Naples could be described as the seedy underbelly of Italy's tourism gelato cake. People don't go to Naples to tour around and see museums. Naples isn't “on the map” for American tourists, who only want to see the sparkly and romantic Italy. Naples is chaotic, sweaty, dodgy and dirty. Naples is loud. Naples is grimy. Naples is exciting and infuriating. Somehow even endearing. But more than anything, Naples is home to the world's greatest pizza.
Named for the Queen Margherita, the first pizza of the world was, you guessed it, the Margherita pizza. Even the Italian flag commemorates its greatest culinary discovery: the red represents the homemade tomato sauce, the white represents the bufala mozzarella cheese and the green represents the fresh basil.
“Put on your fight face, Hale,” I warned, as my husband and I walked purposefully toward our unknown, yet highly anticipated, destination.
We had an address, but I dared not pull out my shiny white iPhone in this dodgy neighborhood around the Naples train station, even to double check the street name. We were looking for a pizza place; apparently THE pizza place. This was supposed to be the best pizza in the world.
“You can't let people see your vulnerability. Why don't you channel Sylvester Stallone?” I barked at my annoyingly smiley spouse. He just turned and looked evenly at me. “It's just gonna be okay, Kris,” he replied.
Ugh. He's so good at keeping a level head. And I am so good at blowing heads out of proportion. But our dear Roman friend Alessandro warned us about the area around his favorite Napoli pizzeria just as enthusiastically as he recommended it, and I take safety extremely seriously. So I had on my fight face. And my sunglasses. And my most masculine gait. I was walking like a gladiator, tearing through the streets. The intense humidity, and thus my outpouring sweat, only added to my swarthy effect.
“But we look like tourists!” I hissed back at him. (For visual affect, I need you to imagine each of us lugging enormous backpacks strapped around our waists and shoulders, chunky tennis shoes, pit stains and not-very-well-concealed moneybelts. Rick Steves would be proud. Coco Chanel would not.)
It didn't matter. Twenty seconds after this intense conversational exchange, we stood beneath the holy sign that read “Da Pellone” and my faux streetwise act was long forgotten. We were here. This was like finding the holy grail. Pizza in the greatest place on Earth: Napoli.
We ordered. We waited. And then it came. The beautiful ruby, cream and emerald pie of goodness. After one last glance of long-awaited anticipation, we dove fork-first into our respective quarters of the pizza pie. And oh.
Oh. My. God.
No flurry of smartly arranged explicatives can express the rapture of this moment. No combination of clever adjectives. No sound bites, photographs or video footage could ever commemorate this incredible encounter. Nothing. It's all in my head, in my taste memory, and that is where it shall remain. The pizza was to die for. I will forever long for it. I will always appreciate it's expression of Heaven. I will always try to describe it, and I will woefully do it an injustice with my mere human attempt. This pizza. The sauce, the cheese, the crust... what are they DOING to the pizza in Naples?! Some say its in the water. Some say its the use of fresh ingredients. Some swear by the mozzarella, others by the tomatoes. I can't tell you what it is. I am a lowly American, raised on Digorno and Dominoes. But my palate has been fully awakened, and I can tell you with extreme red, white and blue pride that the pizza in Naples is THE BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD.
(The photos are minimal, and here's why. I pulled out my phone to snap a quick photo for a mere second, and our mafia-esque waiter looked in my direction and I almost peed myself. So... sorry. I was a little afraid for my life in the ghetto of pizza Heaven.)