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Grubby, dirty, and graffitied to within an inch of its life, Naples is a city you’ll either love or hate. There are no half-measures. I knew this even before I came, such was the degree of polarity expressed by friends who’d already visited with more hating it than loving it. I had zero expectations and these expectations were more than met. I’m in the LOVE NAPLES camp – love it so much that were it not for the complete absence of any sort of order, I’d even consider moving there. And perhaps I might, in time, even get used to the chaos.

IMG_6077 (2) (800x600)IMG_6074 (2) (589x800)It’s a dirty city. The streets are littered with cigarette butts and beer tops. Bins overflow. Every wall within writing reach is covered in graffiti – not the Bansky type though;  more of the ‘I wuz ‘ere’ banality that gives the art a bad name. Not even churches are spared. In fairness, there is the occasional gem, but for the most part, it’s names and dates and monosyllabic words. Grime aside, it’s full of life with a tangible  energy that makes it vibrate. The locals, who by all accounts consider themselves Neapolitan first and Italian second,  take an inordinate pride in their city and there’s no quicker way to please than to tell them how much you love it, too.

IMG_6079 (2) (800x600)We stayed in the Old Town, Centrico Storno, on Piazza Bellini. It’s a favourite hangout of Napoli football fans and at night, people spill out of the tiny bars onto the streets in what at first seems like a loud, rambunctious melée but in actuality is just the locals having  a good time. All are drinking, few are drunk. The roofs and bonnets of parked cars double as tables and although it was chilly enough, tables inside were empty – the street is where it’s at. Now that’s something I doubt I could get used to. My standing around days are over.

Naples was once Europe’s second city, after Paris, a description it’s long since lost. While its people are beautiful, their style is more urchin cool than catwalk. They are a law unto themselves and patterns of behaviour, if there are any, are not easily discernible. Queues don’t exist. Social propriety, or the absence thereof, borders on an appearance of rudeness. There is no holding back with opinions [shop assistant to me: your pronunciation is soooooooooo bad].  And what they want takes priority [Waiter to me: Just order a pizza. We are busy]. In some places you pay immediately; in others you pay whenever the humour takes the waiter, regardless of whether or not you’re finished; and in more still, you might be waiting all night before you can find someone to give your money to. They like blanket pricing and a little consistency – all drinks, be they alcoholic or not, are €2.50 or €5.

IMG_6108 (2) (600x800)With coffees and drinks paired with nuts, crisps, pastries, bruschetta, and the odd ham and cheese sambo, you could quite happily go about your day without ever having a proper meal. But when you do – it has to be pizza. The home of the Margarita, Naples is famous for it pizza – that is something everyone I spoke to recommended to do. Eat pizza. And the toppings are generous and exotic. But the opening hours are hit and miss. No patterns. So take it when you can get it. IMG_6105 (2) (600x800)IMG_6069 (600x800)It’s narrow medieval streets are strung with laundry, that had one either the time or the inclination to ‘read’ would speak volumes as to who lived inside. Given the small cars and vespas that drive at breakneck speed through the veins of the city, it’s a wonder that the laundry is ever clean.

There are many police, many different uniforms. Italian policing has to be as convoluted as it comes, with state, provincial and municipal police to name just three. In Naples, one particular lot fascinated. A weird mutation of Captain von Trapp and General Patton – it was hard to know whether they’d shoot or yodel.

We had three days and based on accounts from others who had been before us, we all set to desert the city and head to Sorrento or Pompeii or up the Amalfi coast. But we never  made it outside the city limits. Naples – a great city with so much to offer. Should I ever get tired of Budapest, that’s where I’d head to next.

 

 

Lángos, langalló or pompos

Lángos is often touted as the Hungarian pizza. But it’s deep fried or shallow fried. It doesn’t come out of an oven. Is its pizza-ness due to the fact that it’s (a) round and (b) has toppings? Probably. [Tasty Trix has some good instructions on how to make lángos at home!] But what then do we call what comes out of the traditional brick oven?

The dough is rolled flat, as you would a pizza. It is then cut into rectangles and topped with various stuff, loaded onto a shovel and set to bake in the oven. So, except for its shape, it’s still pretty much a pizza and more in line with the traditional western idea of pizza.

But what’s it called? After much searching I came across a rather spurious account that claims that the baked-in-oven variety is called langalló and is, apparently, enjoying a resurge in popularity in recent years. I have visions of hoards of enterprising would-be millionaries reclaiming old pizza ovens  that were long since banished to the outhouse or the back yard.

Still further investigation reveals that lángos came from people tearing a piece of dough, flattening it, and putting it into the oven before the bread was cooked thus giving rise (ahem) to langalló or kenyérlángos. Those who didn’t have the luxury of an oven, took to frying it in fat, thus giving us lángos .

