One does not go to Naples and pass up a pizza. Forgoing a pizza in Naples is akin to visiting Athens and deciding against a visit to the Acropolis or going to the pub and ordering a sparkling water. It is morally reprehensible.
Yes, you can find a decent slice of pizza elsewhere. Yes, life is better now we have trendy pizza pop-ups and places like Franco Manca and Homeslice, which offer sourdough alternatives and truck tyre size pizza bases. But we are, after all, still living in a world where *voice rises to feverish pitch of indignation* people are happy to replace pizza crusts with a series of mozzarella stuffed cheesy balls and where ‘meat feasts’ and ‘barbeque chicken supremes’ actually exist.
So my budding pizza purists. You know where you need to go to get the proper stuff. You need to go to Naples.
A BRIEF HISTORY:
Pizza was invented in Naples. Sure the Greeks had their pita and the Persians had invented a cheese topped flatbread by the seventh century, but pizza, in all its gooey tomatoey, cheesy, carby glory was invented in Naples (or probably Gaete, a village around 80km North West of Naples). Pizza can be traced back to the sixteenth century and it coincided with the introduction of tomatoes to Europe. Despite a deep suspicion of this vibrant new fruit (Europeans believed they were poisonous), Neapolitans were too poor to deprive themselves, and so began to lavish them on their flatbread. Thus saw the beginnings of the pizza we know and love today.
Allegedly, the classic Margherita wasn't introduced until the late nineteenth century, when the Queen Consort Margherita expressed a partiality for a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, to represent the national colours of Italy. We've been happily burning the roofs of our mouths ever since.
In Naples, less really is more. Whilst proven steadfast flavour combinations can be found, for a Neapolitan, a pizza is not to be jazzed up. Anything with pineapple on it is gastronomically questionable, and once you start speaking of goats cheese, red onions and balsamic vinegar, you are venturing further into the realms of pies and good sandwiches.
The two big blockbusters are Pizza Margherita and Pizza Marinara. Pizza Marinara is the more ancient of the two, comprising tomatoes, olive oil, oregano and garlic. Pizza Margherita features basil instead of oregano and lot of Mozzarella di Buffalo Campana.
Since 1984 the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana has been policing the production of Pizza Napoletana and has laid out a stringent set of rules in an epic document (you can read it here), to ensure the protection of this building block of Italian identity. Requisites include: the centre of the dough must measure no more than 4cm, only three variations of fresh tomatoes may be used, rolling pins are strictly forbidden, mozzarella must be certified mozzarella di buffalo campana and the pizza must be cooked on the stone surface of a woodfire oven at 485 degrees. The best pizzas are blasted for a few minutes.
SO IT LOOKS LIKE...
A proper Neapolitan pizza will have a brown, spotty bottom, a thin soggy centre and a lovely thick fluffy crust. Unlike the Roman interpretation, which is thin, crispy and evenly baked.
According to the Associazione:
"The tomato should have lost all excess water, and should be dense and consistent; the mozzarella di Bufala DOP should have melted on the surface of the pizza; the basil, garlic and the oregano will develop an intense aroma, and will appear brown, but not burned".
HOW TO EAT IT
Knives and forks? To fold or not to fold? Sit down or street food? Yes, we’re all baffled. As a general rule of thumb, if a pizza is served to you with a knife and fork, you should probably use it. However, it's worth bearing in mind that it was only in the early twentieth century that restaurants started serving up pizza, before then it was sold on the streets or in bakeries. Thus, it is equally acceptable to cut your pizza into quarters and fold it into one pretty pizza parcel to minimise splashes and unruly stringy cheese mishaps.
WHERE TO EAT IT
There are some big names in Naples. Antico Pizzeria Port’Alba claims to be the oldest pizzeria in the world. Established in 1830, this was the first restaurant to replace street vendors and became a popular meeting place for artists, poets and students. Pizzeria di Matteo is another big name, Bill Clinton famously pulled up a pew here during the G7 Summit. Pizzeria Sorbillo is popular with tourists and locals alike, though expect to queue well into the evening for a table. Or, for something a little more old-school, try Da Attilo.
*It is worth noting that there are many fine pizzeria in Naples, many of which have not been frequented by the likes of Bill Clinton and do not feature in Eat, Pray, Love. It's hard to find a bad pizza in Naples, but encouraging signs for the exceptional include long queues, lots of families and a fair few old people.