When in Naples – EAT!

In my opinion, there is nothing to do in Naples except eat! Surely, its a historic city with lots of UNESCO world heritage sites and beautiful views, but the sole reason to come here is for the food. Naples is the birthplace of pizza and many other dishes. It is the former capital of Italy and is largely responsible for all things we know of as “Italian cuisine” in most of the world.

On a Tuesday morning, my guide, Alberto from Context Travel and I set out on a food tour of the historic area. We start at Duomo di Napoli (Naples Cathedral) and see the remnants of Saint Januarius inside this spectacular 14th century construction. We walk down the famous Via dei Tribunali, making small detours to see narrow alleys with towering residences on both sides. During the 4-hour long eating spree, we take intermissions between courses to step into a church or a monastery, look at local crafts, and discuss more of – you know what – Italian food!

Here are some highlights of my Food Tour in Naples with Context Travel…

Sfogliatelle is a traditional Neapolitan pastry with thick flaky layers of dough filled with lightly whipped ricotta and a little powdered sugar dusted on top. There is also a brioche version of this. It’s best eaten when warm out of the oven, and locals enjoy it for breakfast or afternoon snack.

Sfogliatelle naplesBaba au Rhum is a fluffy sponge cake made with eggs, milk and butter, and soaked in rum. It is recognizable by its shape, a 2-inch cylinder. You can also find cream filled Baba at pastry shops across Naples. It is said that this pastry originated from France, but has Polish roots as well.

baba naples

Italians are passionate about their coffee. When I ordered a cappuccino at 10am, Alberto looked at me in horror. “If you want to drink coffee during the day, it has to be an espresso” he explained. Though coffee is not grown in Italy, they brew it the Italian way, with lots of ground coffee and little water, for a very short time (40 seconds). As a result, the coffee is dense but has less caffeine. You can add sugar, but there’s no room for milk in that tiny Italian espresso cup.

naples pizza fritta

Next we eat the local street food, Pizza Fritta. This light and fluffy deep fried pizza dough almost reminds me of sopapilla from New Mexico. It is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil. Just the perfect snack before lunch!

There is also a stuffed version of the Pizza Fritta which basically looks like a Calzone. Ricotta cheese, salami and tomato sauce are the only ingredients that are put inside, sealed and deep fried in hot oil. It never got popular outside Naples but out here it is a favorite street snack.

naples pizza frittaArancini are my favorite Italian appetizers. These fried risotto balls are stuffed with ragù (meat and tomato sauce), mozzarella, and peas, though there are other variations with mushrooms, eggplants, or pistachios as well.  It can be pretty much made with whatever leftover ingredients you may have. Note ragu with pasta is a special Sunday meal. The ladies of the house will start to cook ragu 24 hours in advance, simmering the tomatoes on very low heat till the sauce is thick and flavorful.

Being in southern Italy, cheese, olives, and cured meats are staples. Alberto took me to a speciality grocery store where locals shop for these products. Here I learned that if you can squeeze out milk from Buffalo Mozzarella with the tip of a fork, it means that its fresh. He recommends that Buffalo Mozzarella should be eaten within 24 hours, and should never be used for cooking pizza. We also taste Goat Ricotta, which is used to make pastries, and Smoked and Aged Provolone perfect for snacking with wine.

buffalo mozzarella naplesFritto Misto are also popular street foods in Naples. You can often see display windows full of fried snacks including fried zucchini, eggplant, calamari, shrimp, potato croquettes, or whatever is in season. You would order it by Copa (paper cones) and snack on it with a glass of beer or aperitif.

