Sustainable tourism in Napoli – 6 traditional street foods you have to try
Forza Napoli, Italian football champions 2022/23! Only a few months have passed since we departed, yet we yearn for the beat of your vibrant streets and undeniable charm. Greeks, Romans, Spaniards, French, and Italians, all have left their distinctive mark. Napoli is a city steeped in culture and history, defying any attempt to fit it into a mould. It’s raw, aggressive, at times chaotic, but most of all, alive with a character and soul few cities in the world can match. Does that translate into sustainable tourism Napoli style?
Maral and I spent over a month in Campania earlier in 2023, after a longer stay in Nice, and had the pleasure of immersing ourselves in the rich tapestry of Napoli. Both of us have lived in places with similar reputations of being less orderly and fixed. What we didn’t expect, however, was how fast curiosity turned to infatuation, and soon after, love. Not a day goes by where we don’t relive the many cherished memories of our time there.
In the winding alleys, on the hunt for the true soul of Napoli, we zigzagged between churches, pizza places, vespas, and Maradona shrines, while inhaling the scent of fresh baked sfogliatelle and rich espresso, wafting from the bustling cafes. Food, history and sights, important as they are, still play second fiddle to Napoli’s biggest asset. The people. They breathe life into the ancient walls. Their grit, passion and animated gestures speak volumes, an authentic manifestation of what made the city pull at our heartstrings. Because when it comes to sustainability, it’s the social and cultural aspects that warrants celebration. The natural environment, with Vesuvius looming large in the background, constitutes both a blessing and a curse. Ask Pompeii.
Napoli – sustainable tourism on the rise
The municipality of Napoli, indeed the entire region of Campania, is of course aware of the magnitude of their UNESCO designated treasures, and are adamant about protecting them for the tourism potential and the well-being of its local communities.
Getting around is a breeze, either by our favourite method, walking, renting a bike, or using the many options for public transport. In fact, the municipality has made it easy through route and itinerary suggestions to maximise experiences, culture, sights, and the landscape with minimum impact to the city and its residents.
In Napoli, sustainable tourism goes hand in hand with authentic culinary experiences. Visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local way of life, supporting small businesses and artisans who contribute to the city’s unique character. From savouring farm-to-table cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients to exploring vibrant markets bursting with regional specialties, sustainable gastronomy takes center stage. The slow food movement has official backing and in some instances strict guidelines, for example Neopolitan pizza. You read it right, there are rules to follow in terms of the origin of produce, size, preparation, the toppings, and the cooking process. Learn more here and feel the hunger grow.
Street food tour
In reality, there is too much to cover. Each bite here tells a story, a tale woven with love, tradition, and the freshest local ingredients. Simple but sophisticated in an ode to a world-class culinary heritage. We put together tips for a street food extravaganza that’s got Napoli written all over it. Enjoy!
Breakfast at Sfogliatelle calde Attanasio
We made it into a routine to start our days in the city with a piece of Sfogliatella each at Attanasio. The aroma coming out of the shop is irresistible, drawing you in to savour the treat fresh from the oven.
A sfogliatella is a mouthwatering pastry hailing from Napoli. Traditionally, there are two types: the Riccia and the Frolla. You recognise the first by the intricate folds, unique shell-like shape, flaky layers, and rich, flavourful filling comprising semolina, ricotta cheese, sugar, candied citrus peel, and a touch of cinnamon. The frolla, on the other hand, is made with thin short crust pie, but sport a similar mix of ingredients inside.
When you take your first bite, the sheets of the sfogliatella shatter, revealing the luscious contents within. The contrast of textures is extraordinary – the crispness of the pastry against the velvety filling creates a symphony of sensations. The servings are quite large, meaning you won’t starve until lunch.
Coffee at Caffè Mexico
Recommended by many local acquaintances, Maral demanded a visit, and in between museums and art galleries, we stopped at the branch at Piazza Dante. I detest the taste of coffee but love the smell and even standing near the exit I came away seduced by the Passalacqua aroma. The 60s style decor added another layer of intrigue. It’s been called the best coffee in Italy for 60 years, now on the fourth generation roasters. The locals, and Maral, seemed to agree, to the point of buying packs of it to take home.
