You have probably heard of the “ragù alla Bolognese”, the typical pasta sauce prepared with minced meat and a sauteed mix of vegetables which put the city of Bologna on the world map. It is one of the evergreens in Italian restaurants and you can easily find this pasta sauce in every supermarket all over Italy and even abroad, but just a few people are aware of the Neapolitan variation of this dish, locally known as ‘o rraù napulitano.
The ingredients of the Neapolitan ragù are basic: some beef and pork meat cut into bite size pieces, a lot of tomato concentrate and a smidge of red wine and onions. The traditional method demands that the sauce cooks at low flame for about 8 hours, after which it must rest overnight and be served the next day. Common pairings include typical kinds of pasta, such as ziti and rigatoni.
The demanding and tedious nature of the original recipe has been a put-off for many who want to try this recipe, as it requires an extended amount of time, which in our fast-paced and busy modern life, is scarce. Thus it is no surprise that this recipe of the Neapolitan ragù has not been met with the same success as it’s Bolognese counterpart, which almost everyone is familiar with. The only people still making Neapolitan ragù true to this recipe are none other than the Neapolitan grandmothers, who perhaps are endowed with more leisure time on their hands, as compared to the average working person. It is thus clear to see that our busy modern day work schedules prioritize recipes which are quick, simple and time efficient, over those requiring a significantly longer amount of time. This has led to the inevitable endangering of traditional Neapolitan ragù, jeopardising a dish of culinary heritage.
Fortunately, not all hopes to be able to enjoy an oily bowl of Neapolitan ragù were lost: one special store has indeed opened in 2013 by a young entrepreneur, who decided to give new life to this traditional dish by opening a restaurant called Tandem. Her aim was to let people rediscover the ragù and let them enjoy home-cooked plates: nothing pretentious, just the will to offer genuine local cuisine for a pretty reasonable price.
Surprisingly, the success immediately hit the young entrepreneur: by 2018, four Tandem stores have been inaugurated in the centre of Napoli and its success doesn’t seem to wane.
The original Tandem restaurant welcomes its customer in Via Paladino 51, a tiny alley of Spaccanapoli, the most famous and quaint road in the city centre. The restaurant is extremely small and poor are chances to find a sit during peak times, but don’t fear: the other 3 stores are equally good in the offer and easy to reach.
Tandem Steak is situated near the Harbour, Tandem Takeaway is on the crowded Via Mezzacannone – and lets you buy a sandwich filled with ragù for only 3 euros! – and Tandem Scarpetteria is located in another alley of Spaccanapoli, closer to Piazza del Gesù.
Due to the missed chance to find a sit at the original store, the one where I had my personal taste of Neapolitan ragù was the latter, a cosy and lovable diner which harboured me during a rainy and cold day. With the kitchen facing the main room, it felt like I had been invited over by a friend: the homey atmosphere inspired by the disposition of the furniture, the chance to spectate as the cook prepares my meal while chitchatting with the girl serving the food, the empty surrounding tables which preserved a placid vibe helped me feel completely at ease in the place and let me enjoy my meal as if I was really having it at home.
What I chose from the menu was a plain bowl of ragù, in order to do the so-called “scarpetta”, that is to say, the action of cleaning the plate empty of the sauce with a loaf of bread. This custom might be one of the most typical and satisfying among Italian habits, and we usually do it after eating a dish of pasta in order to keep enjoying what is left of the dressing.
When I read of the chance of just having a bowl filled with ragù sauce and a packet full of bread ready to be dipped inside, I couldn’t resist. For only 5 euros, I had one of the most satisfying meals EVER, which I paired with two glasses of red wine.
Ultimately, my suggestion of the day is to skip a pizza meal during your stay in Napoli and rush to any Tandem store scattered in Napoli’s city centre and gift yourself with a taste of Neapolitan ragù. It surely is one of the most unique experiences you possibly could get here, the one which is the closest to the typical Sunday meal at an Italian granny’s. How could you possibly resist?