Whatever its story, whatever its provenance, don’t depart this Earth without having tasted the fried stuff… to die for (and, most likely, given the fat content, that’s not as improbable as you might think!)

But the question remains – if lángos is fried langalló, what is pompos?

Live ducklings and rosary beads

I’m a great fan of markets. I love sorting through other people’s junk in search of a piece of history or something that I can convince myself I simply cannot live without. I like to see other people’s creativity and inventiveness. And I’m fascinated by fresh fruit and veg. (On reflection, perhaps I need to get a life…my own life!) Down in Ráckeve this weekend, the town was buzzing around the riverside market that happens twice a week – Wednesday and Saturdays. Most markets this side of the world have a certain sameness – fruit, veg, preserves, Chinese or Turkish tat, second-hand clothes from the UK and the occasional original painting or handicraft. I’d never come across baby ducks or live chicks before.

Ráckeve ducklings

Ráckeve marketPerhaps though, being on the banks of the Danube makes this market seem a little less tat-like and a little more real. It’s a working market. I was the only tourist in sight – if I don’t count the five German lads who had come to look at the watermill. The regulars had their baskets out and were doing their bi-weekly shop. Everyone seemed to know everyone (not surprising perhaps in a town of 9000 people). The feel of the place was unlike the busier markets I’ve been to in Budapest (probably the one that comes closest is the one in Hyunadi tér).

Ráckeve market

Within the shadow of the Calvinist church, and nestled between a cheese stall and one selling ham hocks, was this one selling rosary beads. Not the old-fashioned beads that the old man in Ecseri sells – the ones that come with a story, a price, and a hook that had once clipped on to the belt of a brown-robed monk. These were new. New plastic for new Catholics? I’ve seen similar in pilgrimage sites – and that’s expected. Somehow, though, the sight of them here, in Ráckeve’s Saturday market, was a little surreal.

Ráckeve StorkRáckeve riversideRáckeve waterside

 

RáckeveRáckeve - butcher's house

But then, much about the town has that other-worldly quality. The sheer abundance of kerbside flowers makes it different and gives it a parochial feel. The detail in the town is interesting. The flower bed that on closer inspection shows a map of pre-Trianon Hungary. The red-and-white striped flag that is not that flown by Jobbik but just happens to be the colours of the town.The house that used to belong to the village butcher, the one with a pig’s head above each window. The statue of the dancing Huszar and his lady. The stork guarding its chicks, reigning over the town in princely fashion. The myriad community notice boards shaped like the prow of a boat. It’s a fisherman’s paradise. A word of warning though – their interpretation of pizza is a little unusual. Best opt for the fish soup unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous.

Out of the smallest kitchens…

It doesn’t look like much, does it? And its name, The Maxokk Bakery, apart from being unpronounceable, isn’t really an accurate description of what it offers. Buried in the back streets of Nadur, a little town on the island of Gozo, this bakery makes the best pizza I have ever had the joy to taste. Apart from the fact that the end-product is similar in shape to a pizza, the likeness to what’s served up the world over is minimal.

About four people can stand, cheek to jowl, inside the blue netting. The politicians in this world could learn a thing or two from these bakers! Everying is out in the open. Nothing hidden away. An original Maltese oven takes up most of the back wall and the prep work is done on a simple wooden bench centred on a mosaic tiled floor. If Mr EU, with all his regulations, ever caught wind of this place, it would be the death knell. And what a shame that would be.

We rang in our order to be collected at 1.45. We were warned to be on time. We were late. And no doubt we won’t be the last. The pizzas were still waiting to go into the oven as many people never make it through the maze of narrow side streets and they’re well used to this by now. I got the distinct impression that this place wouldn’t stand being ‘discovered’.

Different groups of people loitered outside; some sat on wooden benches up and down the street munching away and the smell from their food was orgasmic. When our turn came, we handed over €20.25 for four drinks and three pizzas, each one unceremoniously wrapped in greaseproof paper, differentiated with black marker, and lobbed into a cardboard veg box. The great unveiling was scheduled for San Blas Bay, about 10 minutes up the road. We drove quickly so that they’d still be hot but we needn’t have worried. Despite getting lost, the Maxokk magic was working. One tuna and anchovy. One closed ricotta. One bacon, potato, egg, onion and tomato washed down with local mineral water (and that in itself, is a true find!)

I play a game at dinner sometimes and ask people to name their three most memorable meals. Perhaps it wasn’t the food, but the company; or perhaps not the company, but the locale. Or maybe a combination of three or even more factors that contributed to the memory. I know one of my three stalwarts has been knocked off its perch. Sitting on a stone wall overlooking the red sand beach and blue water of San Blas Bay, on a balmy winter’s afternoon, surrounded by orange trees and bamboo-walled fields, in the company of the Aquilana family…this was as close to heaven as I’ve gotten to in a while.