Pizza Napoletanismo

November 13, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 12: Imagery, Imagination, and The Art of Ciro Salvo)

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Library of Congress)

Once upon a time, the eminent physicist Sir Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This metaphor conveys that one can gain new perspectives and insights by studying the works of great thinkers who preceded him. Indeed, René Descartes’ natural philosophy laid the groundwork for Newton’s classical physics, which in turn paved the way for Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity.

The giant that I have in mind is no physicist, but a remarkable pizzaiuolo, signor Ciro Salvo of Naples, Italy. Throughout his pizza career, he has passionately and artistically devoted himself to crafting superb Neapolitan pizzas that possess class and distinction.

Pizzaiolo Ciro Salvo

In “Part 1: Introduction” of this blog, I stated:

“Handcrafting pizza napoletana, as an artistic expression, involves self-actualization and self-expression, not devoid of devotion for the rich Neapolitan tradition—which is, figuratively speaking, the shoulders of a giant upon which a devotee must stand! The giant, dwelling in the subterranean labyrinths of Napoli, has already set the paradigm. And, there always will be a Theseus who will have to find the way out of the maze without being devoured by the Minotaur!”

Since many devotees are from non-Neapolitan backgrounds, not having been born and raised in pizzaiuolo families, it can be instrumental to adopt a mentor, however distant and silent, and carefully study his works. In the case of Ciro, there are a number of images of his dough and pizzas available on the Internet, which can train the eyes, not without difficulties, to identify certain characteristics that define Neapolitan pizza and identify certain characteristic human behavior in its production. Such pictures may reveal—often in a subtle manner—telltale clues. Such clues, which can be of highly speculative nature, may pertain to:

1. Percentage of dough hydration;
2. How lightly or intensely the dough is developed during mixing;
3. How the dough is treated and developed during the course of fermentation;
4. The degree of dough fermentation and subsequent maturation;
5. Whether the dough is fermented at room temperature or in a refrigerator;
6. Physical appearance of a leavened dough ball that has reached maturation;
7. Physical properties (such as degrees of elasticity, extensibility, and strength) of a mature dough ball that is stretched into a dough disc;
8. Physical attributes of a well-baked pizza: oven-spring, Maillard reaction, leoparding marks, cornicione configuration, crumb structure, use of toppings, cheese-melt, and et cetera.

As one acquires more and more experience through one’s own careful experiments and observations, such pictures may begin to silently communicate a wealth of information that should be cautiously examined and evaluated when one desires to incorporate them into one’s own workflow in preparing Neapolitan pizzas. Such pictures can set ideals to strive toward and, perhaps, to surpass in finding the way out of the labyrinth!

Having studied the Neapolitan pizza tradition for a number of years to the best of my ability inside and outside of Naples, and having examined Ciro’s pizzas up-close in person, I personally consider him a masterful pizzaiuolo committed to traditionalism of Neapolitan pizza. He can, also, be quite innovative in his culinary explorations without losing the ground. He has been a source of inspiration to a number of aspiring pizzaioli.

I have attached hereunder a number of informative pictures of his works. One, especially a neophyte, can learn tremendously by attentively examining the images. Nonetheless, the risk of twisting or reinventing the wheel hangs over him like the sword of Damocles! Again, hermeneutics (the art of interpretation) is of great import here. Images have the power to reveal or conceal. Furthermore, readers should take into consideration that Ciro’s style represents only one construal of the Neapolitan pizza tradition. Just as there is only one Symphony No. 9 of Ludwig van Beethoven but many interpretations thereof, there are other styles and interpretations based on the Neapolitan tradition. In my estimation, the maestro’s style strikes the right chords, i.e., the attributes that have traditionally defined Neapolitan pizza.

I would like to sincerely thank Ciro for kindly permitting me to ornament this article with his pictures. Additionally, I am grateful to Mrs. Karen Phillips for kindly allowing me to use her photos of the maestro’s works. Karen, a food & wine blogger, has also done an article entitled “A Pizza with Ciro”. At last, credits are due to Mr. Luciano Furia and Mr. Vincenzo Busiello for their great photography. My best wishes go to Ciro, who has recently fathered a beautiful baby girl. No doubts that his shoulders will alway be there for her to stand tall and proud on.

§1. Ciro’s Dough
The first set of pictures, below, depicts the maestro’s pizza dough. Looking at the images, one can curiously formulate certain questions. What was the process which yielded the dough balls shown in the last picture in this set? Were they subject to cold or warm fermentation? If “warm fermentation”, why? How about the duration of the initial and final fermentation? What factors did he use to determine the lengths of the initial and final fermentation? How did he manually form his dough balls upon conclusion of the initial fermentation? What about the level of dough maturation? If he used warm fermentation at controlled room temperature for about, let’s say, 20-24 hours, what benefits are there to be gained in terms of dough texture, structure, and flavor? What type of flour, hydration level, and amounts of salt and fresh yeast can deliver similar results, after apropos kneading and dough treatment, if one were to employ warm fermentation for 20-24 hours? The mind can wonder in so many ways. The main point is to carefully scrutinize the pictures, formulate hypotheses, and put them to test if one truly has the desire and patience to distantly and silently learn from the master.

Ciro Salvo’s impasto (dough)

Ciro Salvo forming panielli (dough balls) upon conclusion of puntata (initial fermentation)

Ciro Salvo’s Panielli (dough balls) undergoing appretto (final fermentation)

Ciro Salvo’s panielli (dough balls) having reached maturation

Ciro Salvo’s ripened panielli (dough balls) ready to be hand-stretched, dressed, and baked

§2. Ciro at the Bancone
The next selection of pictures, below, features the maestro preparing pizzas at the bancone (pizza bench). Perhaps, a novice may wonder why the maestro stretches his dough balls into dough discs by utilizing the peculiar Neapolitan method (often referred to, in English speaking countries, as the “Neapolitan slap”), and why he assembles his pizzas directly on the marble-top rather than on a pizza peel. Are there any advantages to be had by using such methods?

Young Ciro Salvo drafting a dough disc on bancone

Ciro Salvo stretching a dough disc on bancone

Ciro Salvo drafting a pizza dough disc on bancone

Ciro Salvo dressing pizza dough discs on bancone

Ciro Salvo dressing pizza dough discs on bancone

Ciro Salvo garnishing pizza dough discs on bancone

§3. Ciro’s Dressed Dough Discs and Hand Gestures 
The next assortment of pictures, below, exhibits Ciro’s further activities at the bancone. Again, a beginner may wonder why he prefers to assemble his pizzas on the bancone and slide them onto the pizza peel right before launching them inside the oven. Of note is how supple his dough discs are, and the way he picks up and holds (by lightly pinching, lifting, and inserting the finger tips under) the outer edges of the dough discs. (See the 5th picture below.) Such fine-drawn gesticulations of fingers in manipulating dough discs are characteristically Neapolitan, intended for convenience in manipulating dough discs and to maintain their integrity.

Ciro Salvo opening a dough ball

Ciro Salvo’s unbaked pizza marinara

Ciro Salvo garnishing a pizza dough disc

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

§4. Ciro’s Pizzas

The next collection of pictures, below, expresses, not without a certain intuitive immediacy, the maestro’s aesthetic sensibility and sensitivity bearing the fruits of his labor. These pizzas are no accidents; they are the aftermath of years of hard work and careful deliberation. They are elegant and simple, yet teasingly sophisticated . . . They communicate, yet not understood by all with that certain intuitive immediacy! Of note is the absence of overdramatized charred blisters around the cornicioni, which is implicative of the developmental methodology of Ciro’s Neapolitan pizza dough.

Pizzas by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

§5. Excavation of Ciro’s Pizzas
The last arrangement of pictures, below, represents the inner workings of Ciro’s pizzas. In my opinion, when you dig and penetrate into a Neapolitan Pizza, you should discover a distant past, the tradition! Indeed, the peculiar tenderness and non-crispiness of the pizza base, along with the soft and airy cornicione that crowns the base, are considered amongst the principal attributes of traditional Neapolitan pizza. The aforementioned qualities that are visibly discerned in the images hereunder carry certain implications with regard to the developmental methodology of Ciro’s Neapolitan pizza dough.

Portafoglio napoletano (Neapolitan wallet) / libretto napoletano (Neapolitan booklet)

Portafoglio napoletano (Neapolitan wallet) / libretto napoletano (Neapolitan booklet)

Tenderness of Neapolitan pizza base by Ciro Salvo

Tenderness of Neapolitan pizza base by Ciro Salvo

Tenderness of Neapolitan pizza base by Ciro Salvo

Tenderness of Neapolitan pizza base by Ciro Salvo

Soft and fluffy cornicione by Ciro Salvo

Soft and fluffy cornicione by Ciro Salvo

Soft and fluffy cornicione by Ciro Salvo

Soft and fluffy cornicione by Ciro Salvo

Verily, I assert—without confusing “fanaticism” with “passion” and “reinvention” with the “tradition”—that the above images can serve as a source of revelations to any aspiring pizzaiolo of sensitivity.

Previous article: Part 11: Art and Passion


June 19, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 11: Art and Passion)

The Ingredient of “passion”

§1. Passion:
In Part 1, I stipulated that making traditional Neapolitan pizza as a culinary achievement and art requires “passion”. Further, I set forth, in part 10, that artistic creation fundamentally requires artists harmonizing their “passions” with “reason”—mastering their impulses, and that “mastering their passions [is] pertinent to a suffering that breeds strength and depth of soul”.

What is “passion”? And, what is its significance, not just meaning? What does it import? We often hear pizzaiuoli metaphorically referring to passion as a vital “ingredient” in making pizzas. The concept, in the hands of laymen, psychologists, and philosophers, has received diverse treatments throughout the history of Western civilization. And, to make it even more complicated, many of these treatments have been diametrically opposed to one another. Let us briefly explore this nebulous and paradoxical ingredient, passion.

§2. Suffering:
Perhaps, the etymology of the word can provide us with a clue. The English noun “passion” (which is related to the adjective “passive”) is a derivative of the ancient Greek word πάσχειν (páschein), meaning “to suffer”. (Hence, the phrase “passion of Christ” before and during the crucifixion!) What have we suffered in the pursuit of mastering the art of the Neapolitan Pizza! Although I am not a Christian, I believe the image of Jesus of Nazareth can aid us in gaining some insight into this often misunderstood concept. A great many sages throughout history have advised us that, there is a wisdom to be learned in suffering, in taming the dragons of our desires.

§3. The Irrational:
In classical philosophy, passion is often associated with the “irrational”, with lack of discipline and self-direction, with the tendency toward uncontrolled behavior. For instance, according to classical Greek philosopher Plato, one has no freedom of the will when one is a slave to passion. Being mastered by passion, unchecked by reason, makes one less than human, per Plato. Parallel, but not identical, to Plato’s rationalization on this matter, various institutionalized religions have viewed human passions as reprehensible, something to be extirpated.

