Italian fusion food project serves and protects Naples-based female collective

Rosa Manfra and Rosaria Fele cooking in the Chiku restaurant in Naples, Italy
Rosa Manfra and Rosaria Fele cooking in the Chiku restaurant in Naples, Italy Copyright Savin Mattozzi
Copyright Savin Mattozzi
By Savin Mattozzi
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Welcome to Chiku, Italy’s and perhaps Europe’s first restaurant that fuses together traditional Neapolitan and Roma food.


The sound of pans clanking and the sizzling of sautéed carrots is drowned out by the laughter of two cooks, Rosa Manfra and Rosaria Fele. Rosa’s laughter fades into a smile as she takes a litre-sized bottle of olive oil and pours two dollops over the carrots.

“I’ll put the paprika in it later, right?” Rosa asks. Rosaria gives answers “eh” and they both return to quietly finishing their respective recipe creations.

Rosa and Rosaria are two of the three main cooks at the Chiku restaurant located in the Scampia neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples, Italy. Chiku is the first restaurant that combines traditional Neapolitan and Roma (Rom) food in Italy - and perhaps in the whole of Europe. It’s an unlikely combination but it’s won the restaurant nearly a dozen awards at national and international levels.

Savin Mattozzi
The hard - and hot - work has paid off for fusion restaurant ChikuSavin Mattozzi

Scampia, situated in the far north of Naples, has earned a reputation over the past 30 years for being a flashpoint for mafia violence. What is often overlooked, however, is the work of local grassroots activists and community leaders who have created their own solutions to the area’s lack of opportunity and the absence of political assistance.

Inaugurated in 2014, Chiku was the creation of two local associations, La Kumpania and Chi rom e… chi no who wanted to create a space for Neapolitan and Roma women in the neighbourhood. The restaurant’s head cooks met for the first time several years prior to the eatery coming into existence.

Emilia Gemito, 47, is one of the other head cooks who is busy pacing back and forth between picking up the phone and checking in on the pizzette cooking in the oven.

She recalls when the women met for the first time, explaining, “We went in to basically see what this was about. We looked at each other with a little bit of suspicion but that soon melted away once we got to know and learn more about each other”.

Emma Ferulano, one of the founders of Chiku, says that the goal of the restaurant was to give women in the neighbourhood economic emancipation while bringing them together to create something special.

“Some of the women were just out of jail, some didn’t know how to read and then there were others who simply didn’t have a place in this world”, she explains, adding, “In the beginning, and still today, there is discrimination because we have poor Neapolitan women and Roma women working together in a restaurant”.

Savin Mattozzi
Team work makes the dream work at Chiku in NaplesSavin Mattozzi

Combining cultures

Despite the hurdles these women have had to jump over, Chiku has won international acclaim as well as becoming an important social hub for the neighbourhood’s residents over the last few years.

A bookshelf that sits in the middle of the restaurant is lined with books and pamphlets with titles like “But there is hope!” and “Recipes with leftovers”, offering a glimpse into the lives of the community members the restaurant caters to and welcomes in.

Emilia explains that the philosophy behind the food they create is to maintain and respect both Neapolitan and Roma food traditions while also finding a space to merge the best of them both to create something new.

One of their most popular - and delicious - creations is a take on Moussaka. “We wanted to have food that is in season locally so we thought up this new [kind of] Moussaka which we call Kompagnia Moussaka”, Emilia explains, “We take a type of potato patty with friarielli [a local bitter spinach that grows at the base of Mount Vesuvius] and layer it with cheese, bechamel, another layer of potato patty and we glaze it with a mixture of eggs, milk and cheese… It’s a very easy recipe but it took us a lifetime to perfect it”.

In addition to their fusion foods, they also have Neapolitan staples like aubergine parmigiana and, on the Balkan-Roma side, they also have dishes like gibanica, a crunchy savoury pastry that is made with a mixture of cheese and eggs in between delicate filo dough.

Savin Mattozzi
The Chiku kitchen in actionSavin Mattozzi

While Emilia takes a pizzetta out of the oven, Rosaria is busy taking blanched lettuce and carefully placing a mixture of rice, carrots, onions, minced meat and rolling it into a neat sarma or stuffed cabbage roll that is found in many Balkan countries.

She looks up for a second while cutting the pizzette into squares with scissors and says, “You know, even if this place is small, it makes us feel independent. We don't have to ask our husbands for money. Even if the work is hard, we like it here”.

Both Rosa and Rosaria gesture with their heads in approval. Rosaria waits a few moments and then speaks up, saying, “If we didn’t do this with all our heart, we wouldn’t be here. It’s like our little home away from home”.

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