Food Memory – Napoletana Pizza

I have a good memory but when it comes to food memories, I can recall experiences with pinpoint precision.  If I close my eyes I can even bring back the actual tastes and textures to my palate.

Recently there have been a rash of new Napoletana-style pizzerias to open in Vancouver.  Of all the styles of pizza there are, this is my favorite, and I have high standards, seeing as my first experience with Napoletana pizza was in Naples.

Rewind 9 years to my honeymoon where Ben and I chose the romantic Positano on the Amalfi Coast as our destination.  The easiest way to the Amalfi Coast was to fly into Naples which had a very seedy and dangerous feel to it.  After the craziness of a wedding, all we wanted was some peace and quiet, Napoli certainly did not deliver that.

But what Napoli promised to deliver was really good pizza and that was lucky for us as pizza is Ben’s favourite food.  Keep in mind that 9 years ago, it was a lot harder to find information than it is today.  Back then, “google” was not a verb, “Eat Pray Love” had not been published and travellers had to rely more on guide books for recommendations on the best places to eat.  Not wanting to end up at a tourist trap, I knew I had to have a different strategy.  Not being able to communicate in Italian, and being too shy to attempt it, I figured my best course of action would be the eyes and nose test.

So my first Napoletana pizza experience came from a small pizzeria whose name I can’t remember, on a street I couldn’t find again if I were given the chance.  But I do remember the important things.  I remember walking in to the restaurant that was filled with Napoletanos young and old all eating one thing… pizza.  I remember the smile-inducing aroma of pizza dough blistering in a wood-burning oven when I entered the restaurant which was mirrored by all of the other diners.

I did then, what I do now when I try a new pizzeria and ordered the “simple” Margherita because that’s the easiest way to tell if the pizza’s good or not.  If you can make dough, tomato sauce and mozzerella taste heavenly, then you must be doing something right.  And right they made it.

If I was then what I am now, a photo of my first pizza in Naples would be inserted here.

Normally pizzas are about the toppings, and while the creamy mozzarella was the magical partner of the slightly acidic and sweet tomatoes, I quickly came to realize what makes a great Napoletana pizza is the dough.   The dough should be the combination of tender and chewy towards the center and crisp from where the oven’s extreme heat causes spots to blister.  But it’s not just about the texture because at its greatest, pizza dough should have good flavour.  At home, I’d come to think that pizza dough was just the vehicle, here it was the star.  The gentle topping of “just enough” basil and a generous splash of olive oil to finish and that’s how pizza perfection is achieved.

I knew nothing then about certifications, designations and the use of the “proper authentic Italian ingredients” which are all supposed to lead to a better pie.  I do know that I ate a lot of pizza on that trip, all of which was superb.  Maybe one day I’ll even regale you with the story of finding the magical L’Università della Pizza in Sorrento.

Back to present day where I’ve spent the last 8 years trying pizzas that bill themselves as “authentic”, and while I’ve never been able to capture the magic of Napoli, I’ve certainly tasted some really good pizza over the years in New York, LA, Portland and Seattle.  I became very excited when I noticed that a pizza craze was starting in Vancouver and in the past 6 months I’ve tried 7 places.  While some of my experiences have been very good, others have not.  My next post will be a round-up of all that I’ve tried…

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