§4. Animal Drives & Creation:
Yet, for German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, passion has a primary role in human development! For him, “higher humanity” involves “higher spirituality”, which in turn involves sublimating—not annihilating—our basic drives, bringing them under control, and expressing them in more refined and creative ways. Our basic drives are often brutal and destructive in their original forms, but Nietzsche insists that they are the basis of all higher spirituality, culture, and art. Nietzsche wrote:

“Once you suffered passions and called them evil. But now you have only your virtues left: they grew out of your passions. . . . Once you had wild dogs in your cellar, but in the end they turned into birds and lovely singers. Out of your poisons you brewed your balsam. . . . And nothing evil grows out of you henceforth, unless it be the evil that grows out of the fight among your virtues.” (Thus Spake Zarathustra)

“Creation—that is the great redemption from suffering, and life’s growing light. . . . Willing no more and esteeming no more and creating no more—oh, that this great weariness might always remain far from me!” (Thus Spake Zarathustra)

“The greater and more terrible the passions are that an age, a people, and individual can permit themselves as means, the higher stands their culture.” (Will to Power)

“The discipline of suffering, of great suffering—do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far? That tension of the soul in unhappiness which cultivates its strength. . . , and whatever has been [attained] of profundity, secret, mask, spirit, cunning, greatness—was it not [gained] through suffering, thorough the discipline of great suffering? In man creature and creator are united: in man there is material, fragment, excess, clay, dirt, nonsense, chaos; but in man there is also creator, form-giver, hammer hardness, spectator divinity, and seventh day: do you understand this contrast?” (Beyond Good and Evil)

Nietzsche even went so far as hypothesizing that, “It does not seem possible to be an artist and not to be sick.” John Keats was consumptive, Lord Byron had a clubfoot, Homer was blind, Beethoven was deaf, and etc. Health as the ability or capacity to overcome disease! The creation of beauty is envisaged as the response of a fundamentally healthy organism to the challenge of disease.

§5. Humanity:
Late 1980s, journalist Bill Moyers interviewed mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose works have been a source of inspiration for many artists of our time. The following is an extract from the interview:

Campbell: “. . . Well, the key word for me is compassion.”

Moyers: “Which means?”

Campbell: “Suffering with. ‘Passion’ is ‘suffering’. . . .”

Moyers: “Don’t many of the heroes in mythology die to the world? They suffer, they’re crucified.”

Campbell: “It happens when you awaken at the level of the heart to compassion, com-passion, shared suffering: experienced participation in the suffering of another person. That’s the beginning of humanity.”

Moyers: “You say that’s the beginning of humanity. . . . That the moment when gods are born. . . .”

Campbell: “And do you know who that god is? It’s you. All of these symbols in mythology refer to you. You can get stuck out there, and think it’s all out there. So you’re thinking about Jesus with all the sentiments relevant to how he suffered—out there. But that suffering is what ought to be going on in you. Have you been spiritually reborn? Have you died to your animal nature and come to life as a human incarnation of compassion?”

(The Power of Myth)

§6. Strength:
What is the alchemy of a great soul? In other words, how can one turn one’s passions (lust, greed, selfishness, and all the so-called sinful impulses) into gold? Passion, viewed from one perspective, is expressive of profound suffering that needs to discharge (or recreate) itself in order to find relief! A great artist knows how to turn her suffering into strength, not pity. Michelangelo’s “Pietà”, as shown hereunder, is a direct result of such alchemical transformation. As eloquently expressed by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, “Existence, if one becomes conscious of it, involves passion.”

“Pietà” (by Michelangelo)

Next Article: Part 12: Imagery, Imagination, and The Art of Ciro Salvo

Previous article: Part 10: A Philosophy of Art

June 16, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 10: A Philosophy of Art)

Craft, Art, & Philosophy!
Neapolitan Oven at Pizzeria Kesté, New York (Photo: Hannah Whitaker, New York Magazine)

So far, we have succinctly and phenomenologically explored the “ontogenic”, “ontological”, “culinary”, and “artistic” manifestations of traditional Neapolitan pizza. let us have a brief review, with emphasis on the culinary and artistic dimensions. As I previously stated in Part 1:

“From a phenomenological standpoint, the Neapolitan pizza manifests itself as a (1) historical and cultural ontogeny, (2) culinary tradition, (3) artand (4) ontology or a way of being:

1) As an ‘ontogeny’, it involves the historical and cultural circumstances that have shaped this phenomenon into its present form, which has evolved throughout its saga.

2) As a ‘culinary tradition’ (which is an oral tradition), it involves specific methodologies, techniques, rituals, ingredients, and tools in preparing and baking pizzas in accordance with the gastronomical sensibility of the Neapolitan people.

3) As an ‘art’, it involves a creative process, which entails, in a cyclical fashion, (1) experimenting with the spatiotemporal mediums of this art (2) examining their objectifications or end results, and (3) evaluating the creative process used in this endeavor. Also, above all, it imperatively involves self-reflection and self-direction in order to recreate oneself (to build ‘character’), besides creating the edible artwork! The interplay and interdependence between the creator and that which she or he creates is of vital importance in this art. In short, it is a process of creative and reflective thinking, and evaluation of the thinking, that finds practical and aesthetic expressions in this art.

4) As an ‘ontology’ or ‘way of being’, the Neapolitan pizza, in a very subtle manner, serves as a symbol or metaphor which profoundly expresses a sentiment that is not even immediately or consciously fathomed by average Neapolitans, yet they participate in it whether they know it or not! . . . Indeed, when we engage in the ritual of making Neapolitan pizza, we are engaged in something more than a culinary tradition that needs to be approached with reverence and care! . . . [The pizza is symbolic of the cultural and historical identity of people of Naples.] La maschera di napoli (‘The mask of Naples’)—i.e., ‘Pulcinella’—is also another integral aspect of the Neapolitan culture and identity. . . .”

Further, in respect to the culinary aspect of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, I asserted, in Part 7, that it entails specific:

1) “Logistics (employment of specific ingredients and tools)”,
2) “Orchestration (the way of production)”, and
3) “Gastronomy (physical and gustatory/organoleptic attributes of the end product)”

In this regard, I also maintained in Part 1:

“A Neapolitan pizzeria can possess all the right ingredients and culinary tools, yet if the dough they produce is not properly prepared and diligently cared for—the pizzas produced by the pizzeria will be gastronomically unmerited (by the conservative estimation) of the title “Neapolitan pizza”, does not matter how mouthwatering, flavorful, scrumptious, and good-looking they are, and does not matter how people rave about them! Conversely, it does not matter how negatively people may feel about them! What seems to matter, per the conservatives, are the types of ingredients, tools (specifically the mixer and oven), methodology, techniques, the way they are executed in making pizzas, and the traditional gastronomical qualities of the end products in terms of texture, flavor, representation, size, and the quantitative balance between the toppings and the pizza base.”

Moreover, I stipulated in Part 1:

“In the context of dough production, the terms ‘methodology’ and ‘technique’ are defined as follows:

●Methodology: The systematic organization of knowledge of the principles and processes which cause and regulate dough formation, fermentation, and maturation.

●Technique: The term (derived from the ancient Greek word tekhnē, meaning ‘skill’ or ‘art’) denotes a systematic procedure by which dough formation, fermentation, and maturation are accomplished by deliberation, skill, and command—not chance—in handling the fundamentals of dough production. Hence, this requires practical knowledge and special skills arising from extensive experience. It is the accumulation and organization of such knowledge and skills over a long period of time by the Neapolitan pizzaiuoli that eventually crystalized into an art as part of the culinary tradition of the Neapolitan pizza.”

With respect to the artistic facet of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, I posited in Part 1:

“Making Neapolitan pizza is an ‘art’, perhaps in the fullest sense of the term: creatively sculpting from raw materials a symbolic artifact (arte factum, ‘something made with skill’) that aesthetically feeds the eyes and the soul, besides feeding the stomach. This process is akin to a sculptor transforming a pure piece of marble into a beatific work of art that seduces her or him to life! (Yes, art has the power to ‘seduce one to life’.) A pizzaiolo’s marble is the dough, and her or his hands are the chisels! By imposing form upon the formless mass of dough, a pizzaiolo creates a work of art that, unlike a sculpture or painting, can be intimately felt through the senses of smell, taste, and oral tactility.

. . . My philosophy is that recipes do not create pizzas, that what are more fundamental in making Neapolitan pizzas are the underlying principles and, above all, the character of the pizza-artisan. Consider Michelangelo’s statue ‘David’, which is a masterpiece of Renaissance art. Was it a recipe (a set of instructions) that essentially breathed life into the block of marble out of which ‘David’ was born, or was it Michelangelo’s artistic ‘character’ and following a set of ‘principles’—in accordance with the sensitivity, temperament, temperance, style, and virtues of his cultivated character—that begot this magnificent work of art? It is said that when Michelangelo carved ‘David’, he simply chiseled away whatever that was not human in the block of marble, and at last the creator set “David” free from the mass of marble! In his own words, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ Our task is to do the same with our marble—which is both our ‘characters’ and the ‘dough’!

Whatever pizza recipe a pizzaiolo devises and the way he executes the recipe in crafting pizzas will directly correlate with his character and the principles he apprehends and follows. In essence, it is one’s cultivated artistic character and the way one employs the principles of dough production that should dictate and animate a dough recipe.

Often I envisage that the quality and worth of a pizza is principally contingent upon the ethos or character of the pizzaiolo who gave birth to the pizza. Perhaps what is more decisive in preparing pizza is character (derived from the Greek word kharaktēr, meaning literally ‘a stamping tool’) rather than technical skills of a pizzaiolo. Besides, the right attitude fosters the right aptitude. According to Friedrich Nietzsche,

‘Giving style to one’s character—a great and rare art! It is exercised by those who see all the strengths and weaknesses of their own nature and then comprehend them in an artistic plan until everything appears as art and reason . . . under a law of their own.’ (Gay Science, book 4: 290)

The pizza you make reflects your character!

As an art, learning how to create Neapolitan pizza fundamentally appears to be an inside-out process, involving psychological transformation, meaning that one needs to overcome internal (psychological) obstacles in order to overcome external (physical) obstacles in this artistic pursuit. One learns to create an artwork by recreating oneself, bringing one’s own impulses under control and sublimating them into new channels of activity. This carries the implication that, again, recipes and techniques do not make pizzas; they are merely instrumental in the act of creating. Something deeper or primordial seems to be at work here. Handcrafting pizza napoletana, as an artistic expression, involves self-actualization and self-expression, not devoid of devotion for the rich Neapolitan tradition—which is, figuratively speaking, the shoulders of a giant upon which a devotee stands!

As evident above, the culinary aspect of the Neapolitan pizza is more than a mere craft; it is an art. Just as other fine arts, the artifacts created by the art of traditional Neapolitan pizza are of symbolic and aesthetic values. And, unlike the fine arts, such artifacts are also of utilitarian (i.e., nourishment) value. These artworks are intended for both beauty and utility, besides their symbolism (i.e., the historical and cultural identity of the Neapolitan people).

What transpires here is that, one way to fundamentally commit oneself to becoming a pizzaiolo is, at an initial stage, to ideologically equip oneself: to understand the underlying principles, ideology, phenomenon, Napoletanità. This is not “idealism v. materialism”, but materialism sublimated or refined ideologically—it is a sublime symphony! It is important and decisive to foster a right frame of mind from the outset when one aspires to excel oneself in this culinary tradition as an artistic pursuit.

