Italy’s big dispute over real pizza
A new Flavio Briatore restaurant has sparked a long-running controversy in Italy over what is real pizza – and it’s not just about price. An attempt at clarification.
ONEWhen Flavio Briatore recently opened a branch of its restaurant chain in Milan, the rain fell. Above all, the prices in “Crazy Pizza” were very high by Italian standards – among other things, a truffle pizza is on the menu there for 55 euros. Whereupon the entrepreneur from northern Italy loudly announced that one could not bake a proper pizza for around five euros, which is required for a margherita in Naples. This in turn led to indignant backlash from southern Italy, where the country’s famous pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo handed out free pizza in protest. Briatore followed up and said that pizza belongs to the whole world and is made much better elsewhere than in Naples. A dispute had already broken out that had simmered in Italy for a long time – and which revolved around the question of what a real pizza is.
You just have to watch “The Gold of Naples” to know that a pizza can also be a kind of flatbread. In the film from 1954, Sophia Loren plays an unfaithful pizza producer who runs a cook shop in Naples. Surprisingly, the pizza, which the diva loudly praises as such, has neither come out of the oven nor topped. Rather, it consists of a piece of bare dough that is fried in oil.
What the carts fish out of the fat is a so-called pizza frittata, an archetype of flatbread that was once widespread in the southern Italian metropolis. Historically, the scene proves that pizza can appear in many different forms, even in his hometown. And that neither their appearance nor the method of preparation is as standardized as many Neapolitans claim.
They like to see themselves as the guardians of the only true pizza. And assume that such a company must meet very specific criteria that are set in your city and must be followed everywhere else. The historical origins of the dish are anything but certain, as similar flatbreads are found all over the Mediterranean. On the other hand, alternative models that are very popular are constantly appearing, especially the Roman version, ie pizza alla romana. The main difference between it and its relatives in Naples, which is now only 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 needs to be flexible because people have always enjoyed eating it on the street. It is folded up and held in one hand like a crepe. A technique called “a libretto” (small book) or “a portafoglio” (wallet). Biting is usually done from the tip.
Pizza is also a popular street food in Rome, albeit in its local version as pizza al taglio, as it is baked on a baking tray and cut into hand-sized rectangles. A variety that Neapolitan pizzaioli does not accept as pizza, if only because of the folding.
To set in stone their exact ideas about what a pizza should look like, an association of purists, Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, officially decided in 2010 that the pastry must have a raised edge, one to two centimeters wide, airy and inflated. . A real cult is practiced in Naples around the edge called “cornicione” (cornice). There is debate about the size, the ideal degree of browning and the elasticity of the whole.
In Rome, however, any kind of border is undesirable. There, as with Briatore, the following applies: the smaller the margin, the better. However, one does not go so far as to claim the origin of the law for oneself. It is left to the Neapolitans, who view the absence of a rim as a defect and a miserable attempt by an incompetent pizzaiolos. Especially since they attribute the absence to the use of a vulgar rolling pin, which southern dough hunters see as the devil’s instrument. And so for a long time the Romans had to justify themselves for their sadly borderless, supposedly unrolled and messy pizza. But in the meantime, the capitals have gone on the offensive. In 2018, a “Roman Pizza Day” was launched. Yes, it is even made a manifesto in which the criteria for the capital city flatbread are laid down. Of course, a manifesto is not yet an official set of rules, as the Neapolitans can show, but still.
Then, suddenly, after a week of public slug party that had landed in excitement when Pizza Gate, Briatore and Sorbillo met in a much-watched TV show. Instead of throwing dough on each other, as many had expected, peace was made, Sorbillo was appeased, and Briatore was invited to Naples. Pizza, it was unanimously said, is a big family affair. In truth, everyone wanted only one thing, namely to bake good pizza. And maybe even advertise their own restaurants, as the two have succeeded impressively this early Italian summer.