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RECIPE: The street kids of Naples, scugnizzi and fried pizza dough

Updated: Feb 4

One hot night at a Naples pizzeria, a dish called Scugnizzi catches my attention. This antipasto is made up of strips of fried pizza dough, piled high and served with fresh tomatoes, basil and rocket. What I didn't learn that night was the strange link to this fried dough and the street children of historic Naples.

After my evening in Naples, eating fried pizza dough, my curiosity was piqued. I went researching. I discovered that there are two names for the same dish. One is called straccetti di pizza fritta or ‘little rags’, which indicates the fritters' rag-style shape. But specific to Naples, straccetti fritti is also called ‘Scugnizzi Napoletani’ - a name which arose in the late 1800s which refers to the street kids of Naples. Historically, these ‘street urchins’ didn’t live a charmed life: poverty, homelessness, abuse, petty crime and, sometimes, very serious crime. I think about the two names together: little rags and street kids. Does the dish honour these tough scrappy children or demean them? Perhaps both.

Stock photos of 'scugnizzi' from public domain images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The old postcards of the early 20th century reflect this duality. It seems the city of Naples can handle two opposing ideas. Probably even more. Contradictions weave together. The gritty streets and their delicate art. The shadows behind corners and the welcoming glow of the pizzerie. The hard faces on the shop keepers and the warm generosity of a passer-by. Isn’t it fun how ordering fried pizza one night can lead to so much more? Language itself is an untold story and food is one of the tastiest ways to devour it.