basil, Britannia, Eat Pray Love, Food, freshly-made, hand-pulled, Julia Roberts, Maradona, margherita marinara, mozzarella, mt vesuvius, Mumbai, Naples, Napoli, neapolitan pizza, nirvana, olive oil, Paris, Pizza, pizzaioli, sea-salt, travel
Exactly a year to the date when I had the best pizza of my life, and the quest for a better one continues! This is how I attained pizza nirvana…
We arrive early at Naples station, raring to set off on the day’s adventures. But all our planning comes to a screeching halt, quite literally! There is a transport strike till 2 pm, still nearly 5 hours away, and we can’t get to Pompei or Mt. Vesuvius or anywhere. And then it starts raining, really hard! Teddy takes one look at my droopy face, sheds his ominous frown, and promises to turn this tragic tale into one dripping with adventure, food and fun, excuse the pun!
First, we decide to take in Naples on foot. But rain-soaked Napoli has none of the romance and mystique that a rain-soaked Paris or Mumbai has to offer. So we quit sloshing around, and turn to what Napoli does have to offer in plenty… the original Neapolitan Pizza or, Pizza Napoli. Our drenched souls and hungry hearts lead us to a small pizza place called Da Michele Antica Pizzeria.
A starkly clean place with just about 6 tables to seat customers, the only big claim it makes is that its more than a hundred years older than me (go figure!). A huge oven takes centre-stage, with rails to separate the animated Pizzaioli (professional pizza makers) from the hungry customers. The walls are dotted with sepia photos of generations of pot-bellied chefs huddled together, some visiting celebrities from the 60’s (I think!), and more recent visits by Maradona, and Julia Roberts during ‘Eat Pray Love’. The cash desk is literally just a desk, manned by a very old and sleepy grandpa… I suddenly feel like I have time-travelled to Mumbai and landed at our very own Parsi diner Britannia, complete with old Papa Kohinoor at the desk! The menu card arrives and leaves within seconds. The reason: there are more options for soft drinks than pizzas on it! You only get Margherita and Marinara in 3 sizes each, all very reasonably priced, which makes our ordering the quickest decision of our lives!
All eyes in the room turn to the smiling, grey-haired pizzaioli as they heft the raw, hand-pulled and freshly-made pizzas into the glowing oven. Soon, a giant wooden spatula retrieves the ready pizza, and it travels sizzling and bubbing on a short journey to our table, and, as often is the case here, shorter journey into our stomachs!
Yes, it’s basic, dumbed down to just the bare essentials that make a good pizza. And that’s what’s important to remember sometimes (remember when we used the phone to make phone calls?). You can smell the fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, taste the sea salt in the puffy-crusty dough, almost drink the generous drizzle of pure olive oil, and chew the aromatic basil leaf plonked in the middle. For the first time in my life, I finish a large pizza all by myself, and eat every bit of the crust and the tiniest crumbs off the still-hot serving plate!
Plate-licker’s Wisdom : For that price, and those amazing flavours, I wish I could have gobbled down a few more pizzas and stored them for later… like camels do in their humps! But the only option I have is to go back for more, much more 🙂