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1950s Archive

A Gastronomic Tour of Italy: Campania

Originally Published June 1954

The opalescent splendor of the Bay of Naples is a subject which has tempted painters, poets, and mere pamphleteers for centuries. Guarded by two steep, romantic islands, Capri and Ischia, and dominated by the brown and lavender majesty of Vesuvius, this vivid crescent of water gives an impression of utter enchantment from the decks of an incoming steamer. Naples glistens in polychrome brightness beneath the frowning fortress of St. Elmo, its new apartments climbing audaciously up the cliffs. The impatient traveler can hardly wait to disembark. When he does set foot in this throbbing metropolis, the scene becomes less idyllic. He immediately becomes a choice plum for a cluster of vultures and multilingual smoothies whose only thoughts are concentrated on his pocketbook. The noise, the congestion, the confusion arc all intense. The close-range charm of Naples is far more reticent. Its treasures soon come to light, of course. Next morning the traveler visits the National Museum and sees priceless relics from Pompeii and Herculaneum, and that evening he goes to the San Carlo Opera House, scene of Caruso's early triumphs. He may be tempted by the aquarium, whose pink prima donna is a diaphanous fish with its own parasol, or by the San Martino cloisters, occupying a breath-taking eminence which almost floats over the close-packed housetops of the city.

But a fundamental fact soon becomes clear-the secret of Naples long popularity with travelers lies farther afield. The jewels of the Bay of Naples are embedded in the hills and along the rocky shore, and they are unique in the world today. There is nothing to approach Pompeii and Herculaneum. Few islands have the fascination of Capri. The Amalfi Drive remains an experience of total beauty, uncluttered by billboards. And Paestum, the setting for some of the most perfect Greek temples, can only be excelled by Athens itself. Taken not by its teeming self, but with its surrounding splendors, Naples becomes irresistible.

Of course there are inland points in the Campania region which merit exploration, particularly Casena and its royal palace. Built by the King of Naples in 1754, it is so vast that it served as a Pentagon for the combined Allied top brass in World War II. Then there is Benevento, setting of one of the most perfect of Roman arches and, more important to the gourmet, the home of Strega, the classic Italian liqueur. But most travelers to Campania stay close to the Bays of Naples and Salerno, and so shall we.

The epicurean aspect of Campania is encouraging today.

A decade or so hack, when we spent more than a year in this area, subsisting on army rations highlighted by peanut butter, powdered eggs and chipped beef, the gentle art of gastronomy was in total eclipse, especially among the luckless ranks of the civilians. With memories of a pathetic population living on a diet of greens and a little fruit, of flour and olive oil which could only be bought at outrageous prices on the black market, we found it heartening to observe this fertile countryside today, producing the good things of life in abundance-melons, figs, oranges, lemons, wine, cheese, sausage and, above all, a riotous plenty of vegetables. Hard work and abundant sunshine have replenished the larder and filled out the Neapolitan waistline. The shops are crammed with food now, their ceilings dangling with tight-laced sausages and Provolone cheeses, their shelves laden with the things they love best-black olives, anchovies, tomato paste, artichokes, and the famous pasta which is the backbone of Neapolitan nourishment. The sea is generous too, and the wide marble slabs in fish stores are bedecked with a glittering miscellany of recumbent squids, octupuses, eels, mussels and lobsters: The zealous gastronome who ventures out to the phantasmagorian fish market under immense umbrellas at the Porta Capuana will be richly rewarded. Finally, there is a morose, long-horned bovine munching away in neighboring flats and marshes who contributes a vital element to Neapolitan well-being. She is the bufala, and her milk makes possible Mozzarella cheese, the vital ingredient in pizza and many another local specialty. A water buffalo sounds like a dubious source of epicurean felicity, but don't be deceived. The best ice cream in the world, in the opinion of many travelers, is found in Groppi's in Cairo, and it is all derived from the same solemn critter.

To the average American at home, “Italian” cooking means Neapolitan cooking, for this is what has been exported to every corner of the United Slates by Pietro, Luigi, Giuseppe and Enrico. The minestrone, the pizza and the spaghetti which we are accustomed to find at Tony's on North Main Street, have their original models in D'Angelo and Zi Teresa in Naples.

