Sitting to the south of Rome, Campania has a history that is inextricably tied to the Roman Empire. The province was part of the Roman Republic from as far back as the fourth century BC, and continued to be an important part of the Empire for many centuries – the imposing walls of Naples famously rebuffed Hannibal and his elephants in the Second Punic War, and one only has to visit the ruins of Pompeii to get an idea of what life was like in Campania some two millennia ago.
Roman history has had a profound effect on the food eaten across the region too. The Romans always valued Campania for its vast pastureland and nutrient-rich soils, and many practices that continue to exist today started in Roman times. Fishing was a Roman staple too – the ancient towns of Amalfi, Cetara, Positano and Amalfi are famous today as picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but they started life as Roman fishing villages. Despite the increasing tourism trade, a significant portion of Italians still makes a living from fishing along the Amalfi Coast, returning with hauls of seafood ranging from anchovies and sardines to squid and octopus.
Seafood, unsurprisingly, makes up the majority of the coastal diet, alongside a bevvy of fresh fruit and vegetables – typical Mediterranean fare. As you get inland, there is ample grazing land available for livestock, making meat dishes more common. Although their origins are disputed, Campania is also home to native water buffalo and has been for many, many centuries. Where there are buffalo, there is buffalo milk, and where there is buffalo milk, there is mozzarella di bufala – one of the great cheeses of the world.
Buffalo mozzarella started life in Campania over 1,000 years ago when Capuan monks would make it to feed passing pilgrims and travellers. Today it's one of the world's favourite cheeses, but if you want to taste real, fresh buffalo mozzarella, you simply have to go to the source.
Other well-known cheeses from Campania include Scamorza, which is often smoked and easily recognised thanks to its firm, bulbous appearance, and Fiordilatte also originated from the region. Keep an eye out for fresh Stracciata, too – a soft milky cheese that's similar to the centre of a ball of mozzarella.
Stroll along the stunning Amalfi Coast and you'll see stepped hillsides covered in lemon groves. Amalfi lemons – and indeed, their cousins from nearby Sorrento – are renowned for their wonderful flavour and aroma, whether eaten fresh or drunk in limoncello. Both have earned protected status from the EU thanks to their unique characteristics, and they're one of the most iconic images of Campania's coastline.
You simply can't talk about Campania without mentioning pizza – arguably Italy's greatest gift to mankind. If you're planning a trip to Naples, you're likely heading there for the pizza – the city itself is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site, protected as the birthplace of what is considered one of the world's most culturally important foods. Check out Luciana Squadrilli's fantastic deep-dive on the history of Neapolitan pizza and what makes it so special.
You may have visited Naples for the pizza, but you’ll definitely stay for the coffee!! The city has a vibrant, thriving coffee scene that dates back to the 1700s. Neapolitan baristas are true coffee experts, grinding beans differently depending on changes to the daily temperature and humidity, whilst customers maintain an old culture of buying espressos for the poor and homeless of the city.
Antipasti e Contorni
Ease and quickness, and making something out of almost nothing, were the driving forces behind Campanians coming up with some of the most delicious, yet simplest, concoctions in the history of cuisine. You'll be certain to find variety, from scrumptious marinated vegetables to seafood dishes such as sautéed clams and mussels, toasted in a pan with garlic and olive oil. Among the vegetables, do not miss the typical zucchine a scapece, sliced zucchini sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with tangy vinegar and fresh mint dressing.
Soups & Primi
One of the most surprising and delicious associations you'll come across here is the delicious zuppa di fagioli e cozze (beans and mussels’ soup), which is common south of Naples and on Capri; another good and unique soup is the minestra maritata, a thick concoction of pork meat and a variety of fresh vegetables. The simple comfort food pasta e patate (pasta and potatoes smothered with cheese). Another preferred dish is the local pasta, including scialatielli served with sautéed seafood.
The cuisine of Naples -- shared by most of Campania's coast -- focuses on seafood, and some of the best main courses feature fish. The frittura shrimp and calamari is always a great pleasure, and here you will also find other kinds, such as fragaglie. The local version of zuppa di pesce is more difficult to find, but it is a delicious fish stew. Much more common and equally delicious are the polpi affogati or in cassuola, squid or octopus slowly stewed with tomatoes and parsley. Finally, if you have a taste for lobster, you should not miss out on the rare and expensive local clawless variety -- astice.
Naples is famous for its pastiera, a cake traditionally prepared for Easter but so good that it is now offered year-round in most restaurants. Another famous dessert is babà, a soft, puffy cake soaked in sweet syrup with rum and served with pastry cream. Each town in Campania, including the smaller villages, has some kind of sweet specialties, such as the biscotti di Castellammare, ravioli al limone and dolcezze al limone.
Campania is a beautiful land, where history & tradition come together to offer a diverse variety of food.
Source(s): GreatItalianChefs, Frommers