Crocchè in the vicoli of Naples.
t’s so easy to spend entire days walking through the Old Town of Naples, exploring its narrow alleys, the ‘vicoli’. It’s such an interesting and pleasant journey, something that should be tried at least once in life. A few steps are enough to be surrounded by the sounds and the colors of an incredibly vital place. It’s so nice to get lost here, wandering around without destination, just for the pleasure of doing it.
Such an experience can be further improved by eating something delicious, meant to be tasted while moving. Where to look for it? Well, it’s quite simple actually: when strolling through the vicoli, it’s easy to come across a ‘friggitoria’. It’s a particular kind of food shop: the name comes from the Italian verb ‘friggere’, that means ‘to fry’. So, not surprisingly, great part of its specialities is fried. It’s possible to choose which one to buy directly from the street: a difficult task, because they all look so delicious. One of most typical is the ‘crocché’: it’s the name used in this city for a particular type of potato croquette. Even if this preparation is well known worldwide, here it’s kind of special, not just for the recipe, but for an ingredient that, in some way, improves its flavor. This ingredient is Naples itself! The only way to understand what this really means, is to taste it.
There is something so ‘Neapolitan’ in every crocchè, something deeply connected with the sunny disposition of this city and of its people.
Once again, culture has a fundamental role improving the taste of food: a popular culture in this case, deeply influenced by the Classical Age, by Ancient Greece and by the thought of its philosophers.
The crocchè and the panzerotto.
rocchè is quite often confused with its ‘big brother’, the ‘panzerotto’, also known as ‘panzarotto’. They are in fact quite similar to each other: the panzerotto differs from the crocchè for its size and for the presence of a filling.
Let’s give a closer look to these two delicacies:
Crocchè is usually quite small, not more than 3/4 centimetres long. Its dark-gold breading looks very appetizing and covers a soft part made with potatoes, parsley and black pepper.
‘Panzerotto’ is bigger than a crocchè: around 7/8 centimetres. Its golden breading covers a soft filling made with potatoes, parsley and black pepper, enriched with smoked provola cheese and/or mozzarella.
‘Agorázein’: the special ingredient in a crocchè.
o understand something more about the ‘special ingredient’ that improves so much the taste of a crocchè, it’s useful to remember the origin and the meaning of the word ‘agoràzein’. It comes from ‘agorà’, a term frequently used in ancient Greece: it was the central square of a ‘polis’, the Ellenic City-State. Much more than a gathering place, it represented the pumping heart of a magnificent civilization. A meeting point not just for politicians, artists and philosophers, but also and foremost for common people.
‘Agoràzein’ means strolling around, enjoying the beauty of the place, the warmth of the sun, the company of interesting people, intriguing conversations, good food and so on.
The philosopher Plato, in one of his famous writings, the Dialogues, explains that this activity was once much appreciated in Athens.
Many centuries ago Naples was part of a greek colony, the ‘Magna Graecia’: at that time its name was Neapolis (nea:new, polis:city). More than two thousands years have passed since then and the people of this city still retains great part of the old habits. One of them is ‘il passeggiare’, the strolling around: something very similar to the ‘agoràzein’. Once again, pleasure comes from beautiful places, nice weather, good company and … delicious food.
The joy of strolling around the Old Town of Naples can be further improved by eating something delicious. The Neapolitans use a specific term to describe such food: ‘sfizioso’. A crocchè may be a good example of ‘sfizio’ (whim), since it’s not meant just to feed, but also to give pleasure. This small delicacy is like a single piece in a great mosaic offering, to those who can appreciate it, a delightful experience in which all senses are involved.
In conclusion, it’s possible to say that ‘il passeggiare’, the strolling around, is something extremely important to really understand the Neapolitan way of life: an Epicurean way of living, inviting people to enjoy themselves as much as possible … until it’s possible.
Burckhardt explains the ‘agorázein’.
he famous historian Jacob Burckhardt, in one of his books, ‘The Greeks and Greek Modern Civilization’, describes the activity of ‘agorazein’:
“Here, in full view of the ships, surrounded by as many temples, civic buildings, monuments, shops and moneychangers’ stalls as there was room for, the Greeks could occupy themselves with agorazein, that activity no northener can render in a single word. Dictionaries give: ‘go about in the marketplace, shopping, chatting, consulting’, but can never convey the delightful leisurely mixture of doing business, conversing, standing and strolling about together. It is enough to know that the morning hours were generally described by it: the time when everybody is in the agora“.
The ‘friggitoria’: part of a long tradition.
s already said, crocchè can be bought in a ‘friggitoria’: this word comes from ‘friggere’, the Italian for ‘to fry’. As per its name, it’s a food shop selling mainly (but not only) fried stuff. Simple and yet delicious preparations that can be easily eaten while walking.
At first sight, there are some similarities between a friggitoria and a modern fast food.
