27 April 2014

Anyone for frattaglie?

                                                           a traditional carnacuttaro (photo: alexdevil)

The exasperating, confusing and delightful city of Naples is the kind of place that leaves memories unlike any others. A lot of ours, from back in 80’s when Naples was rather more Neapolitan than it is now, involve the streets of decaying palazzi and bad hotels around Piazza Garibaldi and the train station. Frantic, louche, grimy and full of surprises, the gargantuan piazza was lined with trattorie, most of them pretty good—some of them still are. Market stands sold contraband Marlboros and contraband cassettes. Once I watched a gaggle of street children with firecrackers, trying to toss them through the windows of passing police cars. 

On many occasions, this piquant world was our home. The hotels were full of character, like the Fiore on Via Milano, the one with the world’s fattest cat, signs in Polish, and a tiny elevator that required an obsolete aluminum ten lira coin before it would consent to move. Even the place that (we later found) more commonly rented by the half-hour tried to smarten itself up a little when a nice young American couple with a baby appeared. Family atmosphere, Neapolitan style. 

One constant fixture on the Piazza, at the corner of Via Milano, was a little three-wheeled farm truck with a custom-built white platform on the back. The platform was built up on steps as a kind of Busby Berkeley wedding cake, each level edged with green plastic foliage. Each bore a row of steel spikes, on which were arrayed pale, boiled pieces of pig: trotters, snouts, organs, testicles, and others we could only guess. Above each, at a rakish angle, was a neatly impaled slice of lemon. 

You couldn’t take your eyes off it. And we couldn’t bring ourselves to ever try it either. They say the taste for frattaglie (offal) goes back to the Bourbon monarchy, when the king’s French cooks would toss the nasty bits off the palace balconies to the Neapolitan rabble, shouting Voila les entrailles! Hence another local name for offal, zendraglie

Today though, the smuggled Marlboros and the street boys of Piazza Garibaldi are gone, and so is the carnacuttaro, or pere e musso (‘foot and snout man’, as people called them) of Piazza Garibaldi. Nowadays the sellers of frattaglie in Campania and beyond are most commonly seen around Sarno and Nocera Inferiore, back behind Vesuvius, where they are a fetish dish, and everywhere else at parish and village festivals, when people’s folkloric feelings sometimes overcome more modern tastes. They chop up the bits and serve them in a paper cup with a skewer and your choice of fennel or lupins or peperoncini. Besides the lemon, the latest fashion is to offer a splash of tequila on top.  

If you can’t find a carnacuttaro on the street or at the festivals, there’s an old shop for frattaglie and tripe that has metamorphosed into a famous trattoria, right in the heart of Naples on Via Pignasecca: Le Zendraglie. But we still haven’t succumbed to the charm. Maybe next time. 

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