Take a Naples food tour with Culinary Backstreets and begin to get under the skin of this fabulously vibrant, chaotic, and scruffy city.
Food tours help me define a new city, so on my most recent trip to Italy I was thrilled to be invited to attend a Naples food tour run by one of my favourite organisations, Culinary Backstreets. I’ve just about lost count of the number of food tours I’ve enjoyed – but I’ve certainly enjoyed them all! I scheduled our most recent, the Naples food tour, for our first morning in town. I find these tours to be an excellent way to orientate ourselves in a new city, to find the interesting corners that we might otherwise miss, and to discover the absolute best food secrets they unearth.
In my experience, Culinary Backstreet tours are generally epic adventures, often running for 3-5 hours, with a huge amount of refuelling stops. Hosted by locals with a vast knowledge of their neighbourhoods, they take guests into the residential parts of the city and offer a glimpse of how the locals live, eat and shop, sharing local artisan secrets, and sampling street food and cafés and restaurants along the way.
Truly – they are food lover’s version of heaven.
We met up with our guide at the historic Capriccio Bakery. They’ve been baking here for 100 years and are a popular home of the famous local sweet treat, the baba. The baba was originally derived from a central European baked sweet, that found fame in Paris. However, it has been produced here in Naples for almost as long, with a recipe for it first appearing in an Italian cookbook in 1836.
The Capriccio produces more than 3,000 baba a day on site, along with another famous local – sfogliatella riccia (below), a ricotta filled, many-layered pastry which, like the baba, is quite fiddly to make and therefore generally sourced from bakeries, rather than produced at home. (Actually, there are two kinds of sfogliatella – riccia, and frolla. This was just the beginning of things I did not know in Naples.)
We had a wander through one of the outdoor markets. This very busy place sells just about everything and is where the locals do their daily shopping.
A stop at Antica Baccaleria Porta Capuana gives us the chance to try another, distinctive Neapolitan treat, a rehydrated cod carpaccio. Behind the marble counter of this 60 year old baccala business is Vincenzo, the fourth generation of his family to run this business, and a man who is committed to keeping local culinary traditions alive. ‘Stockfish’, as this fish is known, is dehydrated (but not salted like baccala) then rehydrated for serving.
We enjoyed it sliced, with a squeeze of lemon and the biggest, fattest, Sicilian green olives – when your produce is the best it really needs little more than respectful, simple serving.
Our visit took in a limoncello producer, family run bakers of the familiar taralli biscuits and another that makes the less familiar friselle – a twice baked dried bread that is hugely popular in the region for snacking, and whose invention was borne from the constant need of a poor community not to waste any food, ever.
We visited one of the artisan nativity scene creators of the city – Naples is famous for it’s carefully crafted nativity scenes, or ‘presepi’ (and I did not know this!), past one of the churches displaying symbols of the skull fetish for which Naples is also famous (and nope, I didn’t know that either – check it out here), and the man, the last of a family line which has done this for many generations, who creates ALL of the price signs for the local market traders. None of his family are interested in continuing the tradition, so it ends when he does. One of his signs, and an iconic piece of this Naples neighbourhood, has pride of place in my Adelaide Hills kitchen.
Well then we ate the best pizza ever, because Naples is the home of pizza and they really know what they are doing.
Naples is a fabulous city. It is historic, raw, gritty, tattered and utterly vibrant – and you get a glimpse of all of this (yes, even the very dodgy blokes selling illegal cigarettes who looked mighty unhappy when they thought I might take a photo of them), and a whole lot more, with this Culinary Backstreets Naples food tour.