Mozzarella in carrozza, literally “mozzarella in a carriage”, is a typical appetizer of the region Campania – one of the cradles of Italian gastronomy, which holds the secret of ancient culinary traditions handed down over centuries. Simple and cheap, mozzarella in carrozza is a very tasty street food consisting of two pieces of homemade bread or sliced bread with mozzarella (generally buffalo mozzarella) in between, dipped in egg and then fried, thus creating a crispy breading and a soft filling.
This Neapolitan dish became popular throughout Italy, giving rise to local variations in several regions, especially in Lazio, Veneto and Sicily. In the Roman tradition, buffalo mozzarella is replaced by fior di latte, while the Venetian version is made with sliced bread rather than homemade bread. Both recipes require extra ingredients such as anchovies or cooked ham. The Messinese version involves the addition of bechamel sauce, which gives more creaminess to the breading. Mozzarella in carrozza has also an international variation, namely Smažený Sýr or vyprážaný syr (both meaning “fried cheese”), which is a Czech and Slovak cheese-based dish. It consists of a slice of local cheese (Edam, Niva or Hermelín), breaded with flour, egg and breadcrumbs and then fried, often served with a side salad, boiled potatoes, or fries.
Despite its royal name, mozzarella in carrozza is a dish of humble origins, born in Campania at the beginning of the XIX century as a recovery recipe to reuse ingredients such as stale bread and leftover mozzarella. There are several anecdotes concerning the meaning of the name of this tasty dish. According to popular belief, the denomination “mozzarella in carrozza” derives from the round bread, whose form recalled the wheels of a carriage. Similarly, a second hypothesis it that melted mozzarella recalls the bridles of the horse of a carriage. The historical perspective, however, suggests a connection with the carriage itself, which was the ancient means of transport used to carry foods in the XIX century. Due to the perpetual motion of the carriage, milk carried inside would sometimes curdle, thus becoming cheese upon arrival – hence the name mozzarella in carrozza.
The mozzarella in carrozza went from star of Neapolitan cuisine to movie star thanks to the 1948 neorealistic masterpiece Bicycle Thieves directed by the Italian filmmaker Vittorio De Sica. This film, a portrait of post-World War II Italy affected by the crisis and poverty, includes a scene where the protagonist Antonio and his son Bruno eat in a Neapolitan restaurant, surrounded by the local bourgeoisie, and order two mozzarelle in carrozza. This delicious dish represents a whole meal for them, but to the other customers it is only a small appetizer while waiting for the following courses.
Mozzarella in carrozza is a recipe of the genuine Neapolitan tradition – simple, substantial, and tasty, a bundle with a fragrant shell and a melted heart, a must-try if you happen to stroll in the narrow alleys of a city of Campania.
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Written by Camilla Nappi, PhD student in “European Languages and Specialised Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope”.