Naples – Montecalvario – stuff to see around La Pignasecca

Posted in Campania, Italy, La Pignasecca, Montecalvario, Naples with tags , on February 5, 2016 by gannet39

Montecalvario is the neighbourhood to the west of Via Toledo. It takes in much of the Spanish Quarter and the area to the north, all the way up to the National Archaeological museum.

Within Montecalvario, Via Pignasecca is the street just to the north of the Spanish Quarter. It’s home to the oldest street market in Naples but I never get to go as I’m usually working when it’s open (8am to 1am). Here are some pictures from the web to give you an idea.

The market is best accessed along Via Pignasecca which leads from Piazza della Carita on Via Toledo. On the west side of the square, in the entrance to the building on the corner with Via Pignasecca, there’s a nice hawk wing staircase.

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I hope to fill up this post with more photos on my next trip, so I’ve put places to eat in Pignasecca in a separate post.

Naples – Montecalvario – places to eat around Pignasecca

Posted in Campania, Italy, La Pignasecca, Montecalvario, Naples with tags , , , on February 4, 2016 by gannet39

Like the Spanish Quarter, Pignasecca is a good area to experience Cucina Tipica Napoletana. I especially like this place…

La Taverna Buongustaio (Elementary B+), 8 Via Basilo Puoti, first left off Via Pasquale Scura which is at 394 Via Toledo.Tel. 081 551 2626. Open every day for lunch and dinner except Sunday evening.

Buongustaio

The ‘Gourmet Tavern’ is a favourite of mine, and of Anthony Bourdain it would seem. (Here’s an out take (in Italian) of his No Reservations show). It’s s a tiny hole in the wall place which somehow manages to squeeze in 26 covers. The decor is plain with cartoon drawings on the walls. Plastic tablecloths complete the ambience.

Inside

It’s usually fully booked so try to reserve for when it opens at 8pm. It’ll be full with locals by 9 and have a queue by 10. The menu is spoken (quickly) so it’s best to have some ability in Italian. The Italian word for slowly is ‘lentamente’.

I can recommend the antipasti misto which includes mini versions of bruschetta, deep fried mozzarella, an arancina (rice ball), a croquette, and something ‘di pasta’ which I didn’t quite catch, but it’s all delicious (A).

Rustici

I can recommend the Spaghetti con Polipetti; pasta with baby octopus in a sauce of cherry tomatoes and parsley (A).

Spaghetti con Polipetti

The Rigatoni with bacon, tomato and chilli is good too (B+).

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The deep fried Pesce Bandera (a white fish which looks like a long silver band) was nice but the portion is a bit small (B).

Pesce Bandera

You might want a second secondo, perhaps the Salsiccia Napoletana (A) with a side helping of bitter Friarelli (B).

Salsiccia Napoletana

The house white becomes more agreeable after the first few sips as does the red (both C+).

There are no desserts but they have, amongst others, Melannurca; a digestivo made from the famous Campanian apple (see my Sarno post).

My gluttonous bill can come to a mere €30 for four dishes and three drinks, but you could easily spend much less here, say €20, and still be satisfied. The service is now much friendlier than it was.

La Vecchia Cantina (Elementary B+), 14 Via San Nicola alla Carita, which is at 378 Via Toledo.

A pleasant little place with red gingham table cloths, old but spruced up and serving trad Neapolitan dishes. Many things on the menu were indecipherable but so cheap you might as well just order them to see what they are. The service is friendly but non-English speaking, so you should have some ability in Italian if you want to negotiate what’s on offer.

To start I had Zeppoline di Mare for €2.50 (B); deep fried doughballs with “algae” which I presume is seaweed.

Zeppoline di Mare

I sent the house red back as I couldn’t drink it (D), and had it replaced with a bottle of Falanghina white which got better with time after a poor start (B-). Although it was chilled, they couldn’t supply a wine cooler, although they did keep it in the fridge and poured it out for me when I wanted it.

Falanghina

For my pasta course I had “Spollichini” for €5, which turned out to be a version of Pasta e Fagioli (cannellini beans) but with short spaghettis rather than the usual mixed pasta. Simple but delicious (B for buoni!), especially when sprinkled with peperoncino and oil.

Spollichini

Next I had the house signature dish Filetto Vecchia Cantina, a good quality but small and slightly overdone beef steak (B-), which was the most expensive thing on the menu at €13. Also I’m not fond of the Italian tendency to put shavings of Parmesan on a steak which detracts from the taste of both as far as I’m concerned. I had it with a contorno of Spinaci Burro e Parmagiano (spinach with butter and parmesan) which was great (A) if a bit calorific.

