For those wishing to get into the true Neapolitan spirit, a visit to the Porta Nolana market – traditionally famous for its fish – is essential. It’s a place where time seems to have stopped a century or so ago.
The market is named after the imposing Porta Nolana gate, which itself is an important piece of the city’s history, despite being dominated by ugly housing blocks today. It was where villagers from the surrounding areas used to enter the city, and thus it was a common spot for saddlers to set up shop – travelers were always in need of repairs to their horse’s equipment. One saddler remains today, although it has morphed into a leather shop, selling beautifully crafted pieces.
After a nice stroll around the market, taking in the many vendors, fishmongers, immigrant-run restaurants and trattorias, we come to a huge open space that’s home to the largest fish shop in the city: Pescheria Pizzi Pizzi.
Although a word with no meaning, it’s still a very pleasant-sounding name for Neapolitans, mainly because it’s the title of a nursery rhyme – “Pizzi pizzi trangule” – that parents sing to their children. It also happened to be the nickname of the store’s founder, Ciro D’Anna.
After the Second World War, Ciro set up a small, unnamed fish shop in the Porta Nolana market, which many people refer to as ‘Ncopp’ ‘e Mmura, meaning “On the Walls,” due to the market’s proximity to the city walls built during the 16th century.
Well, we call it a shop, but it really all began with a small box of fish bought every morning at the Pietra del Pesce market, on Via Marina, and sold retail, while sitting on the edge of a sidewalk.
Ciro’s shop began to grow in size, and everyone expected Vincenzo D’Anna, his son, to take over the business. But in the 1970s, Vincenzo decided to leave the world of fish and moved to Reggio Emilia, a city in northern Italy, where he worked for 20 years as a truck driver. His father’s stand eventually closed.
The call of the family’s tradition – the call of the sea – was too strong, though. In the late 1990s, at the age of 50, Vincenzo returned to Naples and took a box of fish, as his father had done before him, and started all over again, setting up shop in a corner of the market. But not content to stay small, and determined to fulfill his father’s dream, he decided to build a more stable business. He bought an old warehouse in the market and named it Pescheria Pizzi Pizzi. After 20 years “of very hard work, waking up at 3 a.m. every day,” Vincenzo tells us, Pizzi Pizzi “has become the largest fishmonger in Naples.”
“Every morning three buyers go to the three municipal fish markets and buy the best from each,” says Vincenzo. “Here we can accommodate very large fish that can’t find a home elsewhere: swordfish weighing 400 kg, tuna weighing 300 kg. Only a large retailer can guarantee that a fish of this size will be sold.”
The outdoor space is roughly 300 square meters and always packed with a crowd, who are attracted by the wide variety of species on display and the exceptional prices.
“Here you can still find octopuses from the Neapolitan coast, tuna caught off the coast of Procida in the period of May and June, lupini [a type of clam], Neapolitan clams, and more,” says Vincenzo, now 70 years old, who runs the fish shop with his 42-year-old son Ciro, who, just like his grandfather before him, goes by the nickname Pizzi Pizzi.
“But at the center of every Neapolitan fishmonger,” Vincenzo adds, “is la alice [the anchovy]. It’s our best-selling fish and must always be in stock. The anchovy is the gold of Naples.”
“The anchovy is the gold of Naples.”
On the sidewalk opposite Pescheria Pizzi Pizzi is another crucial component of the market: a team of seven fish cleaners overseen by Viktor, who has been working on this sidewalk for 15 years and lives nearby.
A real fighting machine, this group has mastered the art of cleaning fish. Armed with brushes of various types and knives of all sizes and shapes, they can deftly clean any fish brought to them.
And lucky for us, Vittorio and Giovanni, two of the most senior fish cleaners, will often slip us some of the fish delicacies that people tend to discard. Have you ever eaten a pan of cuttlefish eggs? An exceptional thing! What about cod roe? A delicacy when cooked with spaghetti. And the belly of the monkfish boiled with salt and lemon is simply divine.
It shows that this is not a city of food waste – in Naples nothing is thrown away!
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