This kind of commercial activities has existed since the distant past, meeting a common need: feeding passers-by. Something that can be easily demonstrated by visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum. These ancient cities are still almost intact: the volcanic ashes that covered them many centuries ago, have also protected them from the passage of time. ‘Thanks’ to Mount Vesuvius, it’s still possible to see these places as they were when the Emperor Titus ruled over the Roman Empire. Walking through their streets, it’s easy to come across a ‘caupona’: a small food shop that long ago served food and beverages. The caupona can be considered the ancestor of the friggitoria.
Nowadays, there are many ‘friggitorie’ in almost every Italian city: the most famous are in Naples, Genoa and Palermo.
Not just crocchè in a friggitoria.
rocchè is not the only delicacy sold in a friggitoria, there are in fact many many others: here follows a small list of the most famous, divided by city of origin. Even if this list is quite incomplete, it gives a good idea about the great variety of specialities offered.
01. Fried pizza (Naples): Fried pizza dough. There is also a stuffed version.
02. Rice balls (Naples): Small rice balls, breaded and fried.
03. Fried eggplant (Naples): Eggplant cut into thin slices, battered and fried.
04. ‘Crocché’ (Naples) Made with mashed potatoes, eggs and smoked ‘provola’ cheese. Breaded and fried.
05. ‘Pasta cresciuta’ (Naples): Soft pizza dough, fried and salted.
06. ‘Arancini’ (Palermo) Stuffed rice balls, coated with breadcrumbs and fried.
07. Fried cod (Genoa) Cod fish, battered and fried.
08. ‘Mozzarella in a carriage’ (Naples): Thick slices of mozzarella cheese, battered and fried.
09. ‘Fiorilli’ (Naples): Courgette flowers, battered and fried.
10. ‘Frittatine’ (Naples) Thick spaghetti omelettes, battered and fried.
11. ‘Gattoncino’ (Naples) Made with mashed potatos, breaded, fried and stuffed.
‘Vicoli’: strange places, full of life.
he word ‘vicolo’ comes from the Latin ‘viculus’ and means ‘narrow alley’. Great part of these ‘vicoli’ is in the Old Town of many Italian cities.
The most interesting and colorful are probably in Naples: their origin dates back to the Sixteenth Century, the period of the Spanish rule on the city. Not surprisingly, the most characteristic can be found in a district known as ‘Quartieri Spagnoli’ (Spanish district). Even if they are very narrow, they have accommodated for centuries, side by side, the houses of the poor (the ‘bassi’) and many different kinds of shops and small workshops.
A lot of people live in the vicoli still today: these odd roads are like small, self-contained universes. Walking through these places, passersby are immediately surrounded by an incredible variety of human activities.
Strolling around in a Vicolo is an extraordinary experience that should be enjoyed at least once in life. All the senses are overwhelmed by an incredible mix of sounds, colors, smells and tastes.
HOW TO MAKE A PANZEROTTO
ere follows a video showing how to make a ‘panzerotto’. As already said in this article, it’s like the ‘big brother’ of the crocchè.
Even if the video is in Italian language, Neapolitan dialect to be exact, it’s quite easy to understand and very funny to listen to.
THE RIGHT NAME
n Naples the word ‘crocchè’ is often used instead of ‘panzarotto’.
To be sure of using the correct name, it’s important to remember that:
The crocchè is small and without any filling.
The panzerotto is much bigger and stuffed.
It’s also very important to remember that, in the rest of Italy, the name ‘panzerotto’ is used for small stuffed pouches of pizza dough, baked or fried.
VICOLI AND MUSIC
Here follows some typical Neapolitan music to get in the mood of the vicoli of Naples:
THE ‘COUSIN’ OF THE CROCCHE’
ince a ‘panzerotto’ can be considered, in a way, the ‘big brother’ of a crocchè, the ‘gattoncino’ could be its ‘cousin’. The basic ingredients are in fact the same, also the preparation is quite similar. The main differences are that gattoncino is thick, round shaped, and usually stuffed with mozzarella cheese and salami.
THE MEANING OF LIFE FOR EPICURUS
picurus was one of the most important Greek philosophers. He was born in 342 BC on Samos, an island in the Eastern Aegean, and died in Athens in 270 BC.
His thought is very important to understand this article: he suggests that men, during their life, should look for pleasure. A pleasure often consisting in small joys. For him, it’s fundamental to keep always in mind that every moment could be the last and, as such, it should be enjoyed as much as possible.
A MOBILE FRIGGITORIA
n Italy, when visiting a fair or strolling through a popular market, it’s common to come across a particular kind of friggitoria. It attracts the eye because it’s fit in a van.
IN NAPLES, A ‘CUOPPO’ FOR FRIED FOOD
n Naples the ‘cuoppo’ (or ‘cuopp’), a cone made with oiled paper, is used by local people to carry around the delicacies just bought in a ‘friggitoria’ (typical fried food shop).
THE RIGHT BEVERAGE
hat to drink with a crocchè? A good choice is a red wine, quite tannic, quite soft, and quite fresh.
The tannicity balances the greasiness of the frying.
The softness balances the saltiness (due to the presence of salt).
The acidity balances the sweet tendency of the potato.
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