Behold The Pizza

Behold the Pizza

Behold the Pizza

This time I am off to Naples, Italy for some authentic pizza tasting. After buying a dirt cheap flight with Best Travel Store I land in Rome and here is my report.

Pizza really is the perfect food. God’s food. Imagine how many more people would turn up at church if they offered un bel taglio di pizza margherita rather than those stuffy old wafers? 

Think about it: It’s perfect for backpacking students with big appetites but little to spare, for parents with small finicky children who won’t eat new food and for couples wanting to share a meal. It’s inexpensive, it’s healthy and it comes in so many shapes and sizes, it’s claimed by so many, but most agree that it comes from Naples. Italy is a small country, trains are easy, so I decided what better way to sight see than to hop on a train from Rome to Naples in search of the best pizza in the world. It takes all of 90 minutes and $15 on the new super fast train out of Rome, I can be there and back before the sun sets on the Vatican. 



Train stations are exactly alike and totally unique in the same ways all over the world. They are both exhilarating and intimidating, they swirl with commuters, foreigners, gypsies and con men. There is no better people watching, no finer way to get a feel for a city. BUT you must take simple precautions whether you’re heading to Grand Central in New York or Stazione di Roma, because really it’s all the same. 

Numero Uno: And this is a must, whether you’re in Sunny LA or in packed Calcutta. If you see a woman removing her clothes to a crowd of stunned passerby, IT IS A SCAM. Any kind of show, walk on by, they’re working the crowd. 

Numero due: Keep your valued possessions in the safe at the hotel, take with you only what you need for the day, cash, one credit card and an ID just in case. 

Numero tre: Money belt. Yep, they’re dorky, they make you look like you’ve found the pizza Mecca and have made it your full time job to sample pizzas for a living, but you won’t get pick pocketed. 

Numero Quattro: Do not walk dark underpasses alone. Opt to walk the street even if it takes you longer to get round. 

If you follow these simple rules, you can really relax and enjoy any city. Remember there are far more thefts in US stations, so don’t be frightened, just be smart. 

Okay, after I pick up a newspaper and down a simply rich, frothy, perfect cappuccino at the rail bar, I find my train and board it. I like getting on as soon as the train pulls in so that I can find my compartment and choose my seat. I open my books and learn that I am on no light quest, In fact, pizza is taken very seriously down here.   Certain ground rules are universally accepted by even the greatest of competitors: 

1. It can only be cooked in wood burning brick ovens. 

Traditional Wood Burning Oven

Traditional Wood Burning Oven

2. The crust has to be soft and light, that’s why the dough is made the day before it’s used, allowing the yeast to rise for at least 10/15 hours. 

3. The pizzaiolo (pizza maker) must be an experienced professional. The dough stretching technique is essential and you need at least 2/3 years of apprenticeship to become a pizzaiolo. 

4. The pizzerias that make the traditional pizza “verace” are members of the Pizza Napoletana Association. 

Pizza Margherita was born here in 1889

Pizza Margherita was born here in 1889

The train pulls out into the light and I am grateful that smoking is no longer allowed. In the old days, once the train made it into the light, the compartments felt like a gas chamber with no way out, the ash trays were packed with old butts, but not anymore. It is a beautiful train, clean and well-cared for. And Rome at this speed is exhilarating. To see the old pass by at this speed, it feels like you’re in a spaceship. 

According to the guidebooks, and nearly every Roman you speak to Da Michele on Via Sersale is the best pizzeria in the world.  This is where the famous pizza eating scene in Eat Pray Love happened, where Julia fell in love with Pizza. And it is there I plan to start. 

Julia Roberts loves Pizza and Beer

Julia Roberts loves Pizza and Beer

The short ride from the train station felt like a lifetime. I was starving and could not wait to get there. The taxi dropped me off in front of a hole in the wall that was completely fogged up inside. Lines went around the block. I looked at my watch, it was 11:30. You got to be kidding me. I tried to peek in, there must have been 20 or 30 people before me. I asked the lady in front and in broken English she said no reservations. I asked her if it was always like this. 

“Much, much worse.” 

“Can I get a menu at least?” 

“What for?” She waved me away, “there are only two kinds of pizza here anyway.” 

