This dish has very ancient origins and its consumption dates back to the mid-14th century, when in 1339 the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio, writing to his friend Francesco Bardi, recounted the making of the broth to celebrate the birth of a child, perhaps the illegitimate son of Bardi himself. The existence of this ancient Neapolitan dish is also reported by Matilde Serao in her book Il Ventre di Napoli (1890): “With two pennies, you can buy a piece of octopus boiled in seawater, seasoned with very strong peppers: this trade is done by the women, in the street, with a hearth and a small pot”.
Nowadays, octopus’ broth sellers, equipped with their giant pots along the alleys of Naples, have almost completely disappeared like other historical figures such as il tarallaro (the “taralli” maker) and lo zeppaiulo (the “zeppole” maker). This is also due to the strict hygiene regulations imposed by the European Union, which have hit the street vendors scattered around the city’s neighbourhoods hard. But still, in some corners of Naples, you can see someone who prepares o brore e purpo.
Octopus broth is one of the oldest street dishes in Neapolitan history and it probably has Hellenic origins, appearing in some parts of the old city of Naples around the 14th century. At Porta Capuana, the historic cradle of seafood cuisine, it can be enjoyed in its immortal poor and easy recipe, which expresses all the popular soul of the most authentic Naples.
The preparation is very simple, as all you have to do is drop an octopus or part of it into boiling water and cook it for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how “calloused” it becomes. After that, the water in which it has been immerged needs to be seasoned with pepper and some of the tentacles that you have cut from the octopus itself. The tentacles are called the “ranfetella”, which, from time to time, leaks out of the broth you are drinking. Today the octopus is still served, but with slices of lemon aside and a cup full of broth to be drunk together. In the city of Naples, it is traditionally prepared in the night of January 5th, the international Epiphany night, when people wander around some parts of the city, while the children at home, under the blankets, wait for gifts and treats from the “Befana”.
Annarita Costagliola. 2022. O’ bror e purpo: a Napoli si mangia a Porta Capuana. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.infoodation.com/rubriche/food-advisor/360-o-bror-e-purpo-a-napoli-si-mangia-a-porta-capuana. [Accessed 05 August 2022].
atavolaconlello.it. 2022. ‘O bror ‘e purp – atavolaconlello.it. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.atavolaconlello.it/o-bror-e-purp/. [Accessed 05 August 2022].
Chiara Cepollaro. 2022. ‘O broro ‘e purpo e la notte della Befana: quando si vaga per le strade. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.vesuviolive.it/ultime-notizie/127070-broro-purpo-la-notte-della-befana-si-vaga-le-strade/. [Accessed 05 August 2022].
NapoliToday. 2022. “O bror e purpo”, storia e ricetta del cibo di strada della Napoli antica. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.napolitoday.it/blog/napolisocial/o-bror-e-purpo-storia-ricetta.html. [Accessed 05 August 2022].
Written by Sara Celiento
PhD in “European Languages and Specialized Terminology”, University of Naples “Parthenope”.