I'm sure the title of this post will create some polemics, but I have a couple of foodie friends from Napoli that actually think the same…
I always thought until I won't go to Napoli I could not understand what is a pizza, you know, the real one...
Why? Well besides the local tradition and expertise, it is said the rise of the dough is influenced by the quality of the water and the atmospherical pressure of the area.
So I waited years, to go to Napoli. As if this trip, would be the end of my pizzas quest, like the Holy Grail for the pizza lover I am.
Meanwhile, since I was in Italy, and I think we all agree to say that's the best country in the world for pizza, I started my training education in Milan. This is how I discovered that I preferred the Neapolitan crust style.
Pizza has become so trendy over the past few years, I can't follow all the new openings in town.
From the standard “pizzeria” format sprung different versions: the ones with unusual ingredients (who would eat smoked salmon on a pizza in Italy?), the “slow food” ones promoting territory ingredients (pomodoro DOP…), the "tapas style" ones already cut before serving (for sharing), the gourmet ones (that you pay twice the price of a standard pizza because you have fresh truffles on it)…
So day after day, my list is getting bigger. Just in the last couple of months I added: Auum, Da zero, Johny Ue Ue, Pizzium 2, Dry 2, Beato Te and I’m still missing Che Capperi, Gino Sorbillo 2, Marghe 2, Berbere 2 from the previous months...
The thing is that, even if I try to taste all of them, the 3 last ones I tried was good but not great enough to be incorporated into my rating.
After two years of screening the pizza market in Milan, and experimenting the best pizzas in town according to some specialized websites, I came to the conclusion that some places are marketing oriented and over advertized. I don’t know if you remember my post about Gino Sorbillo in Duomo…
But let's go back to my Neapolitan experience...
So finally, this summer, I got the opportunity to visit Napoli with a friend from the region. I was excited like a sugar addict in a candy store, wondering what I would discover...
15 days ago, someone told me: if you don’t have expectations, you can't be disappointed. I guess this applies to pizzas too...
My first day in Napoli, we decided to head to the famous "pizza" street, in via del Tribunale to have lunch. When I started to queue to get my first pizza “portafoglio” at Di Matteo, you can’t understand how moved I was, I thought I would finally understand the concept of street food. And after 20 minutes of “fight” and queue, I received my first pizza portafoglio.
When I looked at it, I got the surprise they did not fold it well as they were probably in a rush. So I unfolded my pizza and had to redo the process by my own not to end eating paper... Do you remember what I just told you about expectation? Well I was a bit disappointed already, but remember we're talking about a 2€ food experience! Just to put in perspective my words :-))
For the ones that do not know, the pizza "portafoglio" is a simple pizza that you fold like a wallet in order to be able to eat it without fork and knife while standing or walking in the streets.
When I had my first bite, I felt the taste of the burnt base and start chewing the crust. I told myself well the moisturization level of the dough is not high enough, the pizza is good but not amazing as a bit chewy (“gommosa” as they say in Italy). On the other hand, I got amazed how the tomato sauce had an incredible taste of tomato, it was like being in a vegetables garden, eating warm tomatoes just picked under the sun.
That day I did not say anything to my friend and decided to have pizza for dinner again.
We went to the Di Matteo format close to the seaside, and what a surprise when my pizza arrived and was full of water (coming from the fresh tomatoes?), making the base gluey.
I want to emphasize there, that both pizzas were great, I mean we are far from the pizzas you can find outside Italy, but I stayed with the feeling they had nothing special. That’s maybe the problem when you’re used to top quality.
You can imagine that when I confessed to a few Neapolitan friends that, Di Matteo had nothing exceptional at the level of pizza base, I thought they would kill me.
The next day, I wrote to another Neapolitan friend who advised to go to Dal Presidente.
So I pushed my "pizza" partner of the moment until Dal Presidente to make a new experiment. She might have hated me for eating pizza 3 times in a row.... But who knows when I will go back to Napoli.