As implied above, the artistic pursuit of the culinary tradition of Neapolitan pizza involves a philosophy of art. In this regard, I would like to relate an illuminating, yet baffling, pizza dream I had on Jan. 13, 2012! In doing so, I need to somewhat rephrase the account in order to make it intelligible without falsifying it. In the dream, I encountered four philosophers: Patrick Pidgeon (a philosophy professor under whom I studied for a number of years), Martin Heidegger (known for his ontological studies on “being” and “time”), Friedrich Nietzsche (who wrote extensively on the theme of “art” and the psychological “transformations” associated with it), and Søren Kierkegaard (for whom lack of “passion” in the modern age was a central theme in his writings). As I was in a dark room sitting before the philosophers, the first one began to speak:

The Philosophers (from left to right): Patrick Pidgeon, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, & Søren Kierkegaard

1. Patrick Pidgeon:
“Since the role of language is tremendous, you need better formulation of the concepts ‘point of pasta’, ‘fermentation’, ‘levitation’, ‘maturation’, and ‘time’. They need to be precisely articulated without losing the ground on which they stand. Without them, you are not making pizzas, but accidents. Keep asking yourself what are the questions or problems to which these concepts are the answers. Formulate your questions carefully, as wrong questions will beg for wrong answers!”

2. Next, Heidegger took the floor:
“‘time’ is not merely a quantity of something, but a quality that is begot through its passage. A burden of the Western societies has been their misconception of time . . . always finding something to count . . . the number of wrinkles on one’s face, the number of calories one consumes, one’s weight, the number of hours to ferment dough, the maximum number of pizzas prepared in minimum amount of time . . . never thinking that time is expressive of ‘significations’, of ‘potentials’, of ‘possibilities’ [posse (“to exist”) + habilitās (“being capable”) = “capable of existing”] of being-in-the-world. [Heidegger often viewed “being” as a modality, as opposed to a corporeal entity or thing.]

3. Next, Nietzsche made himself heard by reading a well-known passage, which I quote verbatim below, from one of his books:
“What? Do we really want to permit existence to be degraded for us like this—reduced to a mere exercise for a calculator and an indoor diversion for mathematicians? Above all, one should not wish to divest existence of its rich ambiguity. . . . That the only justifiable interpretation of the world should be one in which you are justified because one can continue to work and do research scientifically in your sense (you really mean, mechanistically?)—an interpretation that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing, and touching, and nothing more—that is a crudity and naïveté. . . . A ‘scientific’ interpretation of the world, as you understand it, might therefore still be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. . . . An essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world. [Suppose] that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a ‘scientific’ estimation of music be! What would one have comprehended, understood, grasped of it? Nothing, really nothing of what is ‘music’ in it!” (Gay Science, book 5: 373)

Nietzsche continued, “Creation of a work of art, such as the Neapolitan pizza, fundamentally involves re-creating your self and co-evolving with that which you create. That which you create re-creates you as much as you create it! After all, what is the meaning of art? What is it good for? To what purpose? What is the problem to which art offers to be a solution? What is the human impulse which turns against itself, against life, without art?

Consider artists such as Michelangelo, Mozart, Goethe, even Einstein who was a scientist, and ask yourself what all these great souls had in common in their acts of creating? They were able to overcome—not depreciate—their impulses. They were able to harmonize their passions and reason; they were able to organize the disarray of their impulses, giving style to their own characters; they were masters of their impulses; they were able to overcome—not kill—their animal nature; they were able to sacrifice [make sacred], spiritualize, and sublimate their own impulses to new heights where they could see the world from new perspectives. They knew that mastering their passions was pertinent to a suffering that breeds strength and depth of soul. They were able to be tolerant not out of weakness, but out of self-cultivated strength. They gave to others not out of pity or impoverished needs, but out of the richness of their characters. Where they found their well-being, others often find their own ruination! They suffered from the overfullness, not impoverishment, of their lives so much that they had to redeem themselves by recreating themselves and the world in which they found themselves. They were creators. A recipe does not make pizza; human character does!”

4. At last, Kierkegaard voiced himself:
“Any artistic creation, such as making a Neapolitan pizza, is at roots a matter of ‘ethics’ [i.e., being able] and ‘morals’ [i.e., ‘how’ and ‘what’ you do with your ‘ability’]. Your ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ determine what you can create.”

Next, Kierkegaard pulled out one of his works, from which he read aloud (and I am quoting it, below, right from the book): “Our age is essentially one of understanding and reflection, without passion. . . . In fact, one is tempted to ask whether there is a single man left ready, for once, to commit an outrageous folly. Nowadays not even a suicide kills himself in desperation. Before taking the step he deliberates so long and so carefully that he literally chokes with thought. It is even questionable whether he ought to be called a suicide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with deliberation but from deliberation.” (The Present Age)

Next article: Part 11: Art and Passion

Previous article: Part 9: Being and Time

June 11, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 9: Being and Time)

“Celebration . . . is self-restraint, is attentiveness, is questioning, is meditating, is awaiting, is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder—the wonder that a world is worlding around us at all, that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are and we ourselves are in their midst, that we ourselves are and yet barely know who we are, and barely know that we do not know all this.”

—Martin Heidegger

Pizzaiuolo at work (Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro, Naples)

Having so far briefly considered the Neapolitan pizza within its historical and cultural contexts, it should be clear by now that, as I stated before: “By legacy, a pizzaiuolo napoletano is essentially a care, a burden, a culture-carrier!carrying centuries of customs, traditions, and history that go beyond just a culinary phenomenon. . . . A pizzaiuolo napoletano is a custodian of the Neapolitan tradition that he has inherited.” Some of the pictures hereunder are amongst the most antique depictions of Neapolitan pizzaiuoli on the Internet. The pictures are quite revealing; they are silent and intangible manifestation of what German philosopher Martin Heidegger referred to as “Being and time”—which to him is a matter of celebration!

The pictures, below, are ordered chronologically, to the best of my knowledge, from past to present. The 1st picture (from Lessing Photo Archive) illustrates an ancient Roman mosaic, depicting a Roman baker (from the first half of 3rd century A.D.) who seems to be placing a bread dough inside a wood-fired oven. The Neapolitan ovens in service today strikingly appear similar to the oven in the picture. Although the Roman baker is no pizzaiuolo, he serves, if you will, as an archetypal image that surreptitiously glimpse into what was to come through waves of history!

The 2nd picture, origin of which is unknown, depicts a female who seems to be a Renaissance baker of some sort, baking what appears to be a flatbread, stuffed or not, inside a pan held over open fire.

The 3rd historic picture (from Civica Raccolta delle Stampe “Achille Bertarelli”, which holds the world’s largest collection of printed works in Milan, Italy) portrays a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo. The drawing was done in 1830. The 4th historic picture (from Francesco de Bourcard’s book Usi e Costumi di Napoli) is dated sometime between 1847 and 1866, the years wherein the author wrote the two-volume book. The 5th historic picture has been adopted from professor Antonio Mattozzi’s impressive book Una storia napoletana, published in 2009. Per the book, the drawing is from 1800s. My personal assumption is that it is from mid-1800s. The 6th picture, whose origin is unknown, is probably from mid-1800s as well. The 7th picture appears to be an actual photograph of unknown origin. It is probably from late 1800s. At last, the 8th picture is Don Luigi Condurro who has been working as a pizzaiuolo at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele since time immemorial!

With respect to the pictures, please take notice of the following factors:

1. The pizzaiuoli in the 3rd to 6th pictures appear to be outdoors, shouting and announcing to the public, “pizza, pizza, pizza”, as was a custom of that time. However, the pizzaiuoli in the 7th and 8th pictures are no longer outdoors, but indoors, inside actual pizzeriaswith chairs and tables enclosed within walls under a roof. As discussed in a previous article, it was around 1830 or early 1800s that actual pizzerias began, gradually, to be part of the Neapolitan social structure. As such, the two pizzaiuoli in the 7th picture are not shouting and selling, but crafting pizza on the bancone (workbench) inside a pizzeria.

2. The pizzaiuoli in the 3rd to 7th pictures are  equipped with mobile wooden banconi, which are identical in construction, except the 4th one. Don Luigi’s bancone, in the last picture, is not a mobile one as he works for a well-established pizzeria. Nonetheless, the two pizzaiuoli in the 7th picture utilize a mobile bancone, although they are indoor in a pizzeria.

3. The pizzaiuoli in the 3rd to 6th pictures are also equipped with knives, implying that, unlike today, Neapolitan pizza was sold by slice in those days. Some slices are already observable in the pictures. For whatever reason, the pizzaiuoli are holding the knives in the same position! No knives appear in the 7th and 8th pictures.

4. Perchance, we can visually figure out what pizza types are used in the 3rd to 6th pictures. The 5th one seems to have two kinds of pizza on the bancone: some kind of bianca (white) pizza (possibly using a partial combination of toppings, as discussed before, such as lard, bacon, cheese, garlic, herbs, small fish, oil, and etc.) and some kind of rossa (red) pizza with tomato and fior di latte or mozzarella di bufala. The 3rd and 4th pictures seem to show white pizzas as well. I make no conjectures as to the 6th one since the picture is not in color.

5. All the pizzaiuoli in the pictures are wearing hats and aprons. Notice that each pizzaiuoli in the 3rd, 5th, and 6th picture is wearing stripped shirts, which is believed to had been fashionable amongst the Neapolitan sailors and lazzaroni. Interesting!

1. Ancient Roman Baker Mosaic (first half of 3rd century A.D.)

2. Possibly a Renaissance baker (1500s?)

3. Depiction of a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo (1830)

4. Depiction of a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo (1847-1866)

5. Depiction of a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo (Possibly from Mid-1800s)

6. Depiction of a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo (Possibly from mid-1800s)

7. Photograph of two Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli (possibly late 1800s)

8. Pizzaiuolo Don Luigi Condurro of da Michele (2011)

At last, let’s take a close look at the bancone, in the picture below, used by Don Luigi at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele. The bancone is not mobile, and it is, unlike the mobile ones above, topped with a slab of white marble. Moreover, it is not equipped with any kind of refrigeration. The bancone unpretentiously holds 7 pizza condiments only: (1) crushed tomatoes, (2) fior di latte, (3) garlic (4) oregano, (5) basil, (6) either grated pecorino or parmigiano reggiano, and (7) seed oil.

The bancone at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele, Naples

Here’s a Youtube video on da Michele:

Next article: Part 10: A Philosophy of Art

Previous article: Part 8: The Mask of Naples

June 8, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 8: The Mask of Naples)

“Vedi Napoli e poi muori!” (See Naples and die!)
“Un paradiso abitato da diavoli!” (A paradise inhabited by devils!)
—Two popular Neapolitan proverbs


Those who visit Naples or spend some time exploring the city on the Internet, sooner or later will come across the clown-like character wearing a white dwarf hat, black half-mask, and white baggy garb. I am talking about the ubiquitous but shadowy character, Pulcinella, also known as la maschera di napoli (the mask of Naples). His presence is felt almost everywhere in Naples. His pictures and statuettes are omnipresent in the city. Even the two Neapolitan pizza associations of Naples, namely, Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana and Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani, have embraced this obscure character in their logos. Although he is an integral part of the Neapolitan culture, and although Neapolitans hold him in high esteem, he is barely understood by them consciously!

