Luca Affatato opens the unmarked single shutter on via Battistello Caracciolo – a charmless street linking the Avvocata and Arenella hill boroughs, at a few steps from the Salvator Rosa Metro Art Station – most days at 7 p.m. If he doesn’t, it’s for two possible reasons: either he’s busy at a popup event at some other Neapolitan venue, or he has run out of his one-and-only dish – Asian-style dumplings – and needs time to make new ones. In any case, he warns his faithful patrons on Bop Dumpling’s Instagram feed, which is pretty much the only way to be updated about opening times, menus, events and a bit of Affatato’s private life, unless you have his mobile number – which many customers do.
Since the place opened in September 2021, soon after 7 p.m. on average work days, a small crowd starts filling the sidewalk and the interior of the tiny place, which consists of a kitchenette, a little counter and a shelf, both of them almost entirely occupied by craft beers and other beverages on display, merchandising with Bop’s peculiar “street style” graphics made by a friend, Chinese gadgets and other knick-knacks including movie posters, books and records. At first, the customers arrive in a slow stream: one, a regular, does not have the essential steaming basket to cook frozen dumplings at home, so Affatato lends her one of his own; a man comes to collect the ridiculous amount of dumplings he ordered, and while he waits he shows us the ring he bought for his fiancée on Valentine’s Day; another one comes to pick up dinner for his family, including his two-year-old daughter. Later on, the crowd intensifies and we have to move out, heading to one of the makeshift tables that have been fashioned by fixing rudimentary wooden boards to the U-shaped parking posts. A few patrons do the same, waiting for Luca to cook their chosen dumplings to eat them hot, while many others order their dumplings for takeaway, still frozen: they live in the area or come from distant boroughs, sometimes even from other nearby cities such as Salerno, planning the trip on purpose. While Bop still is a sort of “secret address,” word-of-mouth spreads quickly, creating an enthusiastic fandom.
An IT manager for over twenty years, the 46-year-old Affatato has also long worked as a DJ, musician and record producer, and established his own electronic music label, Somachrome, with a friend. At one point, he rented the small space in via Battistello Caracciolo to apply his experimental nature to fermentation and sparkling beverages, producing kombucha alongside a bartender friend. The project eventually died out and he decided to go solo, making the most of yet another passion and of his cookbook collection. “I’m obsessed with Chinese cuisine, namely from Sichuan with its sharp and spicy flavors, even though I never visited the country, nor Asia. I started making dumplings just for fun, learning from books and taking the cue from some friends working in the restaurant business,” Affatato explains. He launched a small workshop making both Italian fresh pasta and Asian noodles to supply other restaurants. “When I decided to set up Bop [whose name comes from Affatato’s artistic stage name, Bop Singlayer, a play on the famous DJ Bob Sinclair’s name] focusing on dumplings, I worked to improve my manual skills and the recipes. It took over a year to get satisfying results, yet I don’t call mine Asian cuisine: it would be cultural appropriation. I have some Chinese students among my customers, though: they started buying beers and ended up eating dumplings, too. It was very rewarding!”
Whatever you call them, his dumplings are delicious: the dough is thin and soft, very similar to traditional dumpling dough made with hot water and flour, though Affatato adds a bit of durum wheat semolina to get a more resilient texture, since “Neapolitans like to chew on their food,” he says.
Fillings include both classic and Affatato’s originals, often mixing Asian traditions with local ingredients or recipes or even with Latin-American inspirations. His gyoza follow the classic recipe with pork meat, spring onion and Savoy cabbage, as do the xiao long bao with their soupy filling – to be eaten carefully. Char siu dumplings with barbecued meat are often on the menu, a customer favorite, and so is salted cod and lemon; smoked pork and papaccelle (preserved local peppers) and a few vegetarian options, such as the “provola e scarola,” the Neapolitan staple mix of cheese and vegetables.
Daily specials know no culinary boundaries: Affatato will mix Korean-inspired kimchi with soffritto (a rather peculiar, creamy and intense Neapolitan sauce made with pork scraps, tomato and chili peppers); liver sausage with onions and bok choi; Peruvian chicken anticuchos with sautéed peppers; duck confit with shiitake mushrooms and prunes; and prawns with smoked lard, oyster mushrooms and Sichuan pepper. Slightly less adventurous options might include curry shrimp or the Sloppy Joe, with minced meat, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Another even includes zingy Tex-Mex chili beans, inspired both by the American Southwest and by the arcane habit of local Neapolitan tripe sellers who prepare the beans alongside more traditional recipes.
With an average of nine or ten different dumpling flavors every night, constantly changing specials and all dumplings for €1.50 each, it’s impossible to declare the ultimate favorite. Tasting them all just leads to ordering second round, which could go on forever, or at least until the dumplings are sold out: matching his relentless creativity with a laid-back approach to life and work, Affatato makes dumpling during the day, freezing a percentage of them in the blast chiller to make a stash for the night and sell for takeaway, and shuts down when everything is finished.
Published on April 13, 2023