Italy’s great controversy over the real pizza
A new Flavio Briatore restaurant has sparked a long-running controversy in Italy about what constitutes real pizza – and it’s not just about price. An attempt at clarification.
Awhen Flavio Briatore recently opened a branch of his restaurant chain in Milan, criticism poured in. Above all, the prices in the “Crazy Pizza” were very high by Italian standards – there is, among other things, a truffle pizza on the menu for 55 euros. Whereupon the entrepreneur from northern Italy loudly announced that one cannot bake a proper pizza for about five euros, which is needed for a margherita in Naples. This in turn led to outraged backlash from southern Italy, where the country’s famous pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo handed out free pizzas in protest. Briatore followed up by saying that pizza belongs to the whole world and is made much better elsewhere than in Naples. A dispute has already broken out that has been simmering in Italy for a long time – and which revolved around the question of what constitutes a real pizza.
You only have to watch “The Gold of Naples” to know that a pizza can also be a kind of flat bread. In the 1954 film, Sophia Loren plays an unfaithful pizza maker who runs a cooking shop in Naples. Amazingly, the pizza, which the diva lauds as such, didn’t come out of the oven and wasn’t covered either. Rather, it consists of a piece of bare dough that is fried in oil.
What fishes the carts out of the fat is a so-called pizza fritta, an archetype flatbread that was once widespread in the southern Italian metropolis. Historically, the scene proves that pizza can appear in many different forms, even in its hometown. And that neither their appearance nor their method of preparation is as standardized as many Neapolitans claim.
They like to see themselves as the guardians of the one and only true pizza. And assume that such a company must meet very specific criteria set in your city and met everywhere else. The historical origin of the dish is far from certain, as similar flatbreads can be found all over the Mediterranean. On the other hand, alternative models keep popping up that are very popular, especially the Roman version, i.e. the pizza alla romana. The main difference between him and his family in Naples, now just an hour’s train ride away, is the dough. While in Naples it is soft and flexible, in the capital it is thin and brittle. Neapolitan pizza has to be flexible because people have always liked to eat it on the street. It is folded up and held in one hand like a crepe. A technique called “a libretto” (booklet) or “a portafoglio” (wallet). Biting off is usually done from the tip.
Pizza is also a popular street food in Rome, albeit in its local version as pizza al taglio, for which it is baked on a baking sheet and cut into hand-sized rectangles. A variant that Neapolitan pizzaioli doesn’t accept as pizza, if only because of the tray thing.
In order to set in stone their exact ideas of what a pizza should look like, an association of purists, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, officially determined in 2010 that the dough should have a raised edge, one to two centimeters wide, airy and bloated. . A real cult is practiced in Naples around the rim called “cornicione” (cornice). There is debate about its size, the ideal degree of browning and the elasticity of the whole.
In Rome, however, any kind of border is undesirable. There, as at Briatore, the following applies: the less margin, the better. However, one does not go so far as to want to claim the origin of the dish for oneself. That is left to the Neapolitans, who consider the absence of a rim a flaw and a miserable effort by an inept pizzaiolos. Especially since they attribute the absence to the use of a vulgar rolling pin, which southern dough jugglers consider the devil’s instrument. And so the Romans had to justify themselves for a long time for their unfortunately rimless, so-called rolled out and messy pizza. But in the meantime, the Capitals went on the offensive. In 2018, a “Roman Pizza Day” was launched. Yes, there is even a manifesto that lays down the criteria for the main flatbread. Of course, a manifesto is not yet an official set of rules, as the Neapolitans can demonstrate, but still.
Then, suddenly, after a week of public snail fest that had the country in suspense when Pizza Gate, Briatore and Sorbillo met on a widely watched TV show. Instead of throwing pieces of dough at each other, as many expected, peace was made, Sorbillo was appeased and Briatore was invited to Naples. The pizza, it was unanimously said, is a big family affair. In fact, everyone wanted only one thing, which was to bake good pizza. And perhaps also advertise their own restaurants, as the two have succeeded impressively in this early Italian summer.