Filetto

To finish, a warmed piece of Charlotte di Mele (a slice of apple sponge cake) and a mingy glass of slightly chilled limoncello (not frozen which is my preference), which was only €2.50. So I had another.

Charlotte di Mele

Conclusion: theoretically you could eat five dishes of good food here with a half litre of ropey wine for under €30. However my bill came to a greedy €46 which was still very good value. Locals were still arriving to eat at 10.30pm.

Antica Pasticceria Pasquale Scaturchio (Intermediate B+), 22-24 Via Portamedina alla Pignasecca, armandoscaturchio.com

This is an old cafe (since 1903) near the Montesanto Metro station. It’s a friendly place that does good coffee and cakes.

Decent cuppa

I had two small Babas (Babarini) one with ‘panna’, which is cream in English, and the other with ‘crema’, made from sweetened ricotta. It’s easy to get confused!

Babarini

Not somewhere to go out of your way for but a good place for a pit stop if you’re in the area.

Antiche Delizie (Intermediate A), 14 Via Pasquale Scura

A deli selling cheese, charcuterie, anti-pasti and wines. They are said to sell the best Mozzarella in town and on Fridays they sell Caprignetti, a herb-stuffed goat’s cheese.

Naples – Spanish Quarter – Where to eat Cucina Tipica Napoletana

Posted in Campania, Italy, Naples, Quartieri Spagnoli with tags , , on February 3, 2016 by gannet39

To experience typical Neapolitan home cooking the best area to go to is the Spanish Quarter. There are quite a few small trattorias and cantinas here serving Cucina Tipica Napoletana at bargain prices. I’ve listed three below in order of preference.

Trattoria da Nennella (Elementary A), 105 Vico Lungo Teatro Nuovo (between the cross streets Vico Figuerelle a Montecalvario and Vico Teatro Nuovo, which you will find at 323 Via Toledo), Tel. 081 414338. GEM ALERT!

I stumbled upon this place many years ago when I was wandering aimlessly around, well off the tourist track. There were several locals waiting outside which I took as a good sign so I put my name down and joined the queue. When my turn came, the waiters renamed me Raffa and plonked me at a table with some builders for company who kindly helped me choose what to eat.

All I had was a slab of Lasagna with tiny meatballs inside it, and a plate of Friarielli, a local green which looks similar to spinach but is actually from the broccoli family, and is particular to Campania. This quick meal was one of the most delicious things I’d ever eaten and ridiculously cheap, around €4 (in 2005).

The place also stuck in my head because of the funny waiters who occupied themselves during quiet moments by throwing empty plastic water bottles at each other over the heads of their customers.

I tried to find it again every time I went back to the city but to no avail, until I finally tracked it down again in 2011.

The sawdust on the floor has disappeared and they now have an outside terrace, which means they can seat more customers, but you still have to arrive early to avoid queuing.

Nonella

The food was the same as I remembered; good basic fare with no pretensions, and very, very cheap, although sadly the lasagna of my dreams was not on the menu that day.

Instead I had Pasta e Patate con Provola; mixed shape pasta with potatoes and melting lumps of Provola cheese, very simple and carb heavy and made even more delicious with a heaped tablespoon of parmesan sprinkled over it (B+).

Pasta e Patate con Provola

Next Polipo in Cassuola, a whole baby octopus stewed with cherry tomatoes until very tender. It looked a bit daunting at first, but tasted very nice (B).

Polipo in Cassuola

My contorno once again was Friarielli in Padella (from the frying pan) (B).

 

They don’t do desserts but I got a plastic cup of cherries to finish.

All this came with bread, water, and a big unlabelled bottle of white wine, all for the astounding price of €12. I challenge you to find better value, tasty food anywhere else in the city.

The waiters haven’t changed either, it’s the same two brothers who seem to run the place. At one point there was a sudden blast of sound as a salsa tape was put on and an unsuspecting customer was pulled out of her chair and whirled around the tables by one of the brothers.

A turn around the tables

Conclusion: great food and entertainment, what more could you ask?

Hostal Toledo (Elementary B), 78 Vico Giardinetto, www.hosteriatoledo.it

I came here for Sunday lunch in 2015. It’s fairly atmospheric and quite popular with locals and tourists alike. Service is friendly and efficient.

I started with the Antipasti Toledo (grilled peppers, two types of mushrooms, potatoes, grilled aubergine and deep-fried mozzarella and aubergine frittura) which was okay (B).

