Home of the pizza, Naples in our opinion has reached the pinnacle of dining excellence. However, this amazing part of Italy has more edible tricks up its sleeve than The Great Alfonse – famed food magician of the southwest.* Check out the best food to eat in Naples, Italy.
*All references made here to magicians are purely fictional, therefore any resemblance to actual magicians, living or dead are purely coincidental. In other words, I made Alfonse up.
We had the intention of going to Naples and eating our own (ever-increasing) bodyweight in pizza. But as it turned out, the famous cheesy flatbread, created for the coming of Queen Margherita in 1889 took a bit of a back seat in our eatings.
Here are a dozen dishes you must eat in Naples that aren’t pizza. You’ll find them everywhere in Naples and the Amalfi Coast, and if you can’t find them, ask at a restaurant. They’ll either knock the dish up for you or point you to a place that can.
12 dishes you must eat in Naples that aren’t pizza
1. Spaghetti alle vongole
Probably one of the simplest dishes you’ll find, but my goodness it’s delicious. The pasta is always fresh and al dente, the little clams are sweet and delicate, and the olive oil, pepper and finely grated parmesan complete this beautiful dish.
Spaghetti alle vongole is served all over Italy these days, but just like the ubiquitous pizza, this dish started its life here in the south.
This was from Beach Club Gavitella in Praiano.
2. Mozzarella in carozza
Essentially fried mozzarella sandwiches, these mouthwatering morsels are often offered as aperitivi or and entrées.
We first found out about mozzarella in carozza from Sydney-based Italian chef Giovanni Pilu along with a couple of other delicious aperitivi dishes you can read about here.
At its most rustic, a mozzarella in carozza is two pieces of bread with a slice of mozzarella and sometimes an anchovy fillet inside. The whole this is fried to create a melting, crispy snack. Delicious!
3. Risotto alla pescatora
Another pan-Italian classic, risotto alla pescatora – ‘fisherman’s risotto’ – is almost definitely a dish that came from the south coast. The seafood around Naples is incredible, so a beautiful buttery saffron risotto with calamari, mussels, vongole, fish and in fact any kind of seafood mixed through it is divine.
Although we said this list wouldn’t include pizza, we thought panzerotti not only deserves a mention, but that it’s also not really pizza either. Though you might find it on menus as ‘pizza fritta’ or ‘fried pizza’.
It’s a bit like a tiny calzone – often with smoky ham and cheese, but then it’s fried instead of baked. The base puffs up and goes crispy on the outside and the filling melts and combines. Yum!
These were from Annarè Trattoria in Naples.
5. Gnocchi alla sorrentina
Gnocchi is one of my favourite Italian dishes, but the kitchens of Naples have somehow managed to make this potato ‘dumpling’ dish even better.
Traditionally, gnocchi is made with boiled, crushed potato that’s then kneaded with flour and egg into a dough and then boiled again.
The ‘alla sorrentina’ bit is where the chef then bakes the gnocchi in a rich tomato sauce with mozzarella cheese to create an amazing al forno hybrid of the traditional dish. It’s so satisfying. We had this one in the beautiful Ristorante Cerasè in Vico Equense.
6. Crocchè di patate
We were very surprised at how popular the humble potato is in the south of Italy. In Puglia in the east, they use potato in so many more dishes than the Italians further north do. In Naples, they even have their own way of making fries, and they’re incredible.
Instead of cutting the potatoes into chips, the Neapolitans mash the spuds and mix herbs, cheese, breadcrumbs & sometimes meat into the mash, then fry the mixture into ‘chips’. How these people remain so slender remains a mystery to me.
7. Parmigiana di melenzane
Parmigiana di melenzane is an absolute classic Italian dish that pretty much every city, town, village and nonna in Italy puts a claim to. However, our research suggests this dish originated from the Campania region.
This exquisite, rich, velvety dish of slow-cooked eggplant, cheese and tomato is so delicious once you’ve tasted it, it’ll be on your mind for the rest of your life. It’s that good.
We ate this particular dish at Ristorante Cerasè in Vico Equense.
8. Spaghetti alla puttanesca
While we didn’t find the pure version of this dish, which was traditionally a peasant dish of crushed tomatoes basil and spaghetti (as simple as that yet so delicious), the version we had in Beach Club Gavitella Praiano took spaghetti alla puttanesca to another level.
This spaghetti alla puttanesca came with swordfish and tuna, and the sauce was richer than the traditional dish too. The addition of fennel, black olives and a touch of chilli really turbo charges the flavours on the plate.
These delicate shell-shaped pastries are unique to Campania and Naples. Flaky, light and delicious, these pastries resemble a lobster tail, which is also what you might hear them called. ‘Sfogliatelle’, however, means ‘thin, small layers or leaves’ which is more in line with the filo-like texture and makeup of this snack.
This isn’t the most elegant of things to eat though as it crumbles and goes everywhere (which is a sign it’s a good sfogliatelle). You might also see these pastries filled with cream, just to add to the richness.
You’ll find this Italian pastry everywhere in Naples and the Amalfi Coast. Cafés sell them, restaurants, shops and especially food festivals. We found this proud specimen at Festa Vico – an incredible food festival in the little town of Vico Equense up the road from Sorrento.
10. Rum baba
Another classic that we didn’t realise was from Naples, rum baba is essentially a brioche cake that’s soaked in rum. A good rum baba will be almost juicy and dense with butter and rum.
If the rum baba is well-made and fresh, it should ooze buttery rum and almost fall apart in your hand as you bite into it. You have to pick your rum baba carefully – if they look dry, don’t buy them.
11. Lemon caprese torta
Honestly, you wouldn’t order this lemon cake if you saw it on a menu or if you were choosing a cake from a display. It looks pretty, but at the same time not particularly special.
But you know what, it’s amazing. Rich and lemony with a beautiful almond flavour in the background. Somehow light and delicate, but dense and satisfying at the same time. Keep your eye out for this drab-looking treasure.
We had to be sold this by the waiter at Beach Club Gavitella in Praiano. We weren’t going to have any dessert with our lunch, but we left empty plates behind!
12. Filled croissants and pastry puffs
One thing we’ve learnt from our trip to Naples is that these guys love stuffing cream and jam into already delicious food.
Just like the sfogliatelle, which you can find either plain or cream-filled, you’ll also see jam-filled croissants, chocolate chip pastry scrolls and sweet fruit-filled pastry puffs (fagottini) like these in cafés across the city and all along the Amalfi Coast.
We’ve got lots of stories to share with you from our time in Naples and the Amalfi Coast. For example:
And don’t forget to check out our library of articles on our favourite destination Italy here.
Do you have a favourite food discovery from Naples? Where have you been that makes you drool every time you think back on that trip? Tell us in the comments!