These and a few other Neapolitan dishes deserve acclaim but, in the eyes of the outside world, the famous pizza has stolen the march on them all.

We asked several qualified persons where we could find the best rendition of this famous dish and, following their recommendation, had lunch at the HOTEL VESUVIO, the newly rebuilt hostelry on the Via Partenope. This is a mezzanine hotel dining room, if you wish. but the atmosphere is charming, and the view of the harbor animated and distracting. Our pizza came as the first course in a prix fixe luncheon (the menu is in French) and it proved to be a superlative pie about eight inches across, generously thick, magnificently fattening, and quite enough for an entire meal. The crust was firm but tender, the filling of molten Mozzarella delectable beyond words. No other cheese was added, no anchovies, no olives, no mussels, onions or other distracting influences. It was topped by a puree of fresh tomatoes, and a sprinkling of herbs, principally orégano and basil, although 1 suspect some other secret flavoring not casually revealed to inquiring guests. The key to its sublimity, according to the chef, lies in the high quality of the Mozzarella cheese, a most discouraging verdict for the Mulberry Street experts. Unhappily the supply of water buffalo is rather low in America, perhaps nonexistent. And so the judges in this somewhat trumped-up contest were probably right. The genuine Neapolitan pizza is still without a rival.

The Vesuvio is one of a quartet of long-established hotels concentrated at this strategic point, the others being the Excelsior, Santa Lucia and Continental, with a fifth, the Royal, now Hearing completion. Directly opposite them is the frowning Castel dell'Ovo, extending into the buy and enclosing a little fishing port called the Borgo Marinara. It is now the gastronomic heart of Naples and an irresistible magnet for visitors, even if the feasts aren't as Lucullan as one might expect. That Lucullan reference is used advisedly, for the fabulous Roman gourmand Lucullus had a villa crowning the site of the Pizzofalcone fortress, towering just over this harbor. In the simpler days at the turn of the century the little port was monopolized by fishermen alone. They brought their catch in on rowboats and sold their fish to housewives at the landing. At about that time, a young woman whose first name was Teresa decided to make a few hot dishes for the hungry fishermen when they landed. She sold places of hot beans to the mariners for two soldi. Then she graduated to fish soups and fritto misto, and in time established a modest restaurant, calling it Zi TERESA. Its growth since then has been phenomenal. Now the fishermen don't go there any more, they can't afford it. Hut everyone else who has visited Naples knows Aunt Teresa's, including Hollywood luminaries, Somerset Maugham, the Prince of Piedmont and that most defunct of sons-in-law, Signor Ciano. Primo Carnera had his picture taken with Teresa and a formidable panorama of pasta and zuppa di pesce. Lucky Luciano has added further luster to her guest book.

Teresa Fusco had more than her share of tragedy-she lost her husband and all her sons, the last of them in World War I. When she died in May of last year, her funeral was almost a national event. Flowers and telegrams poured in from all over the world.

For historical reasons, therefore, Zi Teresa may be the most interesting of the four restaurants which now cluster around the Borgo Marinara. Adjoining her is the BERSAGLIERA, which some critics contend has better cooking. I'm not sure about this, but it certainly has more original ceiling decor. Nymphs and bronzed, busty ladies disport themselves in total abandon, and the lighting fixtures are deftly arranged so that they extend downward from the navel of each recumbent Venus. Across the way, on the far side of the port, are two other rivals- DA CIRO, a far cry from Giro in Paris, but fair enough, and the TRANSATLANTICO, most expensive of the four and a little dressier.

To be frank, the epicurean standard on the Borgo Marinara is not extraordinary. All four restaurants offer good versions of the Neapolitan classics - pasta, pizza. Mozzarella en carrozza and zuppa di pesce, and good island wines from Capri and Ischia. They are gay, animated and fast favorites with the Neapolitans themselves. The experience of dining here, whether under an awning in summer, or behind plate-glass windows in the rainy season, is well worth your while, especially if you don't mind music with your meals. For an almost invariable ingredient in Neapolitan restaurants is music. If you squirm at the presence of a string sextet, a soulful soloist with his eyes closed, an accordion player with a fl ashing gold tooth, you're going to be uphapoli in Napoli. Neapolitan couples really enjoy having a sentimental tenor sit down at their table and carry on while their minestrone turns cold. They smile radiantly and sing with him. tipping him handsomely. It is a part of Naples, and we have made a brave attempt to enthuse about it.