Next, we head to O Cerriglio – Trattoria Cucina Napoletana to try our hands on making pizza. The chef gives me a brief demo and makes it look so easy, but it isn’t! I have made pizza before, but the extremely thin dough of Neapolitan Pizza Margarita needs some skills to stretch, lift, and twist without burning or forming holes. We stretch the dough with only our fingers (no roller), spread 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce, few slices of fior di latte mozzarella (cow’s milk mozzarella), sprinkle grated parmesan cheese and top with fresh basil leaves. It takes only a minute to make the pizza and another 45 seconds to bake it in this very hot brick oven reaching temperatures of 700-800F. This is why the pizza has a crunchy crust and a soft center.

pizza cooking class naples

Alberto was a wonderful guide and showed me a lot of hidden gems in the historic area that I didn’t even knew excited, even though I had been through those streets few times before. He is available for walking food tours in group sizes 1-6 booked through Context Travel.

Read more about the history of pizza.

If you have another Neapolitan speciality dish to share, leave a comment below.

Top 7 Street Foods of Istanbul

Over the years, I have heard two opposite words of travel wisdom – “Avoid street food” and “Must try the street food.” Even so, I don’t feel conflicted. Street food is a cultural experience in itself. It gives one a chance to learn about everyday life, what people eat when they are rushing from home to work, and often times showcase culinary customs that aren’t found in the modern day restaurants.

In the bustling streets of Istanbul, Turkey, you will find street vendors not only selling food and drinks to the hurries pedestrians, but artists putting up acts for spectators to enjoy before they dig into their purchases. Here are some of the common street foods you will see on in Istanbul.

1. Simits – A circular pretzel bread made with flour, molasses and sesame or poppy seed. It is a little chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Archival sources show that the simit has been produced in Istanbul since 1525. Simit is generally served plain, or for breakfast with tea, fruit preserves, honey or cheese. Find them at limit trolleys and baskets for 1 Turkish lira, and fancier Simit Saray bakeries for a little more. Tip: Buy simits in the morning while they are warm and fresh.

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2. Dürüm – A local name for Turkish wrap. Most people are familiar with doner which refers to the shaved meat cooked on a rotisserie. You can get the meat (typically lamb, but some places have chicken) rolled inside a Turkish flatbread, sprinkled with sumac, raw onions and parsley. Dürüm and Ayran (salty yogurt shake) make for a great on the go meal for about 5 liras, and is generally not served with any side.

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3. Orange Juice – Fresh squeezed orange juice (plus some other fruits depending on the season) can be found on Istiklal Street for only 1 Euro. Restaurants in Turkey generally don’t serve fresh juices, so this is where you want to stock up on Vitamins (another name for juice).

juice stands istanbul

4. Dondurma – Also know as Maras ice cream, it is gummier than the ice cream you may be use to. It is made with milk, sugar, salep (flour used in desserts), and mastic (natural gum), and available in few flavors like pistachio, vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. The best part about the ice cream is the magic show that the vendors put up before they serve it to you. They will stretch it, drop it, make surmountable mounds and tease you until you have a good laugh! Best place to watch the ice cream show is near Sultan Ahmet Square or The Blue mosque and costs about 7 liras.

turkish ice cream 

5. Türk kahvesi – Street vendors prepare coffee the traditional way, in copper jugs over charcoal. Turkish coffee refers to the style of preparing it as the coffee beans themselves come from other countries namely Yemen and Brazil. The roasted beans are finely ground and simmered over medium heat in a special coffee pot called cezve. Once it comes to a boil and starts foaming, the foam is removed and put in the coffee cups, while the water is allowed to boil for a second or event third time, to extract flavors. Next time, you have a backyard cookout, tell your guests you just put a pot of coffee on the grill and watch the look on their faces!

 turkish coffee

Turkish coffee at weddings: As well as an everyday beverage, Turkish coffee is also a part of the traditional Turkish wedding custom. As a prologue to marriage, the bridegroom’s parents (in the lack of his father, his mother and an elderly member of his family) must visit the young girl’s family to ask the hand of the bride-to-be and the blessings of her parents upon the upcoming marriage. During this meeting, the bride must prepare and serve Turkish coffee to the guests. For the groom’s coffee, the bride-to-be sometimes uses salt instead of sugar to gauge his character. If the bridegroom drinks his coffee without any sign of displeasure, the bride-to-be assumes that the groom is good-tempered and patient. Indeed, as the groom already comes as the demanding party to the girl’s house, in fact it is the boy who is passing an exam and etiquette requires him to receive with all smiles this particular present from the girl, although in some parts of the country this may be considered as a lack of desire on the part of the girl for marriage with that candidate. Source: Wikipedia