AVPN Logo (left) & APN Logo (right)

Who is this celebrated yet evasive character, Pulcinella? What is his relation to the city of Naples? Pulcinella—thought to be essentially a mythical character that has evolved, mutated, and/or transposed over centuries—is of nebulous origins, possibly traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. No one knows with certainty. However, we do know that since about 1500s (some assert 1600s) onward, this character has been set in motion in works of literature, puppetry, theater (e.g., la Commedia dell’Arte), and opera in Naples. Akin to Don Juan and Don Quixote, Pulcinella has been acclaimed with legendary status. This subject matter can be approached from various perspectives: folkloric, sociological, political, et cetera. Here, I opt to briefly consider this mysterious character from a psychological viewpoint.

Generally, Pulcinella is what Neapolitans call Napoletanità¹: a peculiar mode of being Neapolitan with all its characteristic virtues and vices. (The Italian word “napoletanismo” is synonymous with “napoletanità”, which is a word of the Neapolitan dialect.) More specifically, Pulcinella represents the underlying attitudes of Naples, its moods, its archetypal mental states, its conscience (con-science, “to know with”). Do not expect to find Pulcinella as a coherent character that can be comprehended without difficulties, for he is psychologically ridden with pairs of opposites! He is rational but irrational, wise yet foolish, ecstatic although melancholic, kind even so cruel, rich nonetheless a beggar, sober though intoxicated, full yet always hungry (especially for maccheroni and pizza). One can’t easily predict his behavior, his next mood, his next move. He defies sense and nonsense; he dares commonsense and uncommonsense; he challenges reason and unreason. He is a trickster, a prankster, a provocateur. He is preoccupied with provoking the authorities and people. He breaks the laws, yet he does not promote chaos; he wants chaos, but not lawlessness. If you, so to speak, ever see him, do not make him angry!—yet he gets angry if you don’t make him so. He will be your friend or foe depending on how you think of yourself. He will be a great teacher if you let him get under your skin. He is a master of irony and paradox. Some have even compared him with classical Greek philosopher Socrates, who was the “gadfly” of Athens, provoking the Athenians to think. Yet, do not expect Pulcinella to arouse you Socratically. He won’t tell you “To know the good is to do the good” or “To be or not to be is not the question. . . .” ; instead, he will smack you!

Pulcinella, The Mask of Naples

Psychologically speaking, Pulcinella can be construed as an upshot of what the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) calls “collective unconscious”: the inherited, mutual, psychic life of the people below the conscious level. (A Jung’s thesis is that the collective unconscious is a myth making part of the human psyche. And, by “myth” he does not mean a lie or fable, but a very profound mode of communicating fundamental and collective human needs, fears, aspirations, and so on.) As such, if you ask an average Neapolitan who Pulcinella is, they often do not know what to say other than “a folk hero” or “a champion of the poor or working class” or else.

Why the mask? Those who have been to Naples and sensibly felt its mystique and mayhem, can tell you that Naples is a heaven that is laid right next to hell! (After all, the city, beautified with the Mediterranean Sea along its bay, lays in the shadow of an active volcano, Mount Vesuvius.) Once a native expressed to me, “Having chosen to live in the land that lies between fire (the volcano) and water (the Mediterranean Sea)—must tell you something about the inhabitants of this city.”

Naples, in between fire and water! (Photo by Mariusz Kluzniak)

Mount Vesuvius in Naples, Italy (Image by NASA)

Indeed, such duality characterizes the city—whose natives call it la città delle contraddizioni (the city of contradictions). During my nine-month stay in Naples in 1984, there were times that I embraced the city with unspeakable joy, and times when I was horrified by it. The affection and generosity of the people is immense, yet Naples can be a cruel place! Throughout its history, Naples has been afflicted with numerous wars, political atrocities, social injustice, hunger, famines, plagues, and other natural disasters; however, Neapolitans have always managed to regain their composure and make outstanding contributions to the city and the world.

The mask of pulcinella is symbolic of the apparent duality of life in Naples. Moreover, the mask is metaphoric of what transcends the mask, what is concealed behind it, namely, the people’s collective possibilities. That is to say, what beauties they can ascend to as a people and, conversely, what destructions they can succumb to. The mask is their own peculiar ways of collectively dealing with their affairs. The mask is Naples! And, few Neapolitans know that where there is a mask, there is a god that has not been recognized yet!

At last, the fact that Neapolitans associate la pizza napoletana with Pulcinella just goes to signify the eminence of the pizza, which is also symbolic of their historical identity.

La maschera di napoli

For those who are interested, an excellent paper, titled “Pulcinella, or the Metaphysics of the Nulla: in Between Politics and Theatre“, was published in 2010 on the origins and political significance of Pulcinella. The paper is authored by professor Agnes Horvath, an associate scholar with Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (UCSC) in Milan, and it is available for purchase ($25.00) at Sage Journals.

Further, here is a free article, “The Neapolitan Hunchback“, about Pulcinella by historical novelist Charles Buet. (See pages 530 to 532.)

¹ Neapolitans often construe the term Napoletanità as an “illness”, that is a kind of illness that consumes one with feverish longing for Naples and everything it stands for, both good and bad. Most importantly, the Neapolitan music, songs, and—cuisine—are inextricably intertwined with this illness. La sfogliatellala pastierail casatielloil ragùmaccheronila Pizza, and etc. are all part of being Neapolitan.
Next article: Part 9: Being and Time
Previous article: Part 7: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

May 13, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 7: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza)

This is possibly a Renaissance baker, baking her products in a pan held over open fire. This is probably one way the pre-modern pizzas were baked. (The origin of this image is unknown.)

So far, we have briefly considered the pizzas of Naples of the following historical periods (with the exception of 1700s):

●1889 by Raffaele Esposito,
●1847 to 1866 by Francesco de Bourcard,
●1835 by Alexandre Dumas,
●1700s by Vincenzo Corrado,
●1600s (early period) by Giambattista Basile, and
●1570 by Bartolomeo Scappi

As I mentioned, there is one period of the fragmentary history of Neapolitan pizza (i.e., the 1700s) which I deliberately have omitted to cover to any extent so far, mainly because I have not been able to obtain substantial, primary, historical documents to rely upon. Presumably, major developments occurred within that period, which marks the beginning of modernity. Although the pre-modern origins of pizza during the antiquity, Middle Ages, and Renaissance are shrouded in mystery, it seems that Neapolitan pizza, as we know it in the modern and post-modern eras, is a divergent development that began in early 1700s. Apparently, with the advent of modernity, a paradigm shift took place in the early 1700s in the way pizzas of Naples were perceived, prepared, and baked. We conspicuously noticed that the pre-modern pizzas described by Scappi in 1570 and by Giambattista Basile in early 1600s do not have much in common with the modern pizzas described by Dumas in 1835, with the pizzas described by Bourcard from 1847 to 1866, with the pizzas prepared by Esposito in 1889, and with what is deemed as the traditional Neapolitan pizza today in the post-modern Naples. It appears that pizzas of Naples in 1700s underwent major transformations—in terms of their logistics (employment of specific ingredients and tools), orchestration (the way of production), and gastronomy (physical and gustatory/organoleptic attributes of the end product). In addition, with the decline of Medieval feudalism and advent of industrialism and capitalism, the early pizzerias gradually began to emerge in this period. So, we would like to inquire into the changes that took place in 1700s—when dressing pizzas with tomatoes (pomodoro or pomo di oro in Italian, literally meaning “golden apple”) and baking them predominantly in wood-fired ovens (nowadays known as forno napoletano) presumably began to become culinary norms in Naples.

Depiction of a Neapolitan Pizzaiolo (19th century)

As a plant of the New World, tomatoes arrived in Naples, via Spain, in mid-1500s. (Year 1492 is referred to as the “Discovery of the Americas” by Christopher Columbus, who was from the Republic of Genoa. And, from 1503 to 1714, Naples was under occupation by the Spanish Empire.) In his cookbook titled Lo scalco alla moderna (“The Modern Steward”, published in Naples in 1692 and 1694), Antonio Latini (1642–1692) reflected what is said to be the oldest known recipes for tomato sauce. The book, however, does not contain any mentions of tomato sauce being used either on pizza or pasta. Later, a book authored by Vincenzo Corrado (Oria, 1736 – Naples, 1836) is said to report on the uses of tomatoes on both pizza and pasta in Naples. So far, I have not figured out which book by Corrado makes the reference. It might be his classic work Il cuoco galante (Gallant Cooking, published in 1773, which does not seem to have been translated to English yet) or some other book by him.

Vincenzo Corrado (Oria, 1736 – Naples, 1836)

Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture has issued a legal document, in association with the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (a Neapolitan pizza association, established in 1984 in Naples, which claims its function is to protect, preserve, and promote the traditional Neapolitan pizza), in order to have the European Union (EU) officially recognize and protect the true Neapolitan pizza as a Specialità tradizionale garantita (STG) or Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) product. The document is titled Disciplinare di Produzione della Specialità Tradizionale Garantita “pizza napoletana” (“Disciplinary Production Specifications of Traditional Speciality Guaranteed Pizza Napoletana”). Article 4 of the document (which appears, translated into English, in section “3.8” of the EU Commission Regulation) states:

“The first appearance of the ‘Pizza Napoletana’ may be dated back to the period between 1715 and 1725. Vincenzo Corrado, a native of the town of Oria, and chief cook for Prince Emanuele di Francavilla, in a treatise on the foodstuffs most commonly used in Naples, stated that the tomato was used to season pizza and macaroni, thereby associating two products which have been the source of the fame of the city of Naples and the reason for its inclusion in the history of gastronomy. This quotation [i.e., ‘the tomato was used to season pizza’] marks the official birth of the ‘Pizza Napoletana’, a disc of dough seasoned with tomato.” (The italics are added for emphasis.)

Since February 5, 2010, the EU has officially recognized la pizza napoletana as a STG (TSG) product.

In his fascinating book Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy (published in 2010), David Gentilcore, a professor of modern early history, wrote about two Neapolitan physicians Achille Spatuzzi and Luigi Somma who researched on and wrote about the state of dietary health of the vast poor class of the Neapolitan society in mid-1800s. Gentilcore writes:

“. . . The Neapolitan doctors offer us invaluable evidence of two local uses of tomatoes. . . . They refer to the poor’s subsistence on something called pizza (and they italicized the word, for the particularly Neapolitan form they had in mind had not yet entered the Italian or any other language). They explained for the benefit of their readers that the pizza was seasoned on the top with an abundance of oil or pork fat, with cheese, oregano, garlic, parsley, mint leaves, with tomato especially in summer, and finally sometimes even with small fresh fish. Tomato was not a yet a basic element of pizza, but only one possibility among several. For those who could afford it, tomatoes appeared in another new guise: ‘They form the customary seasoning for macaroni, and not a day goes by when they don’t appear on the tables of the middle class. This is perhaps the earliest reference to pasta as a staple food, accompanied by a tomato sauce.” (The italic and bold letters are added for emphasis.)

