A few days ago I ran into this article from last year, which reminded me… fast food.
Fast food, street food: something to grab on the street for small money, to carry on with the day. In many cases, specially in the past, the only affordable way to get a meal in the day. This has been happening in Naples for centuries decades. Anyhow this kind of food was by no means trash food; creativity, stimulated by need and guided by natural attitude for good and beauty, has delivered some great recipes that come from a poor tradition but are now revamped as trendy food. Here are some notable examples.
Pizza, Pizza “a portafogli”, Pizza “oggi ad otto”. Pizza has always been cheap, well, at least in Naples. Even today you can have pizza and a beer served at your table for less than 7 euros. Yes, it’s not a typo: that’s what you pay in average in the many pizzerias downtown that make great pizzas following the Neapolitan tradition (if you want to know what that means you can refer to our previous article on this subject).
There was an old tradition, called pizza “oggi ad otto” (something like “in 8 days”); you eat your pizza, and pay a week later. The only guarantee was your face and reputation, in a time when travel and mobility were very uncommon. In the article I mentioned at the beginning, the pizza “oggi ad otto” has been revamped by a pizzeria in Naples last year, after a couple of decades it was no longer used. Of course you must live in the area and can take only 1 pizza. Finally, the pizza “a portafogli” (“wallet stile”, meaning folded) is a pizza, usually a margherita a bit smaller than full size, folded in 4 that you can buy on the street and eat on the fly as a quick lunch: really fast food!
Fried stuff. The tradition of fried simple food is more than a century old, and has grown to offer a variety of food that is a kind of cuisine on its own. How could a pizza maker make a bit more money? Selling pizzas also at home, maybe with his wife as partner. But there is no oven at home, so here is where a large frying pan came handy. There are old black and white pictures of a large such pans outside a “basso” (a small apartment at street level where poor people lived) with a woman cooking and selling fried food. There is even a scene in a famous movie with Sophia Loren, but not all the “pizzaiole” were so fascinating! Now there are places (“friggitorie” or “rosticcerie”) who make and sell a huge variety of fried food, from stuffed pizza, to pieces of vegetables like zucchini or eggplants or artichokes wrapped in a simple dough, pieces of ricotta, pasta with bechamelle, mashed potato stuffed with mozzarella… you name it! Things that go under names like “zeppole” or “paste cresciute”, “panzarotti”, “montanare”, “calzoncini”, “scagliuozzi”, “frittatine di maccheroni”, It’s hard to write about this at lunch time without wetting the keyboard 🙂
There is one place, Friggitoria Vomero, where I used to go with my friends when I was a teenager for a cheap dinner or a snack. It is not a frying pan outside of a “basso” of course, but rather a corner shop, pretty small but with high traffic. It is still there, still run by the same family, still doing the same great stuff. They even earned a fan page on FB; there you can see some tempting pictures, and if you can read Italian you can learn more about a “friggitoria”.
Pig stuff. Meat was for rich. Every one else had the left overs. There were this small carts, either outside a butcher shop or independent, who sold the least valuable parts of the pig: “Trippa” is part of the intestine, “pere” is the foot”, “musso” is the muzzle. They were cooked, and the edible pieces were cut and served cold, with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, in a piece of paper, to be eaten on the spot. I believe you can still find some of this places downtown; I did see one a few years ago.
Octopuss broth. Octopus was for rich. After it was boiled in water with several herbs, the water itself became very tasty, acquiring the taste of octopus. There were small carts selling the “broro e’ purpo”, or octopus broth, served hot with black pepper and one single piece of tentacle (“a ranfetella”) in a glass to drink in winter days. This is documented by foreign travelers already in XIX century, and I believe you can still find it at one or two places downtown; it’s hard because this preparation has been out-ruled by EU (that’s another story…)
These are just some examples, there are others along the same thread: how to invent cheap but tasty recipes from what’s available. I am not sure if fast food was invented here first, but definitely it has been a local tradition for several centuries, and the plentiful nature the place is blessed with gave the ingredients for great food. And the great part is that this tradition has continuosly evolved and survives in modern life stile, as the article mentioned in the opening shows
Now, time for lunch; gastric acid is ready to do its job!