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Then Ziti al Ragu; tubes of pasta with a simple tomato sauce (B). Ziti are a type of penne but are longer and have square cut edges. The name can also refer to a dish that uses penne.

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To drink, a white wine from Ischia from Parrazzo, the oldest winery on the island www.perrazzo.it. This was the only let down (C), mainly because it was unchilled. For this reason I think it’s best to stick to red in these kinds of places. The limoncello was a bit pricey at €4.

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Total cost with water and service €37. Conclusion: a nice place serving good food. My choices could have been a bit better,

Cantina della Tofa (Elementary B), 71 Vico della Tofa, Tel.081 406 840.

Yet another purveyor of Cucina Tipica Napoletana. The decor is modern and bright and the service is very friendly . The proprietor is an ex rugby player and the Asian waiter a runaway from the Sri Lankan army. They also have free Wi-Fi, an unusual bonus. It’s fairly cheap with most prices are in single figures. You could in theory eat three courses for €19.

You might want to get a table away from the door though, or suffer the car fumes (i gas di scarico) from the street outside, although they shut the door and switched the aircon on when I asked to be moved. None of the antipasti really inspired me so I went for Bruschette Classiche, diced tomatoes on hard, possibly stale bread, which was a bit heavy but fine (B-).

Bruschetta

Next, Pasta con Soffrito which was Ziti with diced liver (fegato), lungs (pulmone) and intestines in a tomato sauce. It isn’t so bad if you don’t think about it too much (B).

Soffrito

Polpette a Ragu meatballs in tomato sauce, never good to look at but always very tasty (B).

Meatballs

For my contorno, yet another dish of Friarelli which is really nice when sprinkled with peperoncino. The house white is ok (C+) and the red is drinkable (C-).

 

To finish two types of Baba, the famous rum-soaked Neapolitan cake (Polish and Slavic in origin but brought to Naples by the Bourbon kings), with squirty cream and cherries on the side. It was ok (C) but I’ve had better, perhaps with better quality rum.

Baba

To go with this, a few slugs of complementary limoncello from a large bottle that was left on the table. Total cost, a paltry €35.

Limoncello

Conclusion: a nice spot which I will return to because of its friendliness, but other local places are probably better, as the lack of customers might signify. And the fumes from the street can really spoil the experience.

See also my Pignasecca post for a couple more trattorias nearby that are of a similar ilk.

Naples – Spanish Quarter – Shrines

Posted in Campania, Italy, Naples, Quartieri Spagnoli with tags , , , , , , , on February 2, 2016 by gannet39

A cultural feature of Genoa and cities in the south of Italy, and many other places in the Mediterranean, are the small shrines or ‘edicole sacre‘ that are literally everywhere. In Naples they are often found on street corners and on the sides of buildings, most especially in the Spanish Quarter.

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The practice of building small altars in public spaces in Naples probably began with the Greeks and was taken up and spread further by Christianity.

Shrine3

A teacher that I worked with once told me that during the reign of Charles III of Bourbon (mid 18th century), his adviser Father Rocco, with a view to reducing street crime, encouraged the spread of the shrines and the lighting of candles inside them.

This created the first system of street lighting which allowed the local population to walk around at night more safely than before.

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Electric lighting has replaced the candles now of course.

Other names for edicole sacre are capitelli, nicchie votive, madonnelle, madonnine, santelle, tabernacoli and votivi.

Naples – Spanish Quarter – stuff to see

Posted in Campania, Italy, Naples, Quartieri Spagnoli with tags , on February 1, 2016 by gannet39

TThe Quartieri Spagnoli or Spanish Quarter is the area of tufo paved streets running uphill to the west of Via Toledo.

Spanish Quarter street

It was built in the sixteenth century to house the Spanish garrison of soldiers whose job it was to keep the local population down. Almost immediately it became an area associated with prostitution and criminality.

Helmets who needs em

In more recent times it has suffered from high unemployment, poverty and criminality and Camorra control.

Nuns on the run

As you might imagine, the Neapolitan language is stronger in this working class neighbourhood than anywhere else. Those classic postcard shots of washing hanging across the streets were all taken here.

Spanish steps

It’s definitely an edgier area than others but in my opinion the biggest danger in the daytime is being flattened by a Valentino Rossi wannabe on a speeding scooter.

That aside, it’s one of my favourite neighbourhoods for just walking around and soaking up the atmosphere.

Wine and oil shop

I love all the old shop fronts from yesteryear.

Salumeria

Please see my separate post on shrines in the Spanish Quarter.

