Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The pizza debate: Rome vs Naples

As you've probably gathered, travel itineraries for the husband and I revolve around food. We seriously research the cities that we go to, whether in North America or Europe, and make sure we have an extensive list of places to eat. We hit the historical high points like people with ADHD - we have no patience to stand in line to get in to the Coliseum and hear a tour guide drone on about the history, nor are we particularly keen to give our money to the Vatican to see the interior of the museums, as incredible as they are. Our method of touring an area is to kill time, see as many things as we can in as short a period and burn off calories before we eat again. How many history buffs/art appreciators have I horrified with that description? Do not travel with us if you're looking to appreciate the significance of these incredible historical sites.

We prefer to walk the neighborhoods and become immersed in the local culture as best as we can, even though we stick out like sore thumbs and don't really speak any Italian. That's why we would try to find the least touristy coffee shop and neighborhood trattorias to see what everyday life was like. In addition to canvassing friends for suggestions, we've generally relied on food travel shows like Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, but I think this was the first trip we almost exclusively turned to food bloggers for recommendations.

The blogger that we relied on most heavily for this trip was Elizabeth Minchilli, which can be found here. Her site is an excellent resource for a foodie visiting Rome - the list of posts that we consulted are below. We visited 4 restaurants and 1 gelateria based on her recommendations and were pleased with them all. The pics below were taken at Pizzeria alle Carette in the Monti neighbourhood, our first night in Rome.

We ordered a white pizza with buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil - that was it. We thought we'd get one to share, which we did and it was delicious. This pizza was nothing like what we've had in the US, though we will need to go to Brooklyn and Arizona to the famous pizza places to compare - thin, crunchy wood-fire oven charred crust and hot, gooey cheese punctuated with bursts of fresh tomato and basil. We polished off the first pizza, paused for a few minutes, then decided to order another one, exactly the same. While we waited for the next pizza to be baked, we ordered another round of drinks:

My glass of prosecco was only 2.50 euros - how could I not indulge in several rounds? This was round 2. Actually, I think we stopped at round 2 and succumbed to jet lag. I also think I drank for 10 days straight, usually both at lunch and dinner. My liver is recovering, now that I'm home.

Because the Roman pizza was so enjoyable, the husband decided that we would make a stop in Naples after touring the Amalfi coast and before we headed up to Umbria to try the Neapolitan version of pizza. He had read an article by GQ's Alan Richman (yes, the one that Anthony Bourdain called a douchebag in his book) that described how the higher water content of buffalo mozarella combined with tomato sauce and less oven baking made for an inferior pizza - his article is at Alan Richman - Pizza in Naples.

Well that was a bad idea. You can't pop in to Naples to get a slice of pizza. We sat in traffic trying to get to the city center for a good 1/2 hour, and once there we moved at a snail's pace because of the congestion. The city is crowded, run-down, loud and generally chaotic and I didn't like at all. It made Rome look perfectly civilized and spacious in comparison. I don't know what pizza place we ended up at, but Bill Clinton's picture taken with the staff was on the wall so I assumed it was one of the better known places.

Alan Richman was right - the Neapolitan version was a soggy mess. The husband ate a small pie, and since I declined the second one (I was wearing white and didn't need to be decorated with tomato sauce), we gave it to a homeless man and got the hell out of that city. I am never going back to Naples if I can help it. Rome wins for me in both pizza and as a tourist destination - I hope to get back there sometime soon.


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