The quoted passages from the doctors themselves are attributed to their work titled Saggi igienici e medici sull’alimentazione del popolo minuto di Napoli (“Food Hygiene and Medical Essays on the Common People of Naples”, published in 1863)

According to the Italian website “Taccuini Storici” (which offers a historical approach toward Italian cuisine):

“The pizza has ancient origins, some suggest even in the era of the Etruscans [about 500 BC]. Of course it was something that vaguely had the shape and appearance of the pizza today . . . The word [pizza] was voiced before the year one thousand, as in ‘pizza de pane’, and it was cited by 16th-century authors as a focaccia [a flat oven-baked Italian bread which may be topped with herbs or other ingredients] that accompanied meat and other comestibles, may be seasoned with mostacciuoli . . . Since about mid-18th century, pizza has been cooked in wood-fired ovens of the shops (which were often the dwellings of the shop owners) and sold in open-air stalls along the narrow streets and alleys of the city [Naples]. Balanced on his head, a boy would carry a ‘stufa’ [literally a ‘stove’; otherwise a cylindrical, copper, pizza box that maintained, up to a point, the temperature and moisture therein] to deliver warm pizzas to clients at their homes or to sell them in the streets while announcing himself with loud and sonorous calls.” (The italics are added for emphasis.)

Stufa boy (Naples, Italy, Mid-1900s)

Stufa boy delivering pizzas (Naples, Italy, Mid-1900s)

Stufa of Pizzeria da Michele (not L’antica Pizzeria da Michele)

Demonstrating how pizzas are placed inside stufa

Demonstrating how pizzas are placed inside stufa

According to section “3.8” of the EU Commission Regulation:

“There is no doubt that the first ‘pizzerie’ (pizzerias) appeared in Naples where, until the middle of the twentieth century, this product was exclusive to the city and its pizzerias. In the eighteenth century, the city already had several shops known as ‘pizzerias’. The King of Naples, Ferdinand of Bourbon [1751-1825], heard of their reputation and, in order to taste this dish in the typical Neapolitan tradition, breached court etiquette and visited one of the most renowned pizzerias. Since then the ‘pizzeria’ has become a fashionable location, a place devoted to the exclusive preparation of the ‘pizza’. The most popular and famous pizzas from Naples were the ‘Marinara’, created in 1734, and the ‘Margherita’, which dates from 1796-1810. The latter was presented to the Queen of Italy [i.e., Queen Margherita of Savoy] upon her visit to Naples in 1889, specifically on account of the colour of its seasoning (tomato, mozzarella and basil) which are reminiscent of the colours of the Italian flag.

Over time pizzerias appeared in every town in Italy and even abroad. However each of them, despite being located in a town other than Naples, has always linked its existence with the words “pizzeria napoletana”, or used a term which in some way evokes its link with Naples, where for more than 300 years this product has retained its authenticity.”

In regard to King Ferdinand of Bourbon (1751-1825), Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber reported in their enchanting cookbook In Late Winter We Ate Pears (published in 2009):

“A man named Antonio Testa [also known as ‘Ntuono’ or ‘Ntuono’] was baking in his small shop [said to be at ‘Salita S. Teresa’ near ‘Chiesa di Santa Teresa a Chiaia‘ or ‘Chiesa di Santa Teresa deli Scalzi‘] in Naples, plying the citizens with pizza and calzone, and causing a sensation, so much so that even the crowned head of Napoli could not resist the temptation. It is said with certainty that the Bourbon King Ferdinand I [1751-1825], defying all the rules of protocol, paid a visit to the bakery of Antonio Testa; he acquired a taste for the savory treat. But his wife the queen [Maria Carolina of Austria] detested the rustic simplicity of a single-plate meal. In the late-night hours . . . the king would disguise himself as a regular Neapolitan and dine at the city’s pizzeria and hope to never be caught by his wife.

It wasn’t until the next Bourbon monarch ruled that this round delicacy became acceptable in the aristocratic salons of Naples. Ferdinand II [1810-1859] commissioned another famous pizzaiolo, Don Domenico Testa, to offer his art in honor of the ladies of the court at the magnificent garden of the royal Capodimonte estate [known as Reggia di Capodimonte in Naples]. Brought to the king and queen by four horses in a royal carriage painted blue and gold, he served forth at the king and queen’s table, and this time the new queen [Maria Cristina of Savoy or Maria Theresa of Austria] gave no debate. Don Domenico’s pizza sent the king into such ecstasy that he bestowed the pizza maker with the title of Monzu, an honorable designation and a corruption of the French monsieur, which was reserved for only the French chefs de cuisine who worked in wealthy Neapolitan households. Ferdinand II is said to have been so enamored of such dishes from Campania, especially the pizza, that he had wood-fired ovens built into the palace so that he and his guests could delight in this fancy whenever he chose.”

I should point out that the book provides no citations for the historical information presented in the above-quoted passages. However, I have been informed that the history book titled La fine di un regno (“The End of a Kingdom”, published in 1895) by Italian historian Raffaele De Cesare (1845-1918) may partially or entirely support the historical information in the passages.

Per Virgil’s Golden Egg and Other Neapolitan Miraclesauthored by Michael Arthur Ledeen (published in 2011):

“. . . The pizza we know and love is distinctly modern. The ‘margherita’ was created in 1889, and named after Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of King Umberto I. By that time, pizza had acquired considerable fame—it made its first literary appearance in 1866—and had already been served at court. King Ferdinand II [1810-1859], perhaps the most beloved Neapolitan monarch, loved food to excess, and spent hours in the kitchen preparing lavish meals. In the mid-1830s he invited the city’s leading pizzaiolo, Domenico Testa, to the summer palace, Capodimonte (now a marvelous museum), where Testa prepared some twenty pizzas for the king and his guests.

This single dinner made Testa’s fame and fortune, because when Ferdinand asked him what he would like in payment for the meal, Testa said he wanted a title. Not a title of nobility, mind you, but he wanted to be able to call himself Monzù, a corruption of “Monsieur,” which was restricted to the personal chefs of Neapolitan aristocrats. The king readily agreed, and a few years later Testa opened a pizzeria in via Purgatorio, ‘Pizzeria di Monzù Testa.’ It was a huge success, led to other restaurants, and finally to immortality, when a famous popular actor wrote a smashingly successful comedy set in Testa’s pizzeria.

The Margherita, long since the most popular version, is patriotic pizza. It was created in 1889 by Raffaele Esposito, whose pizzeria was (and is) in via Sant’Anna di Palazzo. In a replay of Testa’s triumphal dinner half a century earlier, Esposito was invited to Capodimonte, where he prepared a pizza with the colors of the Italian national flag . . . for Queen Margherita.”

I should point out that the book provides no citations for the historical information contained in the above-quoted passages. However, I have been informed that the history book titled La fine di un regno (“The End of a Kingdom”, published in 1895) by the Italian historian Raffaele De Cesare (1845-1918) may partially or entirely support the historical information in the passages.

Palace of Capodimonte (now a museum) in Naples, Italy

In respect to the oven, the website for the oven brand “Forno Napoletano” states:

“The authentic Neapolitan oven, produced according to centuries-old tradition handed down from generation to generation, . . . is a key element for the production of Neapolitan pizza. The particular method of construction and special materials (such as the Neapolitan yellow tuff stones, Vesuvius volcanic sand, and oven hearth made out of biscotto di Sorrento) have been known since the birth of Neapolitan pizza in Naples in early 1700s. First the famous Ntuono, and later his son Domenico, were known for their knowledge of the secrets of crafting Neapolitan ovens in 1700s and 1800s, so that Domenico was called to the court in 1832 by King Ferdinand II to build a pizza oven in the garden of Palace of Capodimonte.”

Reportedly, until about 1830, pizza was sold out of street stalls and by street vendors. Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, located in Naples, is a case in point. According to Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletano, the pizzeria initially produced pizzas for the street vendors in 1738, the year the pizzeria was established. About a century later, in 1830, it became a full-fledged pizzeria-osteria with tables and chairs. Thereafter, the pizzeria took on the name Port’Alba.

One possible explanation for the emergence of the early pizzerias might be found in the decline of the Feudal Age (roughly, 9th-17th century). When the European feudalism and manorialism gradually subsided, serfs were no longer under obligation (bondage) to their feudal lords. (In addition, the French Revolution of 1789–1799 and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars of 1803–1815 further dismantled the feudal and manorial institutions of Naples and reshaped its economy and life.) Consequently, the Neapolitan serfs needed a new mode of subsistence, which meant that in the ensuing age (i.e., the age of modernity), they needed jobs or professions in order to make wages and support themselves. Hence, it seems logical that people (such as, perhaps, the lazzaroni, as an outcast social class) were compelled to migrate to metropolitan centers of Naples and take on professions. If this is what indeed happened to the lazzaroni (who reportedly had a reputation for being excellent cooks), perhaps we can hypothesize that they brought with them a revolutionary way of preparing pizzas in 1700s! As I mentioned before, in part 5, “One should wonder to what extent the lazzaroni participated in the development of Neapolitan pizza [and even the Neapolitan oven and early pizzerias] as known today in Naples.” Perchance, poverty and necessity impelled them to consume tomatoes (which were reportedly deemed to be poisonously inedible) and use them to season their pizzas—maybe even prior to 1700’s—rather than using sugar and almonds which seem to be the customary pizza ingredients of the pre-modern era as implied by Scappi and Basile. Might it be the case that, under the new societal and economic circumstances of post-feudal Naples, the influx of the lazzaroni (who reportedly were an isolated social class) to the metropolitan centers of Naples ushered in the advent of a novel culinary tradition of preparing Neapolitan pizza—a practice that may had already existed amongst the lazzaroni? Having researched history of Neapolitan pizza, I tentatively feel that the art of Neapolitan pizza, on one hand, and the arts of flamenco and tango, on the other hand, were developed in parallel, meaning that I see, in principle, certain developmental similarities between the two. Flamenco and tango were originally the art forms of the impoverished outcasts of Spain and Argentina respectively; nonetheless, nowadays these art forms—akin to the art of Neapolitan pizza—are considered national treasures of their respective nations and are enjoyed by all social classes, both poor and rich.

Here’s an English-translated version of Vittorio De Sica’s film “L’oro di Napoli” (“The Gold of Naples”), which discloses a bit of the history of Neapolitan pizza. The movie, which was debuted in 1954, is a remarkable bouquet of six short stories as a homage to the people of Naples—la città delle contraddizioni (“the city of contradictions”), as the Neapolitans say! One of the stories features Sofia Loren as a lusty pizzaiola who allegedly loses her wedding ring while stretching a dough ball (for making fried pizza) as her husband mans the pan of hot oil and keeps records of the pizza credits/loans he extends to his patrons. As the saying goes (written on the sign behind the characters in the first two pictures below), “Mangiate oggi e pagate fra 8 giorni” (“Eat today and pay in eight days”). Pizza loan was a Neapolitan custom at the time. Obviously, pizza—besides having a humble origin—was a street food for the poor class of Neapolitans, who bought them on credit! As revealed in the movie, this is how early pizzerias were before the rise of the full-fledged pizzerias in Naples: modest houses consisting of tiny rooms that directly open to the streets. In such humble houses, the pizzaioli and their families both lived and made pizzas for sale. Today, Pizzeria Starita, established in 1901, still stands at the very site where Sofia Loren made the pizzas in the movie. According to the website “Luciano Pignataro” (a prominent Italian website dedicated to pizza and other Italian foodstuffs): “Antonio Starita [the current proprietor of the pizzeria] was 12 years old when the staff of the film ‘L’Oro di Napoli’, directed by Vittorio de Sica, spent a week in the pizzeria which was the location of the scene.”