After a fortnight's foraging in Naples, we will risk the melancholy statement that there are no superlative haunts for the gastronome here, as there are in Rome, Florence, Milan and Bologna. One might as well be philosophical about it and seek the next best, which is commendable indeed. There are a few dining places where the gourmet should be reasonably happy. One of them is the RlSTORANTE D'ANGELO, on the Via Aniello Falcone, high above the hubbub of the lower city. It is the most publicized place in Naples, and you may have received a post card of its beaming proprietor, Signor Attolini, sprinkling herbs on a pizza or dangling his magic golden horn. They flutter across the ocean in flocks daily. We were more interested in Signor Attolini's kitchen than his publicity, and found it to bean immaculate, roomy, efficient place whose large plate-glass window competed in interest with the breath-taking view of the Bay of Naples. The latter won out, however. The lights of the City stretch out beneath you, the silhouette of Vesuvius, a thin wisp of smoke rising from its cone, looms up behind, and beyond that the steep Amalfi peninsula and the dim, rocky silhouette of Capri. Of course it's romantic and heady. Of course you must have soft music and a moon, light wine and dancing on a tiled terrace. D'AngeIo provides all this (not guaranteeing the moon), and a sound menu for the unromantic few who are interested in good groceries alone. For them he proposes, in addition to his pizza al regreto, a rich filet de sole d'Oltremare or a truly sumptuous zuppa di pasco. The steaks are good and so are the agnelotti alla d'Angelo, a savory oversized ravioli.

In the summertime you will find another place within a stone's throw of d'Angelo called LE ARCATE, with even more tiled space for dancing and even a closer view of the teeming city below. The cooking is commendable here also, and we were particularly struck with the hors-d'oeuvre. These arc often too heavily charged with oil in Italian restaurants. Hut the antipasto at Le Arcate had more of the suavity of the Frencha succession of rectangular dishes containing onions à la grecque, peppers, pickles, mushrooms, mussels, shrimp, artichokes, tuna fish, sardines, anchovies. olives, stuffed eggs, sausage, ham and many others.

If you are seeking an even more breath-taking view, however, you can reach dizzier heights by trying the RISTORANTE RENZO E LUCIA on the Via San Martina This exalted spot, adjoining the Castel St. Elmo, literally hangs over the city as though you were in a plane about to land at the Cappedichino airport. The panorama from this terrace is spine-tingling, the food is acceptable, and the service friendly.

The ship-borne traveler finds himself not on the heights, though, but close to the heart of Naples, in the region of the famous glassed-in Galleria, the San Carlo Opera House, the Royal Palace. Prospects for gastronomic felicity arc rather forlorn here. We feel that the best bet is DA GIACOMINO, on the Via San Carlo. This is a conventional Naples sidewalk restaurant, but its standards are high and a better-than-average meal lurk; behind its cryptic menu. One of the best-known Neapolitan special- ties, spaghetti alle vongole, awaits you here. These miniature clams, hardly more than half an inch long when out of their shell, have two necks stretching out in a Churchillian V. We found this most irregular, but it had no effect upon the taste of the tomato and vongole sauce, which was delicious.


The citizens of the prosperous city of Pompeii had grown accustomed to the [lumbering giant of Vesuvius. In the year 79 A.D. they were totally unprepared for the mighty outburst of smoke, gas, cinders and gravel which burst without warning from its Crater, descending upon the city and snuffing out much of the population. This tragedy had the compensation of preserving for posterity, intact and in intimate detail, an entire Roman city. For centuries Pompeii slumbered under a twenty-foot blanket of cinders. Not until 1594, when a subterranean canal was begun, did anyone suspect the secret of Pompeii. Excavations are still going on today. This Greek and Roman city is the most extraordinary phenomenon in Campania, and becomes more so with every spadeful of cinders removed. It can be reached easily from Naples by an electric train, or by a miniature motor toll highway. The one drawback to Pompeii is the pack of parasites and buttonholers who leap at the helpless tourist, offering him albums of naughty fiescoes and phony antique jewelry. It takes fortitude to elbow your way through them to a reliable guide. The gastronomic pitch is a low one. Waiters (lag your car down with napkins, run after you with shouts of “Pas chert” Once hooked on the restaurant terrace, you must engage in a battle of wits with a head waiter whose overwhelming desire is to unload on his prey the most expensive prix fixe menu and the rarest bottle of Lacrima Christi. It is possible to obtain a sane and simple luncheon in Pompeii, but you have to get in there and slug for it. A simpler solution would be to equip yourself with a discreet box lunch of bread, cheese, sausage, fruit and a fiasco of Chianti, and enjoy it in a remote corner of some forgotten Pompeiian villa.


