Il tozzabancone: a saying born "in the family"

by Francesco Li Volti

Go to pigliare 'or tozzabancone". How many times have we heard this phrase in Naples? The tozzabancone it is something mythological, which does not have a precise shape, there are those who swear they have seen it and that it is about 40 centimeters long, but they are just ravings. Be wary of anyone who tells you that the mysterious food exists, it would be like believing in donkeys that fly.

Usually it is the little ones who are sent to get it, or the one you want to get rid of, precisely because in reality saying "take me a tozzabancone" comes from a need, that is to be alone and with an excuse to invite someone to leave. It was also used to test newcomers in a workshop, shop or construction site, sending them to the chianchiere or from the butcher on duty to buy the tozzabancone. In the past the owner who received the unwary customers, really banged the heads of the boys on the counter, but those were other times. So where does this phrase come from?

Il tozzabancone: a saying born "in the family"
A Neapolitan family in 1977

All the fault of large families

Once in Naples, but generally throughout Italy, poverty was great, food was scarce, hygiene we don't really talk about it and the greatest common divisor of families was having five, six or more children per household. For this reason, time was scarce between husband and wife and also to have a minimum of intimacy one had to rely on good luck. Or, the children were sent to collect the stubby counter.

Thus, before returning home, the parent on duty passed by the trusted shopkeeper, agreeing on the time needed. He had to be a real entertainer, with a joke always ready, corrupting time with something to eat that distracted the deluded youngsters. It must be admitted, however, that the tozzabancone was not the only excuse, in fact you could also ask to go to "accattà 'or ppepe". But let's face it, the first term has quite another appeal.

The tozzabancone of the butcher

In reality there is a real etymology of this word. "Stocky"In Neapolitan it means corner, piece, residue (a piece of bread = a small thing, a pittance) and therefore tozzabancone (or tozz '' e bancone?) ham, the remains of cheeses that are no longer salable as wedges or slices. And what do all these ingredients bring to mind? The small pieces were sold for a few pennies and were intended for the preparation of casatiello, the typical pizza of the tables of Easter. in Naples. However you put it, food always matters here.


Raffaele Bracale, edited by Amedeo Colella, Comme se penza a Nnapule, Cultura Nova, Naples, 2018

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