There are several trattorias where you can get real Neapolitan home cooking for next to nothing (reviews here).

Naples – Vomero

Posted in Campania, Italy, Naples, Vomero with tags , , , on January 31, 2016 by gannet39

Vomero is one of the poshest residential areas in Naples. It’s up on top of the hill, away from the madding crowds. The hillside is very steep, literally a high wall that keeps the plebs out. Traditionally people use a funicular train to move up and down to the old city below (you can take the metro now too).

I don’t come up here very often but in 2015, I was working in Vomero for a couple of days so I tried out a few of the local institutions. The first two are near or on Via Cimarosa, by the funicular station of the same name.

Friggitoria Vomero (Elementary A), 44 Via Cimarosa (opposite the funicular)

This is one of the best friggitoria’s in Naples. Their fritture include Frittatine di Maccheroni (fried pasta with egg), Suppli di Riso and Arancino (both kinds of rice balls), Crocche (potato croquettes) and Graffa (sweet doughnut made of flour and potato) amongst others.

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I had a suppli and a frittatine di maccheroni with a cold beer which was oh so good (A).

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Pizzeria Gorizia (High Intermediate B+), 29 Gian Lorenzo Bernini, www.gorizia1916.com

This is an old school (since 1915) posh restaurant and pizzeria with waiters in formal white tunics.

The Margherita di Bufala I had was made with fresh pomodorini. It was good, but I prefer a tomato sauce base for more consistent flavour (B).

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To drink a bottle of Forst (B), a German beer I’d not had before.

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Total cost €16.50. An experience worth having but I’ll try something else off the menu if I come again.

Jorudan Sushi (High Intermediate A), 288 Via Torquato Tasso, www.facebook.com/Jorudan-Sushi

It’s a bit of a hike up the hill but it’s worth it for the best Japanese food I know of in Naples. This is probably because the chef, a friendly English speaking chap, is actually Japanese. That’s not to say chefs of other nationalities can’t make good sushi but I have yet to come across one who can match the best Japanese chefs. As he put it, ‘they have different hands’.

I had the Chirashizushi Salmone which was orgasmic (A+).

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I followed up with two salmon and avocado Temaki, also wonderful (A). With a jug of hot sake and a beer the bill came to €33 which I think is very reasonable.

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I lived in Japan for a few years and became addicted to sushi. There’s very little that makes me happier than reliving favourite food memories like this. I just wish the restaurant was easier to get to.

Grand Hotel Parker’s, 135 Corso Vittorio Emanuele, www.grandhotelparkers.it

This five star hotel has a lot of history, and an amazing view of Chiaia and the Gulf of Naples, which is the reason I came. I can’t afford to stay here but I can just about afford to eat in the George Restaurant or have a drink in the Bidder’s Bar which are both on the top floor in the roof garden.

Unfortunately I was seated right next to a loud American family who were making a real racket. I moved to the bar only to be sat next to two Italian men arguing. I gave up at this point and went elsewhere to eat. On the plus side it saved me a bit of money and I still got to see the view even if it was just for a few minutes. It would be a good place to go with a date and watch the sun go down.

Naples – Centro Storico – Churches

Posted in Campania, Centro Storico, Italy, Naples with tags , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2016 by gannet39

I’m not a believer but even an atheist can still appreciate the beauty of the stunning religious art housed in Naples’ numerous churches and chapels.

According to this thread, there are around 440 churches in the 17 square kilometers of the old town. I’ve heard that this is a higher density than Rome which has 900 churches in total, so I’m not sure if this is true. Either way, it’s a lot! Here are a few of my favourites.

Duomo di San Gennaro, 149 Via Duomo, www.chiesadinapoli.it

Naples cathedral was founded in the 5th century but the current building was built between 1294 and 1323 in a French Gothic style.

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It has been renovated and reconstructed several times due to earthquakes. The western facade is Neo-Gothic whereas the decoration inside is mainly Baroque.

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To your left as you enter is the Basilica di Santa Restituta, also known as the Capella di Santa Restituta. It’s the oldest church in Naples (built in the 6th century) and located on the site of the original cathedral which itself was constructed over a Greek temple dedicated to Apollo. It was incorporated into the later Gothic cathedral as a chapel. Some early Christian art can be seen here.

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The main altar of the chapel reminds me of a theatre stage, which isn’t far from the truth.

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Some think the columns in the chapel come from the original Greek temple.

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You can view excavations under the chapel but I didn’t have time unfortunately.

