It’s true, the sun of Naples is one of a kind and impossible to find anywhere else. It’s a city “dalle mille sfaccettature” (with a thousand facets), it’s a state of mind, a way of understanding life, a way of remembering, of loving. A city that you need to live without preconceptions or stereotypes, it has to be lived like life as it comes, as it is, with the awareness that nothing so beautiful and charismatic comes without pitfalls.
If you think Naples is dangerous and dirty, please erase that thought and start new. Give it a chance, a real chance, look beyond the surface because when you do, when you let your guard down and least expect it, it will sink in, as it happened to us while watching the sunrise slowly light up Castel Dell’Ovo. In these moments you will be absorbed with the overwhelming feeling of belonging — this is what makes us desire this city no matter where we are.
On this note the best advice we could give you is to find yourself a Neapolitan friend…all cities are best lived with a local but Naples particularly so. That’s exactly how we went about organising our weekend in Naples. We made a “quick” round of calls and the one thing that all those calls had in common was “Non puoi non andare da Sasa” (you can’t leave without stopping by Sasa). And so, Saturday night was booked at Mimi Alla Ferrovia, where we not only had one of the best meals of our lives but we also met Salvatore, owner and chef.
Salvatore, known as “Sasa,” is one of those young Italians we are very proud of, the ones that leave Italy to then come back; for how alluring life abroad can be, nothing compares to home. In his home he keeps his family business going and growing with immense passion and love you can taste in every dish.
After being conquered by his food we wanted to know more… and unsurprisingly he didn’t disappoint. So if you don’t have a Neapolitan friend just yet, here is Naples from the eyes of one.
How would you define Neapolitan cuisine and what makes it stand out from the rest of the country?
Neapolitan cuisine is a cuisine of contamination and for this reason I believe it is a cuisine of great intelligence, democracy and passion. It has been able to welcome and then rework ideas and techniques from other regions or countries adapting them to its own raw material, which the whole world envies us for, enhancing their taste and sight.
Before making distinctions with the other regions, I believe that we must start from the internal “scissioni” (disagreements); in Naples in a condominium of 8 families each of them will tell you that his ragù is the best that can exist, that the parmigiana no one else will ever be able to do it as her grandmother does, that the Genovese is made with that cut of meat and not with the one the lady on the third floor does it with. Precisely for this reason it is incomparable and therein lies all its beauty.
Mimì alla Ferrovia has been a Neapolitan cornerstone since its opening in 1944. How much has the restaurant developed since your family established it 76 years ago?
The restaurant was founded during the Second World War in 1943. In 1944, my father, Michele, started working there when he was just 11 years old, since then he has never left the walls of the family business. Together with his cousin, also Michele, they have carried on the restaurant with immense dedication and constancy, becoming one of the most loved and popular places in Italy. Even now Mimì Alla Ferrovia, despite the years and trends, is a successful place, because I believe it has always had the intelligence not to follow the trends of the moment and to be faithful to its identity, without forgetting the innovative techniques and the continuous research and selection of raw materials.
Your culinary career has had you travel far and wide, leading you to Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo in Japan. How have different cuisines and your culinary experiences affected the style and tastes you offer at Mimì’s?
I do not hide from you that when I returned home after the various experiences I had done in starred restaurants in Campania and traditional Japanese restaurants I had a great desire to show everyone what I had learned during those years spent outside. In fact, initially I went a little further than the usual proposal of Mimì all ferrovia, out of the rules of our cuisine. But a few days were enough to understand that this was not the right way, that I just had to apply the techniques to tradition, to better manage the elements of a dish, without ever losing our identity.
On our last visit to your restaurant we tried the Ravioli con spigola e limone in salsa di calamari e gamberetti, and have been dreaming of them ever since! What other menu highlights would you recommend?
I always recommend that you let us advise you, to fully enjoy the Mimì experience, because ours is a cuisine, in addition to being of great tradition, also of great inspiration, very linked to the market of the day, especially on the local fish.
I think the must-try is: the Genovese, the puparuolo ‘mbuttunato (stuffed pepper), the tubettoni with yellow tomato sauce from Vesuvius, confit datterini, green chillies and provola, the red shrimp tartare with ‘fake egg’
We would love to hear your personal recommendations for this fabulously vibrant city; your hometown.
The advice is to experience this city. live it without prejudices or stereotypes but be aware of the weak sides and strong points, then you can have the perception of admiring an extraordinary, unique, absolutely crazy beauty.
Where do you go for fun?
The cocktail bar “L’Antiquario”, they are my nocturnal family.
If you are not in your kitchen, where will we find you eating?
Let’s leave this topic alone, maybe it’s better not to talk about it. You must know that we work 7 out of 7 for both lunch and dinner, so I’m very busy with adrenaline and stress, this means that I don’t have much appetite during the day and that as soon as I finish working at night, an incredible hunger opens up. So you can find me at night eating a burger with fries in the Chiaia shops, a pizza a portafoglio in the historic center, a pan pizza, a cream and black cherry croissant, a freshly fried graffa (fried donuts coated in sugar with a base of flour and potatoes) on the most beautiful seafront in the world.
What’s your go to restaurant/ foodie spot when you are not at Mimi?
When I have free time, I take refuge from Caseari Cautero by Salvatore Cautero, a shop of excellence, a gem of our city, it is not a restaurant but a place not to be missed where you can taste some local products and an infinite choice of champagne and wines.
If you get hungry mid-morning, where do you grab a famous “Baba”?
Certainly from the small pastry shop Tizzano.
The best Pizza in the City?
For the goodness of the pizza and for the importance it has been for the Neapolitan Pizza movement, I think you absolutely must try Enzo Coccia’s pizza at “la Notizia.”
To get an aperitivo?
Given the time, I barely ever have aperitivo, but when I’m off work I try to go to the Parco Virgiliano where I enjoy a beer and the sunset.
Is there a particular place, a museum, in Naples that must absolutely be seen?
Those who come to Naples must also experience it from the sea, so I recommend going to Marechiaro and renting a kayak for a day and enjoying the whole coast of Posillipo.
A place that I find fascinating is the cemetery of the fountains in health care and also the Pio Monte della Misericordia museum in the beautiful Piazza Cardinale Sisto Riario Sforza, for me the most beautiful in Naples.
Your favorite neighbourhood and why?
At the moment I would say La Sanità is the most authentic district of Naples. I recommend going to Francesco at the Sepe wine shop to have an excellent aperitivo with local wine and to visit the various period buildings in Borgo Vergini.
Il mese o la stagione piu bella per vivere Napoli?
Spring without doubt. Naples in May is more wonderful than usual. ” Come back in May, come back my love, do of me whatever you please.”
And when you are away from the restaurant for a couple of days, where do you escape to?
Positano and Ischia are my favorite places.
As soon as I can I go there to enjoy many wonderful places.
Hai menzionato Ischia e Positano come i due luoghi dove fuggi quando hai un minuto di tempo..c’e’ un posto in entrambi che ami particolarmente?
In Positano I love going to my friend Sergio, owner of ” da Adolfo ”, an easy restaurant on one of the most beautiful bays in the world.
In Ischia, I recommend renting a scooter and experiencing the island to the fullest. A place that I love is “hotel club Scannella,” a restaurant and lido in a unique corner of the island.
Describe Naples in one sentence.
Napoli is everything or nothing.