The soaring seaport which lends its name to a famous serpentine drive (and to restaurants and apartment houses across the U.S.A.) is but a charming shadow of its former self. Once a maritime republic able to rival Venice, it has now shrunk to a quiet town creeping up the cliffs in picturesque abandon. Its mighty fleet has dwindled to a few dozen fishing vessels which venture forth at night, equipped with blinding lights to dazzle and attract their catch. But its towering Norman cathedral is eloquent of Amalfi's greater days. Somehow Amalfi has never become a tourist trap. It treats its guests with deference and good cheer, and its hotels are not cut in the usual pattern. One of them, the CAPPUCCINI, has been celebrated for decades. It is a converted Capuchin convent, perched on a ledge two hundred thirty feet above the sea. Luncheon or tea on its often-pictured pergola is a momentous experience, and a prolonged stay in one of its modernized monastic Cells is even better. An unlovely but breath-saving elevator now solves the climbing problem to this unique hostelry. The LUNA is a smaller hotel which was once a convent also. It occupies a favored promontory jutting into the sea. Our own favorite is the HOTEL SANTA CATERINA, a well run, spotless place with pleasant gardens and a panoramic dining terrace high above the sea. It has commodious garage space and the culinary standards are commendably high, a phrase which is not overworked in this article.


This drowsy spot on a promontory a thousand feet above Amalfi is one of the most exquisite romantic villages in Italy. Furthermore, the gastronomic outlook in Ravello is encouraging. We tried two places and found both of them good. The CARUSO BELVEDERE is a long-established house whose walls are crammed with paintings, and whose guest book is truffled with famous names. The chef was a little inclined to depend upon prepared kitchen extracts for his sauces, we felt, but the particular specialty of the house, a chocolate souffle touched up with black cherries, was a masterpiece.

Less expensive, but quite as happy a choice is the HOTEL RUFOLO, a pleasant place overlooking the celebrated Rufolo gardens. This is the most immaculate hotel we have seen in years, glistening with marble, tile and white linen. Our luncheon consisted of the conventional cannelloni, scaloppine, salad, cheese and fruit, with a cool bottle of local wine. It was inexpensive, well prepared, and served with skill and courtesy.


The extraordinary serpentine road known as the Amalfi Drive deserves all the ecstatic acclaim that it has received during its century of existence. Beginning near Salerno it winds westward tortuously, clinging to the rocky hillside, then descending to multicolored fishing villages, then climbing through terraced slopes and over viaducts to new and breath-taking heights. The driver is the only one who isn't thrilled by the first trip over the Amalfi Drive. He has to watch the bends and not the beauty. Approaching Amalfi there is a crescendo of fishing villages-Cetara, Maiori, Minori (where a remarkable Roman villa has been exhumed), Atrani (in our opinion the most paintable of all) and iridescent Amalfi itself. A rival to Amalfi has sprung up in recent years, and its charms are beguiling indeed. Its name is Positano, a fishing village with strong oriental overtones. Its houses have rounded Moorish roofs, and they climber to giddy perches around its precipitous wedge of rock. Artists have adopted Positano with gusto, and canvases of its exotic tapestry of houses have spread throughout the world's art galleries. But you don't have to have an easel and a broad-brimmed hat to enjoy Positano. It has two good hotels which welcome mere seekers of sunshine and repose. We lunched at the best-known one, LA SIRENUSE, a gay pinkish structure which tumbles down the hillside, and came away in a pleasant mitt of contentment. Our meal had consisted of cannelloni, a luscious grilled sole, a plump, juicy pear, Capri wine and jet-black coffee-simple enough, but served to perfection. This hotel is in the upper expense bracket, but worth it. We think you would enjoy it thoroughly.