Sofia Loren in “L’oro di Napoli” (“The Gold of Naples”)

Sofia Loren in “L’oro di Napoli” (“The Gold of Naples”)

Pizzeria Starita (Naples, Italy)

As I stated in my initial article in this blog, “The genesis of this phenomenon [of la pizza napoletana] can be arguably traced back to the ancient Romans.” The supposed pizza references of antiquity (such as found in the epic poem Aeneid, authored by the ancient Roman poet Virgil¹) may serve as zygotes of this phenomenon, which eventually developed into what we know as the traditional Neapolitan pizza of today.

“Beneath a shady tree, the hero spread
His table on the turf, with cakes of bread;
And, with his chiefs, on forest fruits he fed.
They sate; and, (not without the god’s command,)
Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band
Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling, said:
‘See! we devour the plates on which we fed.’”

Aeneid, Book VII, translated by John Dryden (The italics are added for emphasis.)

A bust of Publius Vergilius Maro (aka Virgil) in Naples, Italy

Considering the complex history of Naples, its origins, and its way of life, it is important to understand the distinction between the Italians and the Neapolitans. In an interview, when Barbara Walter referred to Sofia Loren as an “Italian”, Sofia remarked: “But I’m not Italian, I am Neapolitan! It’s another [thing]!” Likewise, it is essential to discern and comprehend that the traditional Neapolitan pizza of the modern/post-modern era differs significantly from other styles of pizza outside of Naples. The logistics (employment of specific ingredients and tools), orchestration (the way of production), and gastronomy (physical and gustatory attributes of the end product) of the traditional Neapolitan pizza markedly distinguish it from the rest.

¹ Publius Vergilius Maro (aka Virgil) plays a significant role in the history of Naples. He was schooled in Epicurean philosophy in Naples, per Catalepton, and buried there. According to Wikipedia:

“When Virgil died at Brindisi in 19 BCE, he asked that his ashes be taken back to his villa just outside of Naples. There a shrine was created for him, and sacred rites were held every year on his birthday. He was given the rites of a heros or hero, at whose tomb the devout may find protection and counsel (as from Orpheus’ oracular head). Virgil’s tomb became a place of pilgrimage for many centuries, and Petrarch and Boccaccio found their way to the shrine. It is said that the nearby Chiesa della Santa Maria di Piedigrotta was erected by the Church authorities to neutralise this pagan adoration and ‘Christianise’ the site. The tomb however, is a tourist attraction, and still sports a tripod burner originally dedicated to Apollo.

 It is said that Virgil’s Bones protected Naples for many years, and attackers usually suffered from plagues of flies. (It is interesting that one of the legends of Virgil has him constructing a Magic Fly to control the Neapolitan flies. Like the hero Heracles, he appealed to Zeus Muiagros, or Fly Catcher. Gervase of Tilbury knew of two churches that used Virgil’s spell to control flies.) Eventually, in 1194 Emperor Henry VI, who was well-schooled in classical lore, was able to conquer Naples, for it had been discovered that there was a minute crack in the ampule. Thus the Hermetic seal was broken, and Naples fell by force of arms for the first time in a thousand years.

 It is said that a certain English scholar Ludowicus, acting secretly for the Norman king Roger II (c.1136 CE), who was trying to conquer Naples, came looking for Virgil’s bones and his book of magic. Using secret arts Ludowicus found them. The people of Naples prevented him from taking the bones because they protected the city, but he was allowed to take the book, the Ars Notaria. John of Naples showed parts of this book to Gervase of Tilbury around the year 1200. The bones were placed in an ampule (ampulla) in the Castel dell’Ovo, where they guarded the city. (Many cities were similarly protected by heroes; for example Aristotle’s bones guarded Palermo, and other cities were protected by Orpheus, Hesiod, Alcmene, Plato and others.) Other sources say that it was Robert of Anjou who placed Virgil’s bones there.”

The poem inscribed at Virgil’s tomb, ascribed to the poet himself, reads, “Mantua bore me, the Calabrians snatched me away, now Naples holds me. . . .” It has been said that without the literary works of Virgil—and those of immortal Dante’s—the Italian literature would receive an indefensible blow! There are those who view Naples as “the armpit of the world”!—they know not, alas, of its rich history and cultural importance. Fortunately, there are still those who make offerings of Pizza at Virgil’s tomb!

The Piedigrotta entrance to the tunnel reputed to be Virgil’s tomb in Naples, Italy

Next article: Part 8: The Mask of Naples

Previous article: Part 6: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

May 11, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 6: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza)

Having so far made brief appreciation of the Neapolitan pizzas of the modern era (i.e., of year 1889 by Raffaele Esposito, of years 1847 to 1866 by Francesco de Bourcard, and of year 1835 by Alexandre Dumas) in the previous articles, now let us take a look at the pre-modern (i.e., the Renaissance) pizzas of Naples—or what was known as Neapolitan pizza (“da Napoli detta pizza”)—in year 1570.

In his Lectures on Philosophy of History, German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) argues that history does not move directly or straightforwardly toward progress or a goal, but develops dialectically or in a roundabout way that is not clear to consciousness and is filled with paradoxes, ironies, contradictions, and unconscious desires that lead to unintended consequences. Likewise, it seems that what we generally know as Neapolitan pizza today did not follow a straight path in its evolution. A case in point might be the Opera dell’arte del cucinare (Works of Art of Cooking), which is a recipe book, or even a culinary treatise, written by Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577). He was an eminent Renaissance chef, and not just a chef—but the papal chef in charge of the Vatican kitchen in Rome. According to Wikipedia:

“He [Scappi] acquired fame in 1570 when his monumental cookbook Opera dell’arte del cucinare was published. In the book he lists approximately 1000 recipes of the Renaissance cuisine and describes cooking techniques and tools, giving the first known picture of a fork. He declared parmesan to be the best cheese on earth. . . . Scappi revolutionized the kitchen of his time through new preparation methods and the use of ingredients imported from America. Scappi died on April 13, 1577 and was buried in the church of Santi Vincenzo and Anastasio alla Regola, dedicated to cooks and bakers.”

Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577), the Reneissance Chef

Bartolomeo Scappi’s recipe book “Opera dell’arte del cucinare” (1570)

The Vatican Kitchen, from Scappi’s “Opera dell’arte del cucinare” (1570)

In the book, Scappi provides several pizza recipes. Let us take a look at only three of the recipes:

“[Recipe] 128. To prepare flaky pizza, popularly called a dry napoleon (see footnote #1, below). Get a sheet of dough that is rolled out thin and made as the previous one. [That is, ‘make up a dough of two pounds of fine flour with six egg yolks, four ounces of breadcrumb that has soaked in either goat’s milk or a fat broth, an ounce and a half of leaven moistened with rosewater, three ounces of fine sugar, a suitable amount of salt and four ounces of butter. Knead the dough well for half an hour. Then make a very thin sheet of it. . . .’] Have a tourte pan ready, greased with melted butter, and on that pan put a rather thick sheet of that dough, and on that put ten more thin sheets, greased between each with butter and sprinkled with sugar and elderflower, dry or fresh. Bake it in an oven or braise it. When it is done, serve it hot with sugar and rosewater over it.”

“[Recipe] 121. To prepare a tourte with various ingredients, called pizza by Neapolitans. Get six ounces of shelled Milanese almonds, four ounces of shelled, soaked pinenuts, three ounces of fresh, pitted dates, three ounces of dried figs and three ounces of seeded muscatel raisins; grind all that up in a mortar. Into it add eight fresh raw egg yolks, six ounces of sugar, an ounce of ground cinnamon, an ounce and a half of crumbled musk-flavoured Neapolitan mostaccioli and four ounces of rosewater. When everything is mixed together, get a tourte pan that is greased and lined with a sheet of royal pastry dough (see footnote #2, below); into it put the filling, mixed with four ounces of fresh butter, letting it come up to no more than a finger in depth. Without it being covered, bake it in an oven. Serve it hot or cold, whichever you like. Into that pizza you can put anything that is seasoned.”

Bartolomeo Scappi’s Recipe #121 from the “Opera dell’arte del cucinare” (1570)

“[Recipe] 73. [The book editors specifically referred to this recipe as ‘Neapolitan pizza’.] To prepare a royal tourte with dove flesh, which Neapolitans call “Lady’s lips pizza” (see footnote #3, below). Get the flesh of three doves half roasted on a spit, with the skin, bones and gristle removed, along with the flesh of three boiled doves. Grind it all up in a mortar with four ounces of peeled dates, eight ounces of marzipan paste and four ounces of ground beef marrow—grind it all so finely that it can go through a colander. If you do not have any marzipan paste, use six ounces of Milanese almonds shelled in cold water and four ounces of fine sugar. Into all that add six fresh cream tops—if you do not have cream tops, a pound of fresh curds of ewe’s milk. When everything is put through the colander, put ten fresh uncooked egg yolks into it and four more ounces of fine sugar along with an ounce of cinnamon and half an ounce of cloves and nutmeg together. Have a tourte pan ready, lined with a sheet of somewhat thick dough. and with its flaky-pastry twist around it, made with fine flour, egg yolks, sugar, butter, rosewater and a suitable amount of salt. Put the filling into the pan in such a way that it does not come up too high. It is optional if you wish to bake it with an upper shell made like a shutter’s louvres, although it looks better open-faced and with only a glazing made of melted sugar and rosewater. Bake it in an oven as marzipan is done. When it is baked, serve it hot or cold as you like.”

1. “. . . The earliest appearance of a preparation called a pizza is in the so-called Manoscritto Lucano, ed. Michael Süthold, written in southern Italy at the beginning of Scappi’s century; a colophon makes its origin definite: in Nerula, 3 August 1524. The manuscript contains four sorts of pizza: Picza figliata (Recipe 57), Picza biancha (Recipe 77), Una altar picza (Recipe 78), and Picza riale (Recipe 86; see Scappi’s Recipe 73 above). None of those recipes seems to have made it into Scappi’s collection unchanged; most have some sort of upper crust whether plain or ornamental, like a tourte. See Riley’s comments about the genre in The Oxford Companion to Italian Food, 410.”

2. “Recipe 84 indicates that “royal dough” is a mixture of fine flour, rosewater, sugar and butter.”

