On Saturday, May 2, we were finally able to eat real Neapolitan pizza once again. No more homemade pizza, thank goodness (a timely measure as yeast is becoming harder to find across Italy).
The threats of Vincenzo De Luca, the president of the Campania region, to use flamethrowers in response to those who violated the lockdown bans didn’t come to fruition. A fire, however, was finally rekindled in Naples: that of the city’s thousands of pizza ovens.
Pizza is back but you can only buy it takeaway or have it delivered to your home, with a series of health rules to follow. It is not possible to eat in a pizzeria, and this, we will see, completely alters the relationship between the city’s residents and their pizza.
Clearly, Neapolitans have missed their pizza. On the first day of reopening, more than 60,000 takeaway pizzas were ordered in the city of Naples. And a number of the city’s popular pizzerias are now open for business, including L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, which was famously featured in the book Eat, Pray, Love (prior to the pandemic, it had never closed in its 150 years, not even during the Second World War or the 1973 cholera epidemic).
Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo, the crowded pizzeria on Via Tribunali and my personal favorite, and Masardona, a fried pizza spot that has always had a highly organized home delivery system, have also both reopened their doors.
Why do we talk about pizza as a symbol of the return to normality in Naples? After all, pizza is one of the most popular foods in the world. But in Naples there is an added value attached to the dish – if pizza had an ID card, “Naples” would be written in the “birthplace” field.
And above all, the word “pizzeria” was born in Naples, and these were the places where pizzas should be prepared and consumed.
Until the beginning of the 19th century, the pizza maker was a street vendor who carried on his head a copper “stove” that contained premade pizzas. If there was a customer, the pizza chef opened the container and served a small round pizza to them by folding it on 4 sides, like a handkerchief. As he walked the pizzas cooled down, morphing into something more akin to very hard shoe sole.
The first place that made the evolutionary leap from street vending to a permanent location was Port’Alba pizzeria, opened in 1830 and still standing to this day. At last, Neapolitans could eat freshly cooked pizza. People noticed that pizza eaten immediately after leaving the oven had a different, better flavor, and so other pizzerias were born.
And while elsewhere the sale of frozen pizzas and pizza delivery is widespread, in Naples, pizza is eaten in a pizzeria! The True Neapolitan Pizza Association (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana), a non-profit organization that promotes and protects Neapolitan pizza in Italy and worldwide, even stipulates that Neapolitan pizza must be consumed exclusively in a pizzeria.
It is not possible to eat in a pizzeria, and this, we will see, completely alters the relationship between the city’s residents and their pizza.
So Neapolitans were facing a difficult question – to eat or not to eat takeout or delivery pizza at home? “I decided to wait,” said Marco, my neighbor. “I prefer to eat pizza when the pizzerias reopen. At home no, I can’t.”
However, I decided to risk it. And so, on the first day that the wood-fired ovens in my city were reignited, I found myself walking into Pizzeria Rosticceria D’Auria in the Vomero neighborhood around 2 p.m. to put in my pizza order for the evening; I feared great chaos. The pizzaiolo, in his state-mandated protective gear, was dressed like an astronaut. An assistant took down orders.
Francesco, a customer, told me, “We will eat [pizza] for the first time in two months, whereas before we ordered it at least twice a week. The children are very happy.”
“I have to eat pizza within seconds of its exit from the oven,” said Giuseppe, the doorman of my building, after watching me collect my pizzas from the deliveryman later that night. Forced to defend myself, I replied: “Look, in a pizzeria I always ask to sit at the table that’s closest to the mouth of the oven, just to have it as hot as possible.”
It’s a war between purists, between pizza philosophers.
In fact, the Neapolitan pizza delivered at home is another thing altogether, equally good, but different from the pizza eaten in a pizzeria. That’s why I always say that baked pizza doesn’t travel well.
Fried pizza, on the other hand, is better suited for delivery, meaning that it’s as good at home as it is in the pizzeria. In fact, a short trip even improves it, allowing the ingredients to mix further and giving the pizza time to cool down a bit.
Unlike baked pizza, which is now made in dozens of different ways, fried pizza usually follows the classic recipe: In a disc of very light dough a union is made between ricotta, cicoli (pressed cakes of fatty pork), provola and tomato (also sometimes salami and pecorino). A little pepper and then the vigorous punches of the pizza maker on all sides of the pizza ensure that the filling will not come out.
Fried pizza is the original pizza – it’s been around since Greek and Roman times, while baked pizza was born later. But it experienced a crisis in the second half of the 20th century due to health and dietary concerns: Fried food harms, the thinking went, so it’s better to have pizza baked in the oven.
But fortunately, despite the concerns of dietitians, the ancient fried pizza endures in Naples. In fact, it has recently come back into style: There is a flourishing of fryers in the city.
Sorry, I need to end it here. They are ringing the intercom. Our latest order of pizza is coming!