Among the diadem of attractions surrounding Naples. Sorrento offers something else againa matchless view of the bay and a maximum of creature comfort. Generations of famous people have found inspiration in Sorrento: Lord Byron, Sir Waller Scott and Oscar Wilde among them. Longfellow, Cooper and Harriet Beecher Stowe were American visitors. Goethe and Nietzsche, Stendhal and de Musset, Caruso and Giuseppe Verdi, all yielded to its reposeful charm. It is the most inviting place in Campania for a prolonged stay, and its shops arc by far the most tempting, particularly if you arc partial to lace and linen. Sorrento's luxurious hotels are stretched along a plateau which comes to a sudden stop at the edge of an awe-inspiring vertical cliff. Each hits a garden fragrant of orange blossoms, oleander and mimosa. We tried the COCUMELLA, and liked it very much, but we have an idea that the other five top hotels-the Vittoria, Europa Palace, Royal, Tramontano and Carlton-would have sent us away just as happy.

As for restaurants, there is a spanking new one on the western outskirts of Sorrento which merits your attention. It is called the MINERVETTA. You park your car on the street-level roof of this welcoming place, and walk down marble steps to a gay, airy salon, decorated in gold and white, with picture windows opening out on a terrace. The old fishing village lies below; Ischia, Naples and Vesuvius silhouette themselves in the distance. There couldn't be a moreinspiring view. Even if the food doesn't measure up to the vista, it is acceptable. The menu is simple, the wines are good. the prices reasonable. There is no extra charge for one of the most brilliant settings in Italy.


This brilliant, overpublicized island is not likely to yield its full charms to the traveler unless he avoids the tourist path and strikes out for himself. Trim little steamers bring him from Naples and Sorrento to the island of the Blue Grotto, the Villa San Michele and Gracie Fields' night club. From the time he lands at the Grande Marina, a gesticulating succession of hack, cab, and bus drivers offers him a guided tour (“Bargaining necessary,” as Baedeker used to say!). Hotel porters with gold letters on their caps plead with him, sausage and cheese shops offer him a short cut to lunch.

The middle town of Capri is set in a sort of saddle astride the island, and it can be reached by funicular, if you can dissuade the taxi men. Here you are in the midst of everything-coral, tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, straw hats, silk scarves, ballet slippers. In short, it's the Capri of fiction, and quite an enticing one if you are in a shopping mood. Commercialism has laid a heavy hand on this charmed spot, but the contemplative soul has only to walk a few steps from the beaten path to be in a different world. As for the venturing voluptuary, the prospects are dim. There are plenty of restaurants tucked in these close-packed streets but they arc geared to the one-time tourist couple due to take the next bow back to Naples. Those who spend more time in Capri will find several excellent hotels, unhurried and civilized. The tripper must take his chances. So take your pick for luncheon, from the Gatto Bianco to Tip-Top, and count upon a soulful guitarist to go with the dessert.


Just below the Amalfi peninsula is Salerno and (he wide beach head which will always be recorded in Anglo-American naval and military annals. Contrary to prevalent opinion. Salerno is not a shambles, although its outskirts took a beating. There arc several military cemeteries, however, to serve as poignant reminders of those days of intense fighting in 1943.

The invasion of this coast spared a priceless relic from the days of early Greece, the flat, abandoned site of Paestum. established in the seventh century B.C. This will prove to be the ultimate treasure of Campania for many a visitor. There is a majesty, a melancholy grandeur, and a wealth of sun-baked color about these three Greek temples which is good for the soul. The Temple of Neptune, last of the three, is Greek Doric in its purest form, and the best example outside the Parthenon. A few hours spent wandering over these silent gliosis of Greek greatness will never be forgotten. There are no guides to pester you here, no slick salesmen, no gaping children. Paestum is all yours to enjoy, and it is a heartening experience. The custodians don't mind if you bring in a picnic lunch, and (here couldn't be a more idyllic place to enjoy it. However, there is a worthy little restaurant near the ancient town walls, in case you didn't bring a hamper. It is called the NETTUNO, and it has several rooms for overnight visitors who find a few hours insufficient to explore this extinct city, as beautiful as anything in Italy.