3. “Pizza di bocca di Dama [‘Lady’s lips pizza’]. A distinction of most of the so-called royal tourtes (generally Recipes 73-80) is to contain thick cream (or fresh cheese curds or fresh ricotta) instead of, or as well as, ordinary cheese: these are richer custards. In its use of various cheeses, eggs and cream, this pizza of Scappi resembles the four pizzas found in Lucano manuscript (1524) in a general way; see the note in Recipe 128, below. In the edition of the manuscript by Süthold, Recipe 86 for Picza reale, the final recipe in that collection, calls for five varieties of fresh cheese, three of ricotta cheese, eggs, almonds, rosewater and sugar. The 1524 pizza has no meat, however, but may optionally include musk. (The modern boco di dame is described by Riley in the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, 57.) In a dialogue dating from the beginning of the 1600s, Vincenzo Giustiniani [an aristocratic Italian banker, art collector and intellectual of the late 16th and early 17th centuries] had a chauvinistic Neapolitan exclaim, ‘Our monks make things that  . . . give pleasure throughout the world’. . . . It is perhaps no coincidence that Sicily was recognized as the foremost producer of hard wheat at the time, even shipping it far beyond the Mediterranean world. . . .” (End of quote)

Bartolomeo Scappi’s “lady’s lips pizza” may had looked as shown in the picture hereunder. The pizza was prepared by Clifford A. Wright, following Scappi’s recipe.

Lady’s Lips Pizza by Clifford A. Wright

In early 1600s, Neapolitan author Giambattista Basile aka Giovanni Battista Basile (1575-1632) wrote a collection of Neapolitan fairy tales titled Lo cunto de li cunti, overo lo trattenimiento de peccerille (“The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones”, written in the Neapolitan dialect and posthumously published in 1634 and 1636). Sometimes the book is titled as Al Pentameròn, which influenced the fairy tales authored by Charles Perrault and the brothers Grimm. Folk tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and etc. are amongst the collection of tales in the book.

Giambattista Basile (1575-1632)

In one of the tales, Basile reflected two pizza ingredients—”sugar” and “almonds”—which are also used in all the above-referenced recipes by Scappi. According to the tale “Two Little Pizzas”:

“Now it happened that Luceta needed to warm up a few carrots . . . and she said to her daughter, ‘My dear Marziella, go, darling, to the fountain, and fetch me a pitcher of water.’ ‘With pleasure, dear mother,’ answered her daughter, ‘but if you care for me give me a little pizza, which I’d like to eat with some of that fresh water.’ ‘Gladly,’ said her mother, and she went to a bread sack that was hanging on a hook and took from it a lovely little pizza—the day before she had baked bread—and gave it to the girl. Marziella put the pitcher on a head ring and went off to the fountain. . . .”

As Marziella stood filling the pitcher, there arrived an old woman. . . . Noticing that lovely pizza right when Marziella was about to take a bite out of it, she said, ‘My lovely girl, may the heavens bless you with good fortune if you give me a little of that pizza.’ Marziella, who had a stink of a queen about her, said, ‘Here, you can have the whole thing, my noble woman, and I’m sorry it’s not made of sugar and almonds, in which case I’d still give it to you with all of my heart.'”

[Later in the book, the author remarked], “The tale of the two little pizzas was truly a stuffed pizza, which everyone savored so much that they’re still licking their fingers.” (The italics are added for emphasis.)

It appears that “sugar” and “almonds” were among the primary ingredients of the pre-modern pizzas of the time, as “tomatoes” and “cheese” are the principal pizza toppings of the modern and post-modern eras.

Today, Scappi’s book is considered one of the invaluable sources on the history of Neapolitan cuisine of the Renaissance period. However, after glancing a bit at the above recipes, one can not help asking: Is Scappi referring to the same Neapolitan pizza extant today? Or, is he dealing with something of a different class of comestibles that has only the name “pizza” in common with what we reckon as Neapolitan pizza today? Might it be the case that different Neapolitan epochs have their own peculiar construals of pizza of Naples? What Scappi interpreted as pizza—within his specific cultural milieu—does not fit the standards of the cultural milieux within which Dumas, Bouchard, Esposito, and Antonio Pace (founder of Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) found themselves. Take the eternal music of J.S. Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, which are part of the classical tradition that is well-documented for the most part: almost every generation of musicologists and conductors keep coming up with slightly or substantially different interpretations of their music. Who knows?—a millennium from present, Neapolitan pizza may not be the same! As Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic philosopher, figuratively stated in an aphorism that has been ascribed to him: “No man ever steps twice in the same river”, meaning that “flux” or “change” is a fundamental law of nature.

Lady’s Lips Pizza (left) by Lupetta & Margherita Pizza (right) by L’antica Pizzeria da Michele

Making interpretations and speculations about the tradition of Neapolitan pizza—an oral tradition that did not inscribe itself, for the most part, within the pages of history, and what literature has survived is scanty—can be a tricky business. In interpreting the surviving texts, it is difficult not to impose our own modes of thinking and thoughts upon them. In other words, it is easy to fall in the trap of wishful, prejudicial, or out-of-cultural-context thinking and construe these works in our own terms, without regarding the cultural frameworks that set the tradition in motion. Given the fragmentary nature of the original or doxographical texts that have survived, it seems to me that we can only make educated conjectures for the most part.

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) insists that we are interpretive beings, that interpretation is fundamental to human condition, and even operative in formation of the human self. We are always interpreting others’ or our own mental and physical states. Am I sad or cheerful, displeased or pleased, chubby or skinny? When we stop at a red traffic light, we are already engaged in an act of interpreting the color red. The color red can have many other meanings: danger, communist, sexy, and etc. This demonstrates the ubiquity of interpretation—and diversification—in human societies. Perchance, the New York style pizza is an example! History appears, as Hegel puts forth, to be pregnant with paradoxes, ironies, contradictions, and unintended consequences—with “change”, however gradual and undetected, being the principle underlying them all.

Next article: Part 7: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

Previous article: Part 5: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

May 10, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 5: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza)

In the previous article, we made a brief appreciation of Francesco de Bouchard’s observation in respect to pizzas of Naples from 1847 to 1866. Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), a French novelist who authored The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, traveled to Naples in 1835 (about 12 years before Bouchard commenced to write his book on Naples) and recorded his experiences in a journal that was published between 1841 and 1843 under the title Le Corricolo (“The Wagon”). The book is fascinating, to say the least! It was partially, and perhaps too literally, translated from French to English by A. Roland in 1845. Fortunately, the book, retitled Sketches of Naples by the publisher, is freely available on Google Books.

Alexandre Dumas (1855)

Let us see what Dumas relates about pizza in Naples in 1835. Although the quoted passages below are long and some of which may not seem germane, they are hopefully worth your while. Keep in mind that the book was written 26 years antecedent to Naples joining the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, and 54 years prior to Queen Margherita of Savoy being served the Pizza Margherita (named in her honor) in 1889 in Naples. In his Le Corricolo, Dumas writes:


. . .When we traverse Naples, with our liberal ideas, drawn, not from personal study of the people, but from the theories emitted by journalists, and glance lightly at that portion of the surface of this people whom we see lying almost naked upon the thresholds of palaces and in corners, where they eat, sleep and live, the heart is oppressed by the sight and we cry out, in a philanthropic transport: “The Neapolitans are the most wretched people on the globe.”

We deceive ourselves strangely. The Neapolitan of the lower class [known as lazzarone (lazzaroni, plural) or lazzaro (lazzari, plural), a peculiarly poor class of the Neapolitan society] is not wretched; for his necessities are in exact harmony with his desires. What does he wish to eat? A pizza [implying that pizza is a humble food] or a slice of watermelon suffices. How does he wish to sleep? A stone to place under his head is all that he requires to render his slumber delightful. His nudity which we regard as an affliction is, on the contrary, a pleasure in this ardent climate, where the sun clothes him with its warmth. What more magnificent canopy could be asked, to the palaces which lend him their steps, than the clear heaven which shines above? Is not, to him, each star that glitters in the firmament, a lamp burning at the feet of the Madonna! Does he not, with two grains, obtain sufficient each day to supply his wants and have an ample abundance remaining to pay, largely, the improvisator of the Môle and the conductor of the corricolo [wagon drawn by a horse]?

Corricolo Napoli (Neapolitan Wagon)


The Lazzaroni, alas, is passing away; those who desire to see him must come quickly. Naples lighted with gas, Naples with restaurants, Naples with bazars, frightens the careless child of the Môle. The lazzarone, like the red Indian, retires before the approach of civilization. The French occupation of 1799 gave the first blow to the lazzarone. At this period the lazzarone enjoyed all the prerogatives of his terrestrial paradise; he did not give more business to the tailor than our first father, before the fall; he drank in the sun at every pore. Curious and simple, as a child, the lazzarone soon became the friend of the French soldier, whom he had fought [in January of 1799]. But the French soldier, above all things, loves propriety; he accorded his friendship to the lazzarone, he consented to drink with him at the cabaret, to walk with him arm-in-arm; but on one condition, sine qua non, that the lazzarone should put on some clothing.

The lazzarone, proud of the example of his fathers, and of ten centuries of nudity, opposed the innovation for some time, but, at last, consented to make this sacrifice to friendship. This was the first step toward his destruction. After the first article of dress came the vest, after the vest will come the jacket. The day the lazzarone wears a jacket, the lazzarone will be no more; the lazzarone will have become extinct. . . . In the mean time, we have had the good fortune to be able to study this great passing race and will hasten to furnish data to the learned, by the aid of which, in their anthropological investigations, they may be enabled to ascertain the nature of the lazzarone.

The lazzarone is the oldest son of nature. . . . Other men have houses, other men have villas, other men have palaces, the lazzarone has the world. The lazzarone has no master, the lazzarone is amenable to no laws, the lazzarone is above social exigencies; he sleeps when he is sleepy, he eats when he is hungry, he drinks when he is thirsty. Other people rest when they are tired of work; the lazzarone, on the contrary, works when he is tired of resting. He works, not as in the north, . . . his labor is pleasant, careless, embellished by songs and drolleries; interrupted by laughter, and moments of idleness. This labor continues for an hour, a half-hour, ten minutes, or one minute, and in that time brings enough to supply all the necessities of the day. What is this labor? Heaven, only, knows. A trunk carried from the steamboat to the hotel, an Englishman conducted from the Môle to Chiaja, three fish, escaped from the net which contained them and sold to a cook, the hand extended at random in which the stranger laughingly lets fall an alms; such is the labor of the lazzarone.

As to his food, this is more easy to describe; for, although the lazzarone belongs to the species of omnivores, he, generally, eats but two things: the pizza and cocomero or watermelon.

The impression has gone out into the world, that the lazzarone lives upon macaroni; this is a great mistake, which it is time to correct. The macaroni is, it is true, a native of Naples; but, at the present time, it is an European dish, which has traveled like civilization, and which, like civilization, finds itself very far from its cradle. The macaroni, moreover, costs two sous a pound; which renders it inaccessible to the purse of the lazzarone; except upon Sundays and holidays. At all other times the lazzarone eats, as we have said, the pizza and the cocomero [watermelon]; the cocomero in summer, the pizza in winter. The pizza is a sort of bun [talmouse is the French word used by the author, meaning “cheese-cake” or “pastry shell with a filling of cheese”]; it is round, and made of the same dough as bread. It is of different sizes according to the price. A pizza of two farthings suffices for one person, a pizza of two sous is enough to satisfy a whole family. At first sight, the pizza appears to be a simple dish, upon examination it proves to be compound. The pizza is prepared with bacon, with lard, with cheese, with tomatoes, with [petits, “small”] fish.It is the gastronomic thermometer of the market. The price of the pizza rises and falls according to the abundance or scarcity of the year. When the fish-pizza sells at a half grain, the fishing has been good; when the oil-pizza sells at a grain, the yield of olives has been bad. The rate at which the pizza sells is, also, influenced by the greater or less degree of freshness; it will be easily understood that yesterday’s pizza will not bring the same price as today’s. For small purses, they have the pizza of a week old, which, if not agreeably, very advantageously, supplies the place of the sea-biscuit.

