If you look up as you stroll the narrow back alleyways of Naples, you might see an elderly lady leaning out of a window, lowering a basket or a plastic bucket to the shopkeeper below, calling out her order in napoletano. The grocer or baker or butcher or yardage goods merchant on the street puts her order in the bucket or basket, taking out the coins she’s put in, making change, then calling back to her in napoletano to tug upwards: “O Signo’, tira o’ panaro!”
I saw a scene like that while eating at an outdoor table at Nennella’s, a favorite Neapolitan trattoria, squeezed into the crowded and “infamous” – “watch your bag!”- quartieri spagnoli district. And at the same time, in the Nennella dining room, another basket was dropping from the ceiling as the waiters joined in a Neapolitan song.
The wicker basket dips down when a customer wants to leave a tip for the wait staff, the red-shirted waiters bellowing out their thanks in napoletano as the basket heads back up to the ceiling. There’s a card dangling off the basket’s bottom: ‘A mazzetta – pe’ guagliun (in Neapolitan dialect, “a tip for the young boys”).
Nennella’s isn’t for you if you prefer calm and quiet (but then again, Naples isn’t either!). There’s lots of bellowing at Nennella’s: waiters at the kitchen pass-through window booms out food orders to the cooks and the cooks in turn lean out of the pass-through shouting for plate pick-ups. Owner Ciro blasts out request for table clearing, table setting (the customer line in the alleyway is long) while whoever is on the espresso machine – on the trattoria’s corner, which is also a street corner, hanging wash overhead – hollers that espressi are ready in plastic cups.
Of course, the lusty Neapolitan chaos is not the only draw to Nenella’s: the major one is the hearty and simple food.
Pasta ‘a palate e provola – a pasta dish with potatoes and smoked provola cheese – is this trattoria’s most popular first course and my choice this visit.
Eggplant polpette (“meatballs”) and mozzarella in carrozza (literally, “mozzarella in the carriage” – or slim mozzarella sandwiches, dipped in egg, rolled in breadcrumbs, then fried) were top second choices for those bypassing the day’s fish choices.
I opted just for vegetables: after all, what’s a Naples stay without a plate of garlic/olive oil sautéed friarelli?
(rough – but not perfect – translation, “broccoli rabe”)
And then again, what’s a Naples stay without
a walk through the crowded, alive backstreets for lunch at Nennella’s?
Read more on Naples street life
Read about Naples’ link to the Mediterranean diet
Read about another favorite Neapolitan restaurant
Read more about my need for Naples
Read about Neapolitan joy in the music