I ARRIVED in Naples, Italy, or Napoli, as it is fondly referred to by the locals, in the afternoon. I was all set to dive into Italian food. I mean, if you’re not eating something every two hours, are you even in Italy?
I did some research before I got here. And by research, I mean looking longingly at pictures of pizza, pasta and cannoli in Google Images, and watching documentaries on how olive oil is pressed. Now that I was standing here, in a slightly rundown street in front of Napoli Centrale, I wanted lunch. Fast. I hauled my backpack and walked into a small pizzeria and ordered a whole pizza for myself.
When the pizza arrived at my table - a large round “pie” with a very thin crust, a generous layer of homemade Pomodoro sauce, pieces of fresh, local mozzarella, a few leaves of basil, slices of garlic and a drizzle of green olive oil - I was in heaven. One of the biggest appeals of Neapolitan food is that it only sources from locally made flour, cheese, tomato sauce and cooking oil. And food from local sources is almost always healthier.
I hitched a ride to my Airbnb rental with my host, an Italian man named Raniero. He is a tall, friendly, smart and very proud Neapolitan. He has spent most of his life here, and we were headed to his family’s cottage close to the Amalfi Coast, about an hour’s drive from Naples.
“I can’t wait to eat mozzarella!” I exclaimed as we drove out of the city. “Where have you had them before?”, he asked. I told him I bought them in supermarkets. “That’s not mozzarella,” he said. When squeezed, milk oozes from mozzrella, and yes, the best is from Naples.
It was clear that Raniero was very proud of his hometown. His family grows olives and makes their own olive oil, and they also grow grapes and lemons.
EATING LOCAL PRODUCE
This isn’t new to me. Back home in Malaysia, eating local food is also deemed healthy just like in Italy. My parents grow their own herbs and vegetables, and homegrown greens are popular as they are free from chemicals.
As for local meat, poultry and other forms of protein, freshness is guaranteed as less preservatives are used as the meat doesn’t travel far.
As we passed the Italian countryside, we entered the municipality of Agerola, an area that’s part of the Amalfi coast. “Here, they make a local cheese called Fior di Latte,” said Raneiro. “This evening, you should go to the local market and ask the grocer to put it on a slice of bread with a drizzle of local olive oil. It’s really, really good.” Fior di latte is made from the fresh milk of cows reared in the mountains.
After Raneiro dropped me off at my little cottage, I wandered around the village and saw olive trees, lemons, oranges and wild herbs grown by the locals. In a different environment from home, I found myself questioning my lifestyle; how often do I check the source of my food? How conscious am I of the idea of eating locally? The answer is “no, not really”.
KNOW THE SOURCE OF YOUR FOOD
Aside from the fact that local produce is always fresher and tastes better, it also retains more nutrients and you’re doing your part to boost the local economy. Eating locally also means you’re eating seasonally, which contributes to a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly consumption. And buying local food is cheaper than imported produce. It’s better for your health and wallet, so who can complain?
And if you’re wondering if I went to the local market and ate fior di latte, the answer is “yes”. I ate a large piece of local bread with chunks of that local cheese, drizzled with fresh olive oil.
And Raniero, if you’re reading this, it was so delicious. I ate more of it the next day at breakfast, on the balcony of your lovely little cottage that I’m sure I’ll visit again.
A GEOSCIENTIST BY DAY AND ASPIRING WRITER BY NIGHT, AMAL GHAZALI PONDERS ON EVERYTHING, FROM PERPLEXING MODERN DAY RELATIONSHIP DILEMMAS TO THE FASCINATING WORLD OF WOMEN’S HEALTH AND WELLBEING, ALL DONE OF COURSE, WHILE HAVING A GOOD LAUGH. READ MORE OF HER STORIES AT BOOTSOVERBOOKS.COM