Lunch at La Masardona
When I heard about the concept of pizza fritta, fried pizza, I will admit to some scepticism. Maral, being a more bold eater, ploughed ahead and I’m glad she did. I took a bite and came away amazed and hooked.
To create this deep-rooted culinary wonder, one prepares a soft dough, letting it rise to perfection. Divided into small portions and stretched into circles, they are filled with a variety of ingredients, such as tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, ham, mushrooms, and other savoury toppings.
Next comes the frying process, which provides a golden hue. With the parcel placed in boiling oil and fried until it puffs up, it becomes crispy on the outside, while maintaining a soft and doughy interior. It’s served piping hot, straight from the fryer. The combination of melty cheese, tangy tomato sauce, and crusty dough creates a wallop of taste, which will have you going back for more.
Afternoon treat at Mary’s Sfogliatella
In the impossibly stylish Galleria Umberto, we found a Babà al Rum to die for. Mary’s small stall offers plenty of choices, and it’s difficult to decide. Overeating is a genuine threat in the city. Luckily, the insane amounts of steps we were getting walking in between sights eased the conscience. In the end I walked away with a pistachio flavoured Babà. The right call. I can taste it whenever I close my eyes.
The Neapolitan Babà is an irresistible combination of light, moist cake soaked in a luscious rum-infused syrup. The liquid seeps into every pore of the sweet, imparting a decadent yet subtle hint of alcohol and ensuring the moisture-laden and warm te
Dinner at Pescheria Azzurra
Cuoppo is a Neapolitan medley of deep-fried seafood and vegetables, all served in a unique and convenient cone-shaped paper holder. You’ll discover anchovies, squid, shrimp, white fish, and even zucchini blossoms, eggplant and potatoes in the package.
To enhance the overall taste, Cuoppo is seasoned with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, adding a refreshing zing to each bite. We ate this late afternoon/early evening on the way to the central train station, and while I’m normally cautious with fried meals, I found it easy to digest. There is something different about how they fry in Napoli. It feels much lighter than other similar options I have tried around the world.
Wallet pizza at Antica Pizzeria Di Matteo
The wallet, or “pizza a portafoglio” in Italian, gets its name from how it’s wrapped and eaten, resembling a folded sandwich. Apparently, US President Bill Clinton ate here, judging from the photos. I almost tripped when I heard the price, 2 euros. Napoli is a great city for the budget, and the quality of the food is outrageous. I shudder to think what we pay in other places, for inferior produce and taste.
This delicious creation starts with a round pizza dough decked out with classic Neapolitan ingredients such as tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. Olive oil, garlic, and oregano are optional extras to enhance the flavours.
Once topped, it’s folded in half, and then once more into a smaller triangle shape. The compact and portable form makes it easy to hold and devour while on the go. The wallet pizza comes hot. I seared my throat with the delectable tomato sauce. It has a slightly charred crust, providing a perfect contrast to the melty cheese. The combination of simple, high-quality ingredients and traditional Neapolitan cooking techniques result in a taste both authentic and irresistible.
Pride and tradition – a formula for sustainable food tourism culture in napoli
What strikes you as you wander the cobblestone streets, munching on masterpieces that ignite the tastebuds and nourish the soul, is how serious Neapolitans are about their cuisine. The time-honoured traditions provide a sense of continuity throughout generations, instil a respect for nature and ingredients. The passion comes out in the alleyways, part of a rhythm of life, a symphony of scents and flavours. I love the non-compromising attitude they have towards quality. Fresh is the key word. They don’t settle for anything less. And neither should we.
There you have it, a beginner’s guide to street food in Napoli. We barely scratched the surface, which left us hungry for more. Expect to see more content on the topic in One Planet Journey including guides for sights, accommodation and culture in the wider Campania region, including the Amalfi Coast.
Grazie, Napoli, for elevating my senses and allowing me to experience the magic of your extraordinary city.
What’s your favourite type of street food? Where did you have your best experience? Let us know in the comment section! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and benefit from travel tips, interviews and inspirational examples of sustainable travel.