I napoletani can shop right out of their windows: as you stroll Naples’ narrow back alleyways, look up and you might see an elderly lady leaning out of a window, lowering a basket or a plastic bucket to the shopkeeper below, shouting down her order in napoletano. Down below on the street, the grocer – or baker or butcher – grabs the dangling basket, drops in her order, takes out her coins, puts in the change if needed, then shouts up to la signora in napoletano to tug upwards: “O Signo’, tira o’ panaro!”
I enjoyed a scene like that right across from my 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 wicker basket was dropping from the ceiling as the waiters joined in a Neapolitan song.
A card dangles off the basket’s bottom: ‘A mazzetta – pe’ guagliun (in Neapolitan dialect, “a tip for the young boys”). Now and then you’ll hear a voice shout out, “uagliù acalate ‘o panaro!” (“boys, lower the basket”) and when a customer drops in a tip, the red-shirted waiters join in chorus to bellow out their “grazie” in napoletano as the basket heads back up to the ceiling.
Nennella’s isn’t for you if you prefer calm and quiet (but then again, Naples isn’t either!). There’s a lot of deep-chested bellowing at Nennella’s: waiters at the kitchen pass-through window lower their heads and boom out food orders to the cooks; the cooks in turn lean out the pass-through shouting for plate pick-ups. Owner Ciro blasts out request for fast table-clearing and 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.
The lusty Neapolitan chaos isn’t the only draw to Nennella’s: hearty and simple food is the main one. Pasta ‘a palate e provola – pasta with potatoes and smoked provola cheese – is this trattoria’s most popular first course.
Eggplant polpette (“meatballs”) and mozzarella in carrozza (literally, “mozzarella in the carriage” – or slim mozzarella sandwiches, dipped in egg, rolled in breadcrumbs, then fried) are other favorites. And at Nennella’s, you can’t pass up a plate of garlic/olive oil sautéed friarelli (rough – but not perfect – translation: “broccoli rabe”).
Pablo Trincia, journalist aptly described his lunchtime experience at Nennella’s: “more than an (excellent) meal, it’s a life experience in a quartiere of Naples that’s a huge living reproduction of the famous Neapolitan creche scenes. Whoever has never been in this city, has missed a slice of life.” And missing Nennella’s is missing a slice of life, too.