A few years ago, I found myself sad and alone in Naples. Exactly why I was sad and alone is not the story here, but you should know the previous day I had waltzed into a hairdresser’s, and after much frenzied hand gesticulation, convinced the horrified staff to shave my head.
I was staying at the eccentric B&B Morelli 49, in the almost too posh for me Chiaia district. The owner Massimo spoke no English and I spoke almost no Italian. Unable to communicate with words, the 80’s memorabilia proudly decorating all of his rooms nevertheless meant we had the unspoken connection of childhoods awash with shoulder pads, fingerless gloves and Madonna. I had been filling my days visiting nearby Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano in an attempt to dodge the surprising May heat. But come early evening, I wandered Napoli’s streets searching for somewhere to eat.
Hunger ritually struck at 6pm, but back then I didn’t know Italian restaurants open late. So I’d sit on a park bench in the bayside Villa Communale, or on the steps of the Commune di Napoli in the Piazza Del Plebiscito. I’d watch Neapolitans going about their ritual evening walk, la passeggiata, and kids playing soccer while parents gossiped nearby. Most nights I’d make do with a take away arancini al ragu or a slice of pizza.
Ah, pizza. After five centuries of making it, Naples certainly knows what it’s doing. But delicious as it was, I craved something more.
Some people will tell you the way to discover fantastic food abroad is simply to follow the locals. Of course, if you follow Londoners, you’re likely to end up with a box of fried chicken or a sandwich and a packet of crisps, so it’s not exactly foolproof. Being hours too early each night for such discoveries in Naples, the smell of Massimo’s freshly baked breakfast cakes convinced me to try him for ideas instead. The next day I cornered him in the kitchen and mimed munching on my fingers, asking “mun-gee-ah-ray?” He winced, then gave me the business card of Pizza Margherita, which was just a short walk away along Via Riviera di Chiaia. Massimo insisted it was better than the more famous Pizzeria Brandi (which ironically invented Margherita Pizza in 1889).
As you can tell, our hand gestures had reached quite an advanced level by then. (more…)