“What?” I had visions of all the pizzerias back home, page after page of pizzas with different toppings. You name it, they’ll put it on your pizza. Once for my nephew’s fifth birthday, they covered it in gummy bears. 

“There is the pizza margherita with cheese or there is the pizza margerhita with no cheese.” 

“How exciting,” I said feeling more than a little disheartened. 

Da Michele Pizzeria

Da Michele Pizzeria

When I finally got inside I gave every one in the place the evil eye, hoping to get them to move along. But it all looked so basic, so Spartan, no evil eye was needed. Here they wanted to move along. You don’t want to linger. You want to eat and go. After about a half hour, I finally got to sit down. People, this is not dining, this is eating and there is no time to waste. I ordered both kinds, a bottle of water and half carafe of wine. No sooner than the wine was poured than the first pizza was put before me. I had to close my eyes. The smell, the profumo was so intense of San Marzano tomatoes, sweet garlic and fresh olive oil that I almost didn’t want to touch it. It’s truly an experience. And then the crust! Slightly crispy on the edges but soft and thin as pastry, so light, so easy to eat. I finished the entire thing on my own. When he came with pizza number two, I asked for a box. He looked at me like I was nuts. I cut a piece, then another, each bite affording me another taste of the way the light fior de latte cheese melts and mixes with the sweet tomato and basil. Again so light, so fresh. Not so much a pizza than a slice of the best nature has to offer. 

Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente

Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente

The next one to try was Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente, made famous by Clinton stopping by. Right in the heart of Spaccanapoli, the historic center of Naples, Signore Ernesto Cacialli has been making pizza here since he was seven.  There was no line, and the pizza was incredible, but not quite as perfect as the first. Was it that the tomatoes weren’t as sweet? The garlic as tangy? Or the cheese just a tad richer? Not sure, but I’m still with Michele’s. 

The next one on my list, and I had to get through all of them before closing time at 2:30 so I was eating fast, was Brandi on Salita s. Anna di Palazzo. Now this place is cute. I could sit here for hours staring into the gorgeous face of an Italian I’d never met before, drinking wine, forgetting the rest of the world and the fact that I am married with hundreds of kids. 

This is where the mythical “pizza margherita” was invented. Although pizzas have apparently been around in one form or another since the beginning of time, Raffaele Esposito is credited with creating the Margherita. The story goes, he worked at this very pizzeria (established in 1880) and in 1889 he was asked to bake 3 different kinds of pizza for the royal visit of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. The Queen’s favorite was a pizza that had the colors of the Italian flag: basil leaves for green, mozzarella for white, and tomatoes for red. Named Pizza Margherita in her honor, this is how this pizza is still named. And it is incredible. The dough has that same airy, light quality, the cheese and basil speak to you. But I’m getting full. Sorry. 

To be perfectly honest at this point I was dying to hit a museum, so the lady at Brandi told me to stop by the National Museum of Archeology to see the exhibit on Pompeii and to get an idea of just how important Naples once was. 

I told her I had to add two more pizzerias to my list and she told me the other two that should not be missed are: 

Pizzeria Lombardi. If you want to try something a little different, then Pizzeria Lombardi’s specialty pizza with smoked provola cheese is something to die for. 

Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, the oldest pizzeria in Naples and Italy. Founded in 1738 as seller of street food, it became a real pizzeria in 1830. Vincenzo Luciano is the 5th generation to run the business. 

And finally, La Notizia on Via Caravaggio. Off the beaten track, this pizzeria opens for dinners only, allowing time for the yeast to create the perfect dough. A real treat is the pizza bianca – without tomatoes – with scarola salad, aubergines (eggplant) and provola cheese. Authentic Napoli and a perfect place to have dinner, according to my friend at Brandi. 

Enzo Coccia - Owner of La Notizia

Enzo Coccia - Owner of La Notizia

Next time though, I’m staying the night so I can see more. This is a city that was once great, was long forgotten and now has risen from the ashes again. For art and sea, food and wine, this is a region of Italy that I must explore further. It’s cheap, the people are most welcoming and well, being here, makes you feel happy to be alive. 

For cheap flights to Rome go to www.bt-store.com. Head off on a gastronomic tour of the South.  Some great hotels and bed and breakfast deals can be found at http://www.italialodging.com/selected_accommodation_in_naples.htm

Oh, and did I mention that it’s free to https://www.cellspyapps.org play

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