebrity sheen, Da Michele was opened by the Condurro family in 1930. The only pizzas are marinara and margherita, and they are pure classics. 39/081-553-9204.
Via Chiaia, 1/2, 80132 Napoli NA, Italy
The most famous café in town, this historic spot oozes period charm and maintains much of its original Belle Epoque decor. The main bar is for stand-up coffees and aperitivi, but there are several cozy salons for a sit-down treat. The terrace is a great place for people-watching.
80045 Pompeii, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy
We were offered the chance to visit Pompeii or Herculaneum when we docked at Sorrento. People rave about Pompeii because it’s absolutely huge and gives you a great sense of just how sophisticated Roman civilisation was. Herculaneum, by contrast, was a Roman seaside town, a sort of holiday resort, and doesn’t offer the same kind of scale. Still. I remembered my Latin lessons, and how we’d learned that while Pompeii’s buildings were smashed and burned by the falling volcanic ash, Herculaneum was actually preserved in the thick mud that engulfed it. And it’s true: wandering around the archaeological remains of the town, you feel like you’re in a place that’s only recently been abandoned. The wine shop (above) still has its amphorae stacked to the side, the houses have beautifully preserved frescoes and mosaics. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in detail.
80045 Pompeii, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy
Witness the destruction wrought by Mt. Vesuvius nearly 2,000 year ago at the archaeological site of Pompeii. The ancient village was frozen in time beneath a blanket of hot ash during an eruption in 79 C.E. Among the ruins that have been uncovered are buildings that shed light on aspects of ancient life both grand and mundane, from the temples, the coliseum and homes with fine frescoes, to public baths, chariot-rutted streets and grain stores which now hold plaster casts of the people who perished that fateful day.

Via Michelangelo da Caravaggio, 53, 80126 Napoli NA, Italy
New York, Tokyo, and other major cities are home to startling numbers of authentic Neapolitan pizzerias, many with ovens handmade by Neapolitan craftsmen. In those places, pizza making is definitely considered an elevated craft. Perhaps Neapolitans do not think of their cooks as artists because so much of the city’s cuisine is rooted in cucina popolare, or people’s food. What strikes me most about the food of Naples is the uniformly high standards in even the humblest restaurants. That goes for pizzas as well, which makes it impossible to single out one pizzeria. Or so I thought until I visited La Notizia, located up in the hills on the edge of the gritty working-class borough of Fuorigrotta (too far from central Naples to be reached on foot). Owner-chef Enzo Coccia is as obsessed with the details of materials and technique as any Neapolitan tailor.

From my first bite, Coccia’s pizza struck me as something categorically different and decidedly better than anything I had tasted in Naples—or anywhere else in the world. It was feather light but still chewy, the way Neapolitan pizza should be. The thin middle crust didn’t dissolve into a soupy blend of cheese and tomato. When I asked Coccia about his technique, he formed two small test rounds of dough. He flattened one by hand; the other he rolled out with a can. He threw them both into the wood-burning oven and pulled them out 30 seconds later. The hand-formed dough was light and airy. The can-leveled dough was dense. “I prepare my dough at seven in the morning,” said Coccia. “It needs 14 to 16 hours to rise. I make only 300 pizzas’ worth of dough, and when that’s done, we close. Of course it takes the best and freshest ingredients—artisan mozzarella and local extra virgin olive oil—but it’s more than that. You need a passion for the traditional way. Then pizza can be as artisanal as a suit. 39/(0) 081-714-2155. This appeared in the September, 2012 issue.

Viale Cavalleggeri D'Aosta, 84, 80124 Napoli NA, Italy
Pescheria Mattiucci is a fish store by day that transforms itself into a small standing-room-only restaurant a few nights of the week. Mattiucci is an old family operation, but this place is the brainchild of a young son, Luigi Mattiucci. Luigi speaks to me from behind the counter as he preps plates of fish. “There’s a tradition of eating raw fish in southern Italy,” he says. “But it wasn’t a restaurant thing. It was something fishermen did because they couldn’t store all the fish they’d caught.”

He passes me a plate of raw red shrimp with the heads still on, slices of Sicilian tuna, and some amberjack, all of it topped with only a spray of lemon juice and some thick grains of sea salt.

Mattiucci has expanded his family business, which began as an outdoor fish stall in the Quartieri Spagnoli. (Everything artisanal in Naples seems to originate from there, probably because only a poor neighborhood like that could supply the child labor that was the foundation of old-school artisanal culture.) Mattiucci expanded from that original location into this store in posh Chiaia and also bought fishing boats in Sicily so they could eliminate the middleman. He serves me a dish of baby calamari stuffed with friarelli, a distinctively Neapolitan bitter green. Then he offers me a sample of a new dish: the same seafood stuffed with sprigs of spring vegetables, just now in season. Mattiucci, I realize, is someone who’s taking an artisanal approach to the very traditional, and non-artisanal trade of fishmongering. He’s already expanded his restaurant to London and Milan, but Naples is still where he cooks himself. “The fish is freshest here,” he says.

Via San Carlo, 15, 80132 Napoli NA, Italy
I just love the huge space and the glass ceiling of Galleria Umberto. It is located across from Teatro di San Carlo and despite its modern look, I was surprised to find out that it was built between 1887–1891. The Galleria was named for Umberto I, King of Italy at the time of construction. It was meant to combine businesses, shops, cafes and social life — public space, with private space in the apartments on the third floor. Don’t miss it! The architecture is breath taking all year long.
Via S. Gregorio Armeno, 8, 80138 Napoli NA, Italy
Giuseppe Marco Ferrigno is one of the most known for its Neapolitan terracotta traditional characters. Started also as a family business since 1838, Ferrigno family passes the mastering of traditional terracotta figures from one generation to another. The store is packed with hand-made icon graphic figures of Neapolitan script and before Christmas time the store is over crowded with visitors and clients who buy these terracotta figures to decorate their homes.
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