Who doesn’t just absolutely love this sensational mix of well-baked dough topped with mouthwatering cheese, tomato, basil and other ingredients that could make your heart pump blood like a guy whose dream girl just whispered "I love you" in his ear?
Surely you know about pizza, but do you know where it was invented, how many types there are (yes there are a lot of types), and where to find the absolute best ones?
Well, I've been on a quest to find the answers to these questions.
Over the past five years, I've repeatedly visited the birthplace of pizza: Italy. I've been north to south, tracking the history of this marvelous creation through Milan, Venice, Florence, Perugia, Bologna, Rome, and finally this year, to the precise origin of the dish: Naples.
Pizza was first created in the late 18th century. It was common for the poor in the area around Naploli to add tomato to their yeast-based flat bread, and that was the first glimpse of what we now know as pizza. Over time, various alterations were added to this simple dish.
The oldest form of the dish is the pizza marinara; with toppings of oregano, garlic and extra virgin oil. It is named marinara as it was the traditional food prepared by "la marinara" (the seaman's wife) for their husbands after a long day of fishing in the Bay of Naples.
Sitting in front of my first Margherita in Pizzeria Brandi, The look on my face tells the whole story. (Photo: Nour Eldin Ebrahim)
There is a famous contemporary Neapolitan legend regarding the creation of the other original pizza: the Margherita. In 1889, the Royal Palace of Capodimonte, which you can visit in Naples in the famous Piazza del Plebiscito, commissioned Raffaele Esposito, the owner of Pizzeria Brandi, to create a pizza in the honor of Queen Margherita.
He created a pizza with the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), green (basil) and white (cheese).
Pizzeria Brandi is still operating in Naples, and that is where I went to try my first Margherita, and God was it worth it!
If you have not tried Margherita and Marinara – the two truly Italian pizzas – in Naples, you have not yet tried pizza, my friend.
This pizza took less than 5 mins to be totally consumed. Just amazing! (Photo: Nour Eldin Ebrahim)
Original Neapolitan pizza must be prepared in a certain way to be considered authentic. According to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (The association of true Neapolitan pizza):
- The pizza must be baked in a wood-fire domed oven.
- The base must be hand-kneaded and must not be rolled with a pin or prepared by any mechanical means.
- True Neapolitan pizza must be created with San Marzano tomatoes (grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius).
- The pizza must be created with mozzarella di bufala Campana, made with milk from water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio.
- The pizza must not exceed 35 centimeters in diameter or be more than one-third of a centimeter thick at the centre.
- Lastly, olive oil and tomato toppings are added on the pizza in a clockwise motion.
So, where can you have this real pizza?
Sorry dude, you must make the trip to Naples, where pizzerias like Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba, Pizzeria Da Michele, and Pizzeria Brandi have been operating since the 1800s, following the original code and creating truly sensational pizza.
Sharing a couple of pizza al taglio with a friend, mushroom and shrimps, whats not to like? (Photo: Nour Eldin Ebrahim)
Although Napolitano is the original pizza, this creation has been through a lot of alterations and variations. There are more than 40 types of pizza in the world.
In Italy, there is also the Romano, which has thinner dough and is more crispy (as opposed to the thick, fluffy Neapolitan dough), and generally has more variety in toppings. There are also the Sfincione, which is Sicilian squared pizza (which I have not yet tried) and the famous and widespread Pizza al taglio.
Pizza al taglio
This type of rectangular, small-sliced pizza is baked in large trays with a wide variety of toppings and sold by weight. Although it is available in Naples, this pizza was created in Rome. The best can be found at the famous Pizzarium Bonci in Rome.
Another big school of pizza creation is the American method. During the early 1900s, with Italian immigrants flooding to the US, many pizza styles have been created: Chicago Pizza, New York Pizza, California Pizza and different alterations to Sicilian pizza. But that’s another trip and another story.
Fun fact: Pizzeria Brandi, which is responsible for inventing the Margherita, has opened in Dubai!