Giovedì mezza giornata: “Half day on Thursday.” The writing in bold yellow and red on the closed shutter of the shop is not only a way to inform customers of the working schedule. It’s something more: an ode to the good old days when all grocery stores in Naples observed the half-day shift to enjoy a midweek break, a statement of respect towards unwritten “holy rules” and choosing personal time and human relationships over business.
Sticking to old ways is what makes Salumeria Malinconico a special place. Yet nothing is dusty here; nor gloomy, despite the literal meaning of the family surname displayed on the sign, which translates to “melancholic.” A typical neighborhood convenience store at first sight, selling a little bit of everything from fresh fruit to pasta and biscuits, the salumeria reveals its true nature in a room at the back, a hidden place of earthly delights beyond the archway where a painting of the Holy Virgin has been standing since the seventies. There, two small counters exhibit fresh and aged cheeses, cold cuts (including the massive panno di cicoli, a tower of pressed pork rinds sliced on demand, as a sort of doner), marinated vegetables and platters of traditional recipes prepared in the small kitchen, from lasagna to sausage and friarielli (local greens) or genovese meat, to take away or fill the substantial panini.
The deli’s location at the end of Corso Vittorio Emanuele – one of the city’s main streets, winding for over three miles from Piedigrotta to Piazza Mazzini – was originally opened in 1890 by Carlo Malinconico as a retailer of cheeses, cured meats and local wine, sold from the casks stored in the underground cellars under a hatch. “My grandma still talks about that wine. I’m working on selecting a white and a red wine to be bottled with our label and the traditional sealing wax, to honor our roots,” Alessio Malinconico says. Born in Naples in 1986, he’s the founder’s grandnephew and is today the soul of the shop. He selects suppliers among genuine artisanal brands, manages the shop’s lively Instagram page, organizes its various events and brings to life collaborations with like-minded people and venues.
He’s no one-man band, though, as his parents still match their expertise to his energy: Alessio inherited the business from his father Antonio, and his mother Amelia is a cheerful blonde lady whose family is from Apulia – as are many cheeses on the counter and the recipe for her delicious focaccia. The staff also includes, among others, Enrico, who has been behind the deli counter for over 40 years, Yaminda from Sri Lanka in the kitchen, and Stephanie, an Italian-American girl born in Philadelphia who chose Naples and the salumeria as her observation point on Italian food culture and makes an excellent eggplant parmigiana.
It was Alessio’s idea to bring back the marenna, the traditional quick yet filling bite Neapolitans eat to satisfy their hunger at any time during the day or for lunch, serving simple yet delicious rosetta (the staple bread roll of the Italian snack) filled with ingredients from the two counters, all throughout the day. “Over the years, following the evolution of market and society, the shop had turned into an ordinary minimarket, expanding its space but losing something else,” he tells us.
“My mother’s focaccia was baked only on Saturdays and only a couple of contorni [side dishes] were cooked. When I decided to go back to Naples and to the family business in 2013, after a few years in Rome working as a video editor, I felt the place was starting missing its identity. I remembered the care in choosing the products and in dealing with the customers from the neighborhood, the sense of feeling at home, the joy of preparing the panini myself when I was a kid. So I decided to bring them back and to shift the challenge on the ground of quality and authenticity. We didn’t embellish the place, though it could use a slight update; we didn’t try to become something else. Our aim is to be the ‘most beautiful among the ugly ones,’” he says.
Salumeria Malinconico is one of the good ones, for sure. We could see that while biting into a fluffy-yet-crunchy slice of focaccia, merging the Apulian and Neapolitan tradition into a tasty splurge of tomato, garlic, oregano and basil. We asked for a filled rosetta to eat across the street, where a short wall and a fence serve as a panoramic viewpoint. We went for the Salvadores, an established favorite dubbed in memory of their Grandpa Salvatore, filled with cicoli and ricotta cheese.
Other options include the Nonna Rita (with parmigiana) or the Classico, with juicy mozzarella and grilled eggplant seasoned with olive oil and vinegar. You can even enjoy Salumeria Malinconico after closing time – if you’re lucky enough to find a spot at one of their in-store “popups” – when the music and the chatter get louder and the three huge frozen-food counters in the hallway under the Madonna turn into a long table for one of the city’s most sought-after “beefed-up” aperitivo: complete with boards of delicious cold cuts and cheese, focaccia, bottles of wine and maybe some extras from friends and partners. Another impromptu idea born out of the desire to share food, fun and knowledge. Another way to let this place live and be lived as it deserves.
Published on January 13, 2023