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In the 18th and early 19th century, Romantic writers and poets – Shelley, Keats, von Goethe – flocked to Italy to experience its beauty, lusciousness, food and wine. Goethe famously wrote and has been quoted by such luminaries as the Frenchman Gustave Flaubert, or more recently Susan Sontag, for his bold statement that one must: “See Naples and Die”. The history and complexity of modern Naples always takes you by surprise. It is beautiful, messy, noisy and filled with people who take their glorious past and gritty everyday life very seriously.

Naples Italy panorama

Life is without a doubt more complete after experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of Napoli. Step off the train at the central station where the heady scent of pizza, coffee and grime fill your nostrils. Naples is a “real” Italian port city buzzing with a life – it is in constant movement. It’s also reputed to be the birthplace of pizza as we know it today. Although this seemingly simple food has been available throughout history on the peninsula in various forms, the name we use today is the Neapolitan one, pizza napoletana. Pizza in Naples began as fast food in the 19th century and is renowned and loved worldwide.

Pizza in Naples

What sets Neapolitan pizza apart from the crowd?

Authentic Neapolitan pizza is unique from the nature of its dough to the way it’s cooked with a pillow-like cornicione round the edge to coddle the minimal toppings, drops of glistening olive oil and melted mozzarella cheese.

The dough is made from flour that is preferably stone ground and often made with a lievito madre aka a sourdough yeast starter, sea salt and water. It has a long leavening time.

With toppings, less is more. There are two classic Neapolitan pizzas: the marinara and the margherita. The simple marinara combines local San Marzano tomatoes (fresh or canned, chopped or made into a sauce), oregano, garlic and olive oil. The margherita uses these same tomatoes and adds mozzarella cheese, olive oil and fresh basil leaves. Many pizzerias in Naples will only serve these two types as anything else is not considered “real” Neapolitan pizza.

And let’s not forget the wood-fired oven. Neapolitan pizza has been baked in traditional domed, wood-fired ovens for hundreds of years. Ovens are constructed with brick or stone and sealed airtight. The only openings are the chimney and the “mouth” through which the pizzaiolo feeds the oven with wood until the temperatures reach +800° F.

Where can you taste both classic pizza and contemporary takes on this iconic dish at places that use traditional slow-leavening starters and diligently sourced toppings and produce? Here are a few of our favorites.

The Classics

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – Being purists, da Michele has been dishing out ONLY marinara and margherita pizzas since 1870. Expect to wait in line, but that’s part of the experience. The service is quick and friendly. The team of pizzaioli crank out pizzas methodically. The crust is soft and gommoso (gummy) and cooked to charred perfection. Order the classic margherita topped with sweet tomatoes and fior di latte (100% cow’s milk mozzarella, no mozzarella di bufala used here) or for cheese lovers ask for the doppia mozzarella (double mozzarella).

Pizza in Naples at Da Michele

Pizza a portafoglio – Whether walking in the historic center of Naples on Via dei Tribunali or browsing the stalls of the Pignasecca market, pizza a portafoglio is to be found. The ultimate street food, pizza a portafoglio is folded like a wallet wrapped in crinkly paper, served piping hot and ready to accompany you on a leisurely walk around Naples. Keep a look out for outdoor display windows where you can nosh on this ultimate street food for 1 to 2 euros. Try Antica Pizzeria e Friggitoria Di Matteo.

Pizza a portafoglio in Naples, Italy

Image courtesy of leavventureculinariedipuokemed.wordpress.com

The New Wave

Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo  – Gino Sorbillo has two outposts in Naples. The original is in the historic center and the second is by the sea. Gino prides himself on using top ingredients and lievito madre (all natural sourdough starter) for his dough hence the name of his second pizzeria “Lievito Madre al Mare”. The use of a natural starter results in a pizza which is soft and easily digested. Pizza margherita is stands out here and I love his pizza napoletana with anchovies.

Pizza in Naples by Gino Sorbillo

Pizzeria La Notizia – Enzo Coccia of La Notizia was the first pizzaiolo in Naples to entertain the idea of an innovative dough. He combined diverse flours until he obtained what he believes to be the ideal one (he insists that North American manitoba flour is a must for its gluten content). His main location is in the affluent neighborhood of Vomero, where crowds of people – and wafts of garlic, yeast and tomato – fill the street. Enzo’s pizzas are sublime, from the historic margherita D.O.P. topped with San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella cheese, basil and grated pecorino cheese to his pizza with anchovies topped with extra virgin olive oil and local mozzarella.

Pizza in Naples at La Notizia

Pizzeria 50 Kalò di Ciro Salvo  – This modern pizzeria located in the seafront Mergellina neighborhood and owned by third-generation pizzaiolo Ciro Salvo is the result of passionate research, careful study and much experimentation: from the careful selection of the right flours which are all low in protein; high hydration; and then a long rising time, which makes the dough soft, very light and easily digestible. My favorite, among the ones on the ever-changing seasonal menu, is pizza with scarola (braised escarole endive), Gaeta olives (purple Kalamata-type), pomodori a piennolo (Vesuvian tomatoes which ripen on clusters hung on ceiling beams). Enjoy it with one of the many craft-beer options.