6. Tarihi Osmanli Macunu – Street vendors make to order the traditional Ottoman candy  with five flavors of thick taffy spiraled around a stick. The artist makes the candy when you order it and it is captivating to watch him roll the different colors with such ease.

ottoman candy

 

7. Kumpir – Best known as make your own baked potato. You select your choice of endless toppings on an enormous baked potato. Hot dog slices, corn, peas, vegetable salad, pickles, pickled beets, green and black olives, yogurt kısır (bulgur), spicy red-pepper sauce and condiments are some of the garnishes. The best place to try Kumpir is Istanbul’s Bosphorus-side village of Ortaköy.

Other street vendors sell roasted chestnuts, waffles, corn on the cob and sliced watermelon.

Know of another street food from Istanbul you love? Leave a response below and share your ideas with our readers…

Street Food Scene of Quito

Ecuadorians like to eat all the time. They don’t follow strict rules about it either. There are no set breakfast, lunch or dinner hours, and most locals eat when they are hungry, which seems to be all day long. If you stroll through Old Quito during the hours of 10am and 4pm, you will see street vendors selling soups, hole-in-the-wall establishments making fresh tortillas, and casual cafes always packed with snackers. In fact, whatever formal sit-down restaurant there are in Quito, seem to cater mostly to visitors. The locals prefer cheap eats on the go that are satisfying and similar to home cooked meals.

Here are some of the sights from Quito’s street food scene…

My entire concept of “soup” changed after visiting Ecuador. Here you eat soup off the street. Vendors cook locro de papa (potato soup  with potatoes, onion, garlic, cumin, achiote and cheese), and calso de Manguera (made with pork intestines, stuffed with blood and rice), at home, carry it into the markets in buckets and sell it by the cup to busy workers. Every family has their own style of preparing these traditional Ecuadorian recipes. The regulars know which ones they favor and often wait for their lunch to arrive in the city. Potato salad and ceviche are other two famous bucket dishes found especially in the historic Cruz Verde (green cross) neighborhood.

street vendors sell soup in Quito

Seafood is another important ingredient in Ecuadorian cooking. With access to the Pacific Ocean, lakes and rivers, there is always an abundance of fresh shrimp, fish, clams, mussels and even oysters. Where else in the world can you stop for couple of oysters on the half shell on your way to the office?

street food oysters in Quito

Lunch is generally the main meal of the day in Ecuador. Restaurants in Old Quito advertise lunch specials “Almuerzos” for $1-2, which include soup and traditional entrees such as Arroz con carne (rice with meat) or Fritadas (roasted pork with potatoes).

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For your next backyard party remember that plantains are not always fried. You can grill them whole on charcoal till they are slightly charred. Makes for a delicious and healthy side dish.

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Street food doesn’t alway have to be unhealthy. In Quito, you will find fruit vendors selling fresh cut watermelons, pineapples and whatever else is in season. Grab a cup of fruit cocktail snack just for a few pennies.

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School kids line up at food stalls in the afternoon just to snack on Tortilla De Tiesto, a corn pancake made fresh to order. It is usually had with coffee or hot cocoa.

quito food

If Italians love gelato, Ecuadorians can beat them to Espumilla consumption any time of the day. It looks like ice cream, but is actually a dessert made with freshly whipped meringue cream and fruit extract, such as guava or passion fruit. The best part about it is that it doesn’t melt so street vendors sell it from their baskets, scooping out Espumilla in cups and cones.

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If you want to go on a guided food tour of Quito, Metropolitan Touring offers one-day and half-day walking tours.

Read more about what to eat in Ecuador.