Article written by Michele Sergio and published in L’Espresso Neapolitan of the month of May 2019
Those who live in the shadow of Vesuvius begin their day with the ubiquitous “Tazzulella e cafè.” It is the mother who, almost always, first to wake up, prepares, with expert hands, the first coffee of the day, renewing, day after day, an ancient ritual, made of gestures, successive phases and small secrets handed down from generation to generation. The muttering of the coffee that comes out of the small holes in the moka column, the aroma that spreads through the rooms of the house, make up the other family members’ proverbial wake-up call. Recalled by the unmistakable olfactory signal, husbands and children go to the kitchen to drink their coffee and eat breakfast.
The moka in the middle of the table, surrounded by milk and biscuits, is the undisputed queen of the Neapolitan breakfast table. Honey, jam, chocolate, croissants, cereals, other sweets, additional elements are unnecessary; what, on the other hand, cannot and must not be missed when the Neapolitan awakens is the cup of hot coffee prepared by the angel of the hearth, even more so if a guest takes part in the homemade breakfast: affirming the absolute dominion of coffee over every other food it is a true element of Neapolitan cultural identification and the greatest hallmark of Neapolitan hospitality!
Exemplary is the scene of the film “Benvenuti al sud” (2010, director Luca Miniero, protagonists of the talented Claudio Bisio and Alessandro Siani) where at breakfast the Milanese Alberto (Bisio) asks the Neapolitan Mattia (Siani) for tea, in whose house family is a guest. The mother of Mattia, having listened to Alberto’s original desire, between the unbeliever and the indignant, reacts lapidarily and in dialect: ca ha da fà cu stu tè, ma che ten’ e mal e panz?”” In a crescendo of preliminary statements of Neapolitan customs and traditions – “necessity” of sipping coffee, resolving the problem of “her” (Alberto turns to Mattia’s mother and tells her about her but she does not understand who she is talking to because she is used to more homegrown “you”), absolute respect for places at the table (the guest’s one is never predetermined as they can take that of their son), the head of the family brings the morning “breakfast” to the table: a delirium of mozzarella, sausage, broccoli, zabaglione , eggplant parmigiana and, above all, a mokona of coffee!
Coffee in Naples is therefore a sign of cultural belonging and, offered to guests, even during the day, an indispensable demonstration of kindness and familiarity. When it is prepared by the Mother, however, it becomes a true gesture of love, not only towards the most intimate affections but also towards others.
Happy celebration to all the mothers of the world.