It is paradox that although many of the most iconic Italian dishes were created in Naples, Italy, the quintessential food of Naples, its street food, is still largely unknown in Brooklyn. Mike Bancale, chef, and co-owner at Salsa Greenpoint, is passionate about ending this local ignorance by introducing Brooklynites to the delicious street food of his home city.
Street food reflects Southern Italy’s culinary folkways and traditional ingredients. Naples is a poor city and many of the locals rarely go to restaurants, which largely exist for the tourists. Many of Naples’ most beloved street dishes were created in the city’s poorest areas and perhaps no other city in Italy loves its street food more than Naples, where locals live much of their lives in the streets. Working class Neapolitans have made The Tavola Calda, or snack bar, a Neapolitan institution and it is probably the closest a visitor to the city can come to authentic Neapolitan home cooking. In Naples, street food is happily both very affordable and amazingly delicious.
Even though Salsa has gained a devoted local following for its mouth-watering oven fried pizzas, Bancale wants to expand his menu. He is eager to take his customers beyond the familiar and introduce them to a variety of undiscovered Neapolitan delicacies. These are the same dishes that he enjoyed as a boy in the streets of his hometown and when speaking about them, his voice and mannerisms reflect a uniquely southern Italian pride and passion for food. Though he is a businessman, food for Bancale is something more than a means to make money. Good food is something that inspires him, and he never tires of serving.
Although pizza, which was born in Naples, is known the world over, the Neapolitan street version of it, Pizza Portafolgio, is still largely unknown here, but in Naples it is so popular that Bancale called it “The King of Napolitano Street Food.” The name portafolgio, which comes from the Italian word for wallet, is basically a pizza folded in on itself so that it resembles an easily eaten billfold. Bancale explained that while portafolgio enjoys great popularity at home, his American customers have been slower to embrace it. Whereas Italians focus on the quality of the dough, Bancale said that Americans often focus on the crunchiness of the crust, which is not a feature of portafolgio.
Another favorite street food of Banacale is Montara, which comes from the Italian word for mountain. It is deep fried flat dough medallion of about three to five inches around topped with tomato and fresh parmigiano cheese. When fried, it becomes a savory ball. Bancale said that cooking montara was a challenge he relished because it is easy to make small mistakes that ruin its taste.
The very poverty of families in Naples forced them to be inventive in the kitchen. Since leftovers could not be wasted, the women of Naples invented Fritatine, which is a remarkably tasty fried cake made from pasta leftovers mixed with butter and heavy cream, giving it both a chewiness and a savory milkiness.
By this point in our discussion, I was starting to feel bloated after eating so many delicious street dishes, but Bancale had saved the best for last. He presented me with a Pizza fritta, or fried calzone that I was familiar with, but taking the first few bites this was a dish far superior to the chewy dough American pizzeria version. Bancale leaves his dough overnight and cooks it the next day, making it far lighter and fluffier than those in a pizzeria. The delicious ham and cheese filling of his calzone was heavenly. It was so different than the calzone I knew, I felt as if I were eating a totally different dish.
Bancale clearly loves eating this food, and loves sharing it with others even more and he is eager to add it to the menu at Salsa. Now, I know that the best part of Neapolitan food is its street food. If locals visit Salsa, Naples secretly delicious street food won’t be a secret very much longer.