Anyway, we arrived there and started queuing outside. When we finally got inside it was 3pm, we ordered and had to wait again almost one hour.
I always wonder at which moment "waiting" goes from excitement feeling to boredom. That day, with the accumulation of missing sleeping hours from the trip, the terrible acoustic of the basement we were sitting in, I can tell that we were both tired before eating. Plus I must tell the staff was not really friendly. When the pizza finally arrived, I found the aspect "yummy", respecting the Neapolitan pizza style, but here again, when I put the first bite in my mouth I thought the pizza was good but not orgasmic, that it was not worthwhile to wait almost 3 hours to get a pizza. I mean, the pizza I eat in Marghe in Milano are according to me much better, and the place is well decorated and the staff pleasant.
So my brain started again inventing possible root causes to my delusion. And I came to the conclusion, besides the environment where you eat, what makes the pizza is the person.
I mean how can you guarantee continuity in you quality if your process is not under control? Because, at the end, when you see the volume of production of those pizzerias, you’re dealing with high production rate similar to the industry field but you’re still a handcraft reality. How is it possible for an “artigiano” to have the same quality over and over with the tiredness of the process and the demand to output I don’t know how many pizzas a day?
Talking a bit like an engineer? Probably, but that’s why I had probably my best pizza experience in Milan even if the water is the different and the atmosphere pressure either.
I ‘m not Italian and never lived in Campania, still I think I gained a certain knowledge around pizza with the years.
I had cooking lesson with Ciro Oliva during Cibo a Regola d'Arte event and experimented twice the pizza from Simone Padoan during conferences about the birth of pizza gourmet.
I had a foodgasm with my first Montanara thanks to Ciro Oliva last year during Che pizza event and I thought I had discovered pizza heaven last year thanks to Francesco Martucci from I Masanielli and its pizza a “Canotto” during Le Strade della Mozzarella event.
So you're about to tell me: those last twos come from the south! Yes they do, but I what I say is that; if they are not there during the process execution, the quality of the pizza may change. So when you go in a place where the volumes are so high, if the process is not put under control, the pizza won’t be the same. That ‘s probably why I did not enjoy Lievità 2, Pizzium 2, Dry 2 or Gino Sorbillo in Duomo. If the person who has the expertise is not there, if the knowledge has not been transferred properly, if the pizza maker is not able to see that the level of humidity in the restaurant kitchen is different from the historical place the recipe was invented, in order to adjust the proportion of yeast and salt, how can they ensure quality? This is not that easy to be a great pizzaiolo, there is a lot of work behind a successful pizza. Of course, the quality of the toppings ingredients, the time of rise will influence, but sometimes a pizza with brewer's yeast and 00 flour is better than culture yeast (lievito madre) and spelt flour if you don’t have the skills to deal with it.
I think a successful pizza is not geographically related, as long as you stay in the Italian territory. At the end the famous pizzaiolos of Milan have been trained most of the time in Napoli region, but it’s only because they were brilliant, they managed to execute tasty pizzas in the city. That does not mean the imagery of pizza won't remain in Napoli and I’m still planning to go to Caserta to get some pizza experiences.
But I believe in small production, passion and humility. And if the ingredients are from premium quality I’m ready to pay more than 15€ for a pizza called gourmet. If I don’t have this perception, or can't taste the output of 72 hours rise, I feel robbed. Because at the end, if you want to be pragmatic a pizza is still a pizza...
You wanna my list of favourite pizzerias in Milan? Those are the pizzerias, where I have been so many times, that maybe one day the pizza was not so great, but where I see the most continuity and quality:
. La Taverna Gourmet ( for the tasting gourmet pizza menu)
. Dry, the original one only (for the pairing with cocktail)
Plus if you really love pizzas, don’t miss Che Pizza event the 6th and 7th of October, there will be really interesting pizzas format and brillant pizza makers. Seeing Ciro Oliva doing his show always buy you a big smile.