Back in the main cathedral, off to the right of the nave is the Capella di San Gennaro, built between 1608 and 1637. It houses part of the Tesoro di San Gennaro, a collection of artworks donated or paid for by Popes, Kings, Emperors, rich and poor alike over seven centuries. It’s been calculated that the collection is more valuable than those of either the British or Russian royal families.

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The collection includes seventy life-size silver busts which would have been paraded during religious celebrations. They remind me of metallic androids so they must have made quite an impression on the city’s populace as they glinted in the sun out on the street.

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This one is modelling a bishop’s mitre encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

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This was just a lightning visit, there’s lots more to see.

Capella Sansevero, 19/21 Via Francesco De Sanctis, www.museosansevero.it

Tucked away on a back street between Via Tribunali and Spaccanapoli, this chapel is for me the jewel in the crown of Naples’ many stunning churches. Sadly no photographs are allowed inside so please click on the links to see pictures from the web.

Capella Sansevero was the private chapel of the noble Sansevero family. It was renovated and redesigned by Raimondo di Sangro, seventh Prince of Sansevero (1710 – 1771) who was by turns a soldier, writer, inventor, scientist, alchemist, Freemason and speaker of several languages. It’s also said that he was a Rosicrucian, a secret religious order with a preference for empiricism in opposition to the dogma of the Catholic Church. He was excommunicated by the church but this was later revoked.

Although he was undoubtedly a genius, there are many gory stories associated with him. It was rumoured that he had people killed so that he could conduct experiments on their bodies. Indeed two incredibly detailed anatomical models can be seen in the cellar of the church. Popular belief had it that the models were of his servant and a pregnant woman, into whose veins he injected an artificial substance that caused the blood to solidify in the veins. However recent research has shown that the models are in fact artificial.

Several beautiful marble carvings cover the walls of the main chapel. On the floor in the centre of the chapel is the stunning ‘Veiled Christ‘ by Giuseppe Sanmartino. It depicts the dead Christ lying on a couch covered by a transparent veil under which the signs of his suffering can be seen on his face and body. The realism of the statue is incredible and it’s rightly considered to be one of the world’s greatest masterpieces. Some pictures here.

Di Sangro spent the last years of his life working on his chapel and before his passing he destroyed many of his notes. After his death, most of his remaining writings and laboratory equipment were burnt by his relatives who were in fear of their own excommunication by the Church as a result of his activities. All this of course only added to the mystery surrounding this intriguing character.

Entrance cost €7 in 2015.

San Domenico Maggiore, 8 Piazza San Domenico Maggiore

San Domenico is one of the most beautiful churches in Naples, built between 1283 and 1324.

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Originally Gothic, it was given a Baroque makeover in 1670, then restored back to Gothic again in the 19th century.

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The church and the square of the same name were the centre of the court of the Aragonese kings who ruled Naples. Their coffins are on the balcony that runs around the church.

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Examples of inlaid marble, known as Pietra Dura can be seen everywhere. Polished colored stones are cut and fitted together to create images. The same technique was also used for the mausoleum in the Taj Mahal.

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And of course there are lions.

Again a flying visit so this is just a brief survey.

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Chiesa di San Paolo Maggiore, 76 Piazza San Gaetano,

Chiesa di San Paolo Maggiore

This baroque church was built over a 1st century Greek temple near the crossroads that mark the heart of the Greek and Roman city. Two corinthian columns from the temple have been tacked on to the church facade as you can see in the photo above.

Inside San Paolo Maggiore

The main altar (1775-1776) was designed by Ferdinando Fuga who also designed the Ospedale L’Albergo Reale dei Poveri which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Altar at San Paolo Maggiore

To the left of the altar is the Chapel of Firrao di Sant’Agata built in the 17th century. Gazing upwards you can just imagine you’re ascending to heaven.

Chapel basilica in San Paolo Maggiore

Chiesa di San Giovanni a Carbonara, 5 Via Carbonara, en.wikipedia.org

Due to it’s location just outside the city walls this was where rubbish was burnt in the Middle Ages, hence the name Carbonara.

It was founded in 1343 but the current Gothic facade was designed in the early 18th century by Ferdinando Sanfelice who was also responsible for San Lorenzo Maggiore (and also noted for his ‘hawk wing’ staircases, see my Sanita post).

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I haven’t been inside the church (not sure if it’s possible) but I quite like the ornate doorway with small statues that look like they’re crying pollution.

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In the lunette (literally ‘little moon’, the space above a door set in a rounded arch) is a fresco by the Lombard artist Leonardo da Besozzo.

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To be continued…

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