After hours: Mar Rosso in Naples, Italy
August 25, 2010
While there’s no shortage of fine dining establishments in Naples, let’s face it: Pizza and pasta can get old. If you’re looking for Eritrean food — and who isn’t these days — head toward the Spanish quarter of the city and check out Mar Rosso.
Tucked into one of the narrow streets off Via Toledo, this place is fairly low-key.
Small tables take up the front room, which is decorated with framed photos on mint-green walls, a map of Eritrea (in case you don’t know where it is), newspaper articles covering soccer matches, a crucifix and several beaded baskets used to hold the special bread served with meals.
I went with a few friends on a Saturday night at around 8:30, early by European standards. We had the front room to ourselves, but could see what was going on in back just outside the kitchen. There were a couple of little girls playing patty-cake and some old guys from the neighborhood nursing a few beers as African rhythms flowed out of a radio.
We settled in for dinner and noticed there were no menus. It was like we were eating at a friend’s house. And just like at your friend’s house, you eat what’s in the pot.
Meals here usually include some kind of stewed meat (tsebhi), spiced lentils (timtimo) and boiled potatoes, bright yellow from a healthy dose of saffron. This is all served atop several large round pieces of ingera – a bland, spongelike crepe used in lieu of utensils — spread like a carpet over a large platter. You don’t really want to eat this bread alone. It’s made from teff, a grain indigenous to Ethiopia and, although very healthy, not long on flavor.
Diners rip off a piece of ingera and use it to scoop what’s on top, which, in addition to the meat, lentils and potatoes, includes a few portions of marinated salad.
Along with the main course, we were given a bowl of spicier meat in a tomato-based stew that included what tasted like cardamom, adding a hint of sweetness to the curry spice.
The food isn’t fancy, but it is authentic, similar (some would say identical) to Ethiopian cuisine. The trademark isn’t the specific ingredients, but the community-style dining that encourages sharing and interaction.
Our friendly waiter said the restaurant had been open about 17 years, and a good deal of the customers were local residents from African communities who settled in Naples. He was also good enough to spell out some of the ingredients and give us a shot of whiskey at the end of the meal. Now that’s service!
Hours: Daily, 8 a.m. to midnight.
Location: Downtown Naples, Vico Sergente Maggiore, 14
Directions: If you’re one of the daring folk who don’t mind driving downtown and paying to park, find any lot near Piazza Plebiscito and walk a few blocks up Via Toledo. Turn left on Vico Sergente Maggiore and walk two blocks. The restaurant will be on the left. There’s a red-and-white lit sign, in case you miss it.
Prices: Very inexpensive — about 10 euros per person, including a drink and a shot of whiskey after.
English menu: There is no menu; you eat what is cooked on the day.
Dress: As casual as you want.
Clientele: Some locals, some tourists. This is in the heart of the old city.
Phone: +39 081-404-115