Taralli ‘nzogna e pepe in Naples
We were going to be late. We would miss the early train to Pompeii. We lingered at the hotel searching for breakfast satisfaction in machine-made espresso and packaged cookies. Nothing. Now, dodging cars and motorini on Naples’s cramped Via Dei Tribunali in Spaccanapoli, we needed a second breakfast.
Even if hunger hadn’t been alerting us to anything that looked food-like, we couldn’t have missed the glass cases set out in front of every other store. They were piled high with tarrali—circular crackers the size of a fist. Consider it an invitation: when you’re in Naples, try a tarallo ‘nzogna e pepe.
I approached the fifth storefront we passed; a bakery called Leopoldo, which I would later learn was a chain. Their glass-sided box of taralli was bordered with white painted wood, whereas others had unfinished pine. The place looked unremarkable. But I was hungry and in Italy, so I walked in anyway.
“Due taralli, per favore,” I asked the woman at the counter.
“Sì,” she said, barely glancing up from the sfogliatelle she was arranging.
She turned around and opened a large stainless-steel warmer, which looked like an industrial bakery oven. She took out our taralli, asked for two euros, and handed me the still-warm crackers. They were wrapped in a thin, waxy napkin, dotted with oil. I ate mine right there, still standing in the shop. It crumbled gently, and a piece of toasted almond fell to the floor.
Taralli ‘nzogna e pepe taste like the most satisfying savory pie crust, with a nose-opening dose of pepper and sweet almonds. These were not the salty, frequently stale, olive-oil crackers served in bread baskets across southern Italy. This tasted like when I was a kid and scored a buttery, chunky edge of pie crust fresh from the oven. I got another one.
We made it to Pompeii. We hadn’t missed the early train; it was delayed (we were in southern Italy, after all). Later that afternoon, touring Spaccanapoli’s Baroque churches, we noticed even more bakeries selling taralli.
I knew I couldn’t leave Naples without a stash in my suitcase, so I went to Leopoldo to buy more. There were two varieties: taralli ‘nzogna e pepe and taralli vegani, a vegan version. The difference? I checked the ingredients. Strutto, or ‘nzogna in Neapolitan. Lard.
The next day we skipped the hotel breakfast and ate taralli while sitting outside in a piazza, near a crumbling church and statue of a saint reaching up to the sky. We munched and saw teenagers walking and texting, old men arguing over coffee, women in heels riding motorini, businessmen picking up copies of Il Mattino. And while they weren’t eating taralli, I like to think of this savory, porky, cookie-cracker as the kind of thing that could only exist in Naples—where you don’t have to choose between sweet and savory.