Napulitanamente-Neapolitan Food culture

A Brief History of Neapolitan Cuisine

Among very famous dishes of southern Italy cuisine are the Neapolitan pizza, Neapolitan ragu, eggplant parmigiana, macaroni omelet, and fish dishes. Heard of Neapolitan sauce? It’s made of tomatoes, garlic, crushed red pepper, and basil. It’s also what Americans call marinara.

There are so many such famous dishes that are a part of Neapolitan food culture that we consume without even knowing.

From history to taste and recipes, Napulitanamente tries best to provide helpful information about Neapolitan Cuisine through this platform. People usually wonder what is really is the Neapolitan food culture.

Naples is a land of water and fire. Florio Agnico, in his work on Tito Livio, states that not only in Italy, but in the whole world, the most beautiful province is Campania, because nowhere else is the sky more temperate, trees bloom twice and no other territory is more fertile. It is no coincidence that Campania was called Campania Felix.

With these assumptions, Neapolitan cuisine could not fail to rise to the highest honors, and Italian cuisine, magnified and envied everywhere, owes its fame not so much to the exquisite Emilian tortellini, to the excellent Milanese risottos, to the succulent Piedmontese braised meats or to the many other regional delicacies, but above all to pizza and spaghetti, typical products of Neapolitan culinary art and ambassadors of Italian gastronomy in the world. Our cuisine, like all our culture, therefore has its roots in the Greco-Roman Neapolis.

Food Spaghetti
Photo©Alberto Pagliarulo

The main meal was eaten in the evening and, obviously, it varied according to the family’s economic conditions. The less well-off ate above all a mixture of cereal flour called pultes, boiled in water or milk and seasoned with garlic and onion and, sometimes, mainly on holidays, laganon, thin sheets of flour interspersed with meat, cheese and herbs.

They could rarely indulge in meat or fish, which, on the contrary, abounded on the table of the rich. Particularly delicious was the “Bay sauce”, a soup of oysters and razor clams, which were cooked in the must, with the addition of seaweed, pine nuts, celery and pepper.

The most popular condiment was garum, which was obtained from the fermentation of the fish entrails, with the addition of aromatic herbs and vinegar. A late great-grandson of the ancient garum could be the “colatura di alici”, a typical specialty of Cetara, a fishing village on the Amalfi Coast, extracted from pickled and pressed anchovies, a simple but tasty condiment for a good dish of vermicelli.

Lucullus and Trimalcione lived in Naples.
The legendary villa of Lucullus, which, in the first century BC, extended from the slopes of Mount Echia to the islet of Megaride (now Borgo Marinari) was the highest expression of culinary splendor.

There were nurseries of delicious fish, animals and birds were raised and, for the first time in Europe, peach and cherry trees were planted, imported from Persia. To put an end or, at least, to contain these wastes, the lex Fannia, promulgated in 161 BC, established that no more than 120 boards could be spent for each diner at each banquet. But, as still often happens in Naples, this law remained only on paper. It is estimated that in the first century A.D. Neapolis counted about three hundred shops where food could be consumed in various ways.

The Neapolitan cuisine was thus enriched with dishes of Arabic, Spanish and French derivation. In the medieval period, moreover, in Naples as elsewhere, the consumption of food began to be conditioned by the liturgical calendar, where the Church divided lean from fat foods, prohibiting the consumption of these on Fridays, during Lent and on of eve.
The prohibition of consuming foods of animal origin, with the exception of fish, favored the spread of pasta.

French Influence on Neapolitan Foods

Neapolitan cuisine has ancient historical roots that date back to the Greco-Roman period. It was also influenced by its French and Spanish rule. Would you believe how pasta originated? Until the 17th century, Neapolitans were known as mangia foglie (leaves eaters), because of their love of vegetables. In Naples, as elsewhere, the consumption of food began to be conditioned by the liturgical calendar, people from Naples now became mangia maccheroni (pasta eaters).

The French domination, shows itself in Neapolitan ragù, gato and crocchè.


The name rago itself comes from France, where ragout refers to any stewed dish containing diced meat, fish, or vegetables. Ragù in the Renaissance onwards was served as a second course to aristocrats, and only later used to enhance pasta, and eventually leant itself to all Italian meat sauces. Traditionally, the preparation of the Neapolitan ragù, which varies according to the characteristics, even from neighborhood to neighborhood, begins on Saturday, as the sauce must thicken a lot, cooking over low heat, until it becomes a very creamy consistency. In many variations of the Neapolitan ragù a spoonful of tomato paste is also used. A decisive characteristic of the ragu is its consistency which, as proof of perfection, sees the sauce so thick that the wooden spoon stands upright by itself.

Gattò di patate

Potato gateau in French, is called gattò di patate (or even gatò) in Naples. In 1768 Queen Maria Carolina of Habsburg, wife of Ferdinand I of Bourbon, invited professional French monsieurs (chefs) cooks to the Kingdom of Naples. The monsieurs were nicknamed monzù, the gateau (French for cake) became gattò; and its originally stringy center of Gruyere was instead filled with fior di latte and Neapolitan salami or cooked ham (or both). The Neapolitan version is an informal dish served warm and sometimes with a side swerving of pizza.


We could say that he Neapolitan Crocchè is an evolution of the progress of the Spanish ‘croquetas’, but it is more likely to be a progression of French ‘croquettes’. Like the gato, it’s most likely to have been introduced in the second half of the 1700s by the French monzù preparing feasts for King Ferdinand I of Bourbon and Queen Maria Carolina of Austria.

Photo©Alberto pagliarulo

Spanish Influence on Neapolitan Foods

Since the period of the Aragonese domination in Naples (about 1400), the city experienced contamination also in the culinary field.With the discovery and invasion of Americas as a resource for new products the dictatorship of commerce completely changed the culture of Southern Italy, just like in the rest of the world.

The Renaissance opened channels of communication between neighboring countries in Europe, changing with it the notion that food must only be for nourishment and creating instead the idea that food can be a means of cultural exchange. Many new spices and ingredients and skill sets were introduced to wealthy kitchens staffed with foreigners.

It was then that the tomato was introduced to Italy by the Spanish rulers of Naples. The Nahuatl (Aztec) word tomatl became the Spanish word tomate, (leading to the English word tomato). Tomatoes native to Peru, soon became a staple in Italian cuisine, as did zucchini, peppers, squash, beans, corn, and chocolate.

In the nineteenth century, the gap between the bourgeoisie and the poor grew, so that different recipes evolved for the different classes, such as the octopus broth and the freselle soup for the commoners. Pizza too can also be traced back to this period.

We Can Teach You to Cook Neapolitan Food

Italians know good food, and if you enjoy cooking, it becomes a pleasurable delight, an art and a science. Knowing how to mix ingredients, their textures and scents takes calculation and imagination. If your mouth begins to water as you conjure up recipes in your mind, you are a food lover too, start reading recipes and tweaking them to create something new. And keep yourself updated about every new addition of food in the Neapolitan cuisine through Napulitanamente. Napulitanamente is the place to get all the answers to Mediterranean cuisine and much more. Happy cooking!