Okay. This was it. Every year Naples puts on the world's biggest pizza celebration. For ten days straight, over two dozen pizzerias from all over the planet compete for bragging rights when it comes to true Neapolitan pizza. Before lthe night began, I had a vague concept of what "true" meant when it came to Neapolitans and their pizza. But now I've been set straight. Neapolitans are purists when it comes to culinary tradition and Pizzafest-which felt as much like a laboratory experiment as it did a food festival- might best exemplify their idiosyncratic, almost stringent nature . "Fair is fair," seemed to be the underlining motto of the night. The creators of Pizzafest set out to create a controlled environment where each pizzeria had to work against the norm to come up with something special. Each pizzaiolo was given the same space and same tools and told to make the same pizza (only margherita and marinara). The theory here being, that the only thing differeniating one pie from another is the talent and hardship gone into the creative process. To help level the playing field, each pizzeria, I counted 25 in total, had to use a special wood burning oven that was no different than their fellow competitors . That's right, someone paid for 25 wood burning pizza ovens to be brought into the Mostra d'Oltremare fairgrounds. I don't want to give the impression that all these pizzas were the same. They weren't. But for Neapolitans, true greatness in the pizza arena is found in the most
minute differences. For them, the scrutiny in dissecting every aspect of a pie is almost as fun as the actual eating.
Margaret and I showed up around 7:30, a half an hour after the fest was
supposed to begin. We found ourselves waiting in a long line full of angry, pacing italians. Twenty minutes later that pacing had turned into shouting and banging on the ticket booth window. If I've learned one thing so far it is this: don't keep italians from their pizza. Despite the excruciatingly long wait (I had been purposely starving myself all day), we eventually were able to buy tickets. I was pleasantly surprised to find that for ten euros, you get a ticket for a pizza, coffee, beer, and desert limoncello.
Last year's Champion
In a fairgrounds dedicated to the art of pizza filled with 25 of the best pizzerias around, where do you start? Last year's winner, of course, Makoto Onishi from Salvatore Cuomo's Japanese pizzeria. By the time we had arrived at Cuomo's tent, a military band was already there to greet last year's champion. Margaret and I both split one margherita and one marinara. What can I say other than it was delicious pizza? I preferred the margherita over the marinara but I think that will almost always be the case. The dough was especially thin, even by neapolitan standards but held everything together remarkably well. It was pliable, chewy, and the bottom was crunchy. The charred spots on the dough were more than just a sign of a good oven . Each spot was really baked into the dough, adding a completely new taste that helped the pizza as a whole. Each ingredient was fresh and distinctive, but nothing dominated the overall flavor. Everything worked together symbiotically sort of like Live Aid or a phish concert. Okay, maybe not a phish concert.
Pizza from Salvatore Cuomo
I wanted to show how pliable the crust was,
but instead, it just looks like I'm holding up a slice of pizza...
Our next stop was at the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) tent. Margaret and I debated our margherita. She claimed that the overall flavor was better than the Cuomo pizza while I said that there was too much oil and mozzarella. After a slow digestive walk around the fair, we tackled our fourth and final pizza at L'antico Molo. We were both pretty stuffed and decided to go with a marinara. I can't say that I'm able to give this pie a fair description. I was too full. But I will say that there was a nice spicy kick to the tomato sauce.
For your viewing pleasure...
Pizza tossing with the VPN guys
Me (dumb tourist) and them (pizzaioli)