The pizza as we have said is the food of winter. On the first of May the pizza gives place to the cocomero; but the merchandise only, disappears, the merchant remains the same. The seller is like the ancient Janus, with a face which weeps upon the past and smiles upon the future. [Janus is an ancient Roman deity, guardian of doorways and gates and protector of the state in time of war. He is usually represented with two faces, so that he looks both forward and backward. According to Wikipedia, “In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past. The concepts of ‘January’ and ‘janitor’ are both based on aspects of Janus.”] On the said day the pizza-jolo [pizza maker] becomes the mellonaro [seller of melons]. The change does not even extend itself to the shop; the shop remains the same. A pannier of cocomeri instead of a basket of pizza is now carried; a sponge is passed over the traces of oil, bacon, lard, cheese, tomatoes and fish which have been left by the winter comestible and all is done; we pass to the comestible of the summer. Fine cocomeri come from Castellamare; they have an appearance at once exhilarating and tempting; the lively rose color of the pulp is heightened by its contrast with the black seed. But a good cocomero is dear; one of the size of an eight pound ball sells for from five to six sous. It is true that a cocomero of this size, in the hands of an adroit retailer, will be divided into ten or twelve pieces. Every opening of a cocomero is a new exhibition; the opponents stand opposite and each endeavors to surpass the other in the adroitness and impartiality with which he uses the knife in dividing it. The spectator judge. The mellonaro takes a cocomero from the flat pannier where it is piled, with twenty others, like cannon balls in an arsenal. He smells it, he raises it above his head like a Roman Emperor the globe of the world. He cries: “It is like fire!” which announces, in advance, that the pulp will be of the finest red. He cleaves it open at a single blow and presents the two hemispheres to the public one in each hand. If, instead of being red, the pulp of the cocomero is yellow or greenish, which indicates that it is of an inferior quality, the piece fails, the mellonaro is hooted, spit upon and cursed; three failures and the mellonaro is disgraced for ever. If the mellonaro perceives by its weight or odor that a cocomero is not good, he makes no avowal of the fact. On the contrary, he presents it, more boldly, to the people; he enumerates its fine qualities, he boasts of its savory pulp, he extols its icy juice: “You would like very much to eat this pulp! You would like much to drink its juice!” he cries; “but this is not for you; it is destined to delight more noble palates than yours. The king has ordered me to keep it for the queen.” (End of quote)

Lazzarone (Drawn by R. Armenise, 1884)

To take a closer look at the pizzas described by Dumas in the above-quoted passages, let us consider the pertinent part of the original French text side-by-side with a slightly different English translation thereof:

The original French text:

“La pizza est une espèce de talmouse comme on en fait à Saint-Denis; elle est de forme ronde et se pétrit de la même pâte que le pain. . . . Au premier abord, la pizza semble un mets simple; après examen, c’est un mets composé. La pizza est à l’huile, la pizza est au lard, la pizza est au saindoux, la pizza est au fromage, la pizza est aux tomates, la pizza est aux petits poissons; c’est le thermomètre gastronomique du marché: elle hausse ou baisse de prix, selon le cours des ingrédiens sus-désignés, selon l’abondance ou la disette de l’année. Quand la pizza aux poissons est à un demi-grain, c’est que la pêche a été bonne; quand la pizza à l’huile est à un grain, c’est que la récolte a été mauvaise. Puis une chose influe encore sur le cours de la pizza, c’est son plus ou moins de fraîcheur. . . .”

English translation:

“Pizza is a sort of talmouse [the French word for “cheese-cake” or “pastry shell with a filling of cheese”] like we bake at St.-Denis [in France], and is round in shape and molded by the same dough as bread. . . . At first glance, the pizza appears to be a simple dish; after examination, it manifests as a compound dish. The pizza is with oil, the pizza is with bacon, the pizza is with lard, the pizza is with cheese, the pizza is with tomato, the pizza is with small fish; it [pizza] is the gastronomic thermometer of the food market: it [pizza] increases or decreases in price depending on the course of the ingredients named above, depending on the abundance or scarcity of the year. When the pizza with fish is priced half a grain, the fishing has been good; when the pizza with oil sells at one grain, the harvest has been bad. The more or less degree of freshness of pizza also has an impact on its price. . . .”

Dumas’ overall description of Naples’ pizzas, extant in 1835, seems concentric with Bouchard’s description of pizza, extant between 1847 and 1866. While Dumas makes references to the following ingredients:

1. Bread dough,
2. Bacon,
3. Lard,
4. Cheese (It is not clear that exactly what type of cheese he refers to),
5. Tomatoes,
6. Small fish, and
7. Olive oil,

Bourcard makes references to the following constituents:

1. Oil,
2. Salt,
3. Oregano,
4. Garlic,
5. Cheese or formaggio (It is not clear that exactly what type of formaggio he refers to),
6. Lard,
7. Basil,
8. Tiny fish,
9. Muzzarella,
10. Prosciutto,
11. Tomatoes, and
12. Clams.

One should wonder to what extent the lazzaroni participated in the development of Pizza Napoletana as known today in Naples. Did it develop in their hands, for instance, the way Flamenco was developed in the hands of the gitanos (gypsies) of Spain, another race of similar social status as the lazzaroni? Below are pictures of lazzaroni boys of the modern era. (The pictures were found at the following websites: site #1 & site #2.) It is not known specifically when the photos were shot. For more information on lazzaroni, click on the following links: link 1 and link 2.

Lazzaroni boys of the modern era, Naples (the sources and dates of these pictures are unknown)

It has been said that Neapolitan pizza has a humble origin, inspired by poverty and necessity. How about art? Can the phenomenon of Neapolitan Pizza be viewed as a reconciliation, as some have suggested, with the traumatic history of Naples and its unfulfilled dreams of self-determination and independence? “History is the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of states, and the virtues of individuals have been victimized,” according to German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770–1831). Can pain and suffering breed art? German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was of the conviction that “art” brings about “redemption” from life’s pain and suffering. Is it the case that Neapolitans basically have, however subconsciously, found solace in the pizza?—which is fundamentally an icon and reminder of their historical identity and the past glory of Naples.

Next article: Part 6: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

Previous article: Part 4: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

May 9, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 4: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza)

In an interview, Sen. Ciro Leone (the proprietor of Trianon da Ciro, a prominent Neapolitan pizzeria in Naples, Italy) stated: “But there is no ‘evolution’ of the pizza. Its tradition remains.” This is a puzzling statement made by Sen. Leone; I am not sure how to interpret it. Does he mean that the Neapolitan pizza never underwent any development and diversification from its earlier forms—that it fell as a complete package from the womb of time? Surely, every time-honored tradition has a beginning, however uncertain, and undergoes a developmental phase until it is cultivated and well-rooted in the culture which nourishes it. Or, does he imply that the evolution of the Neapolitan pizza has already reached the summit of its development and perfection, that there is no more room for change? Whatever the case might be, the history of Neapolitan pizza, however scanty and fragmented, should shed some light on this issue.

Sen. Ciro Leone, the proprietor of Trianon da Ciro in Naples, Italy

Having made a very brief appreciation of history of Naples in a previous article, let us now briefly and selectively consider, in this article and other future articles, certain pivitol points in the history of Neapolitan pizza, not in a chronological order but in a backward fashion, starting before the historic visit of Queen Margherita of the Kingdom of Italy to Naples in 1889. Bear in mind that Naples became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. In 1866, Francesco de Bourcard, a writer who had great passion and admiration for the Neapolitan culture, completed a two-volume book on the lives of people of Naples. The book, titled Usi e Costumi di Napoli (Traditions and Customs of Naples), has been instrumental in understanding certain aspects of daily lives of the Neapolitans within a timespan from 1847 to 1866. According to the online version of “Libreria Neapolis” (Neapolis Library, located in Naples, Italy):

“Vent’anni impiegò, dal 1847 al 1866, Francesco de Bourcard per realizzare i due grossi volumi dedicati agli ‘Usi e costumi di Napoli e contorni descritti e dipinti’. Un’opera preziosa, sia per l’accurata descrizione di usanze del tempo, di personaggi popolari, feste, cerimonie, culti, che per i cento disegni acquerellati che ‘dipingono’ le descrizioni. Il libro è un’altra testimonianza dell’interesse che avvinse a Napoli scrittori di vari paesi: il De Bourcard era oriundo svizzero, nipote del Maresciallo De Bourcard capitano generale del Regno di Napoli, distintosi nella guerra dei sette anni e nella presa di Roma nel 1789-99. Il nipote si napoletanizzò perfettamente, studiò le cose di Napoli, volle offrire un atto di amore alla terra in cui era nato, dedicandosi alla non lieve fatica di mettere insieme scrittori e artisti in un’opera che – anche per la parte grafica – può dirsi monumentale per quei tempi.”

“It took twenty years, from 1847 to 1866, for Francis de Bourcard to build the two large volumes Traditions and Customs of Naples and Described and Painted Surroundings. It is valuable both for the accurate description of the customs of the time, popular characters, festivals, ceremonies, rituals, and for one hundred watercolor drawings that ‘paint’ the descriptions. The book is another testimony of the interest that gripped Naples writers of various countries: De Bourcard was a native of Switzerland, the grandson of Maresciallo De Bourcard, who was the Captain General of the Kingdom of Naples, and who distinguished himself in the Seven Years War and Capture of Rome in 1789-99. The grandson perfectly Neapolitanized, studied the affairs of Naples, desiring to offer an act of love for the land where he was born, dedicating himself, to no small effort, to bring together writers and artists in a work—even for the graphics—that is deemed monumental for its time.”

The Book “Usi e Costumi di Napoli” by Francesco de Bourcard

Il Pizzaiuolo (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Oil Peddler (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Eggs Vendor (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Coffee Peddler (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Zeppole Vendor (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Sorbet Peddler (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

In his illuminating book, Bourcard revealed some valuable information about the pizzas of Naples:

“Le pizze più ordinarie, dette coll’aglio e l’oglio, han per condimento l’olio, e sopra vi si sparge, oltre il sale, l’origano e spicchi d’aglio trinciati minutamente. Altre sono coperte di formaggio grattugiato e condite collo strutto, e allora vi si pone disopra qualche foglia di basilico. Alle prime spesso si aggiunge del pesce minuto; alle seconde delle sottili fette di muzzarella. Talora si fa uso di prosciutto affettato, di pomidoro, di arselle, ec. Talora ripiegando la pasta su se stessa se ne forma quel che chiamasi calzone.”

“The more ordinary pizzas, such as coll’aglio e l’oglio (“with garlic and oil”), have the oil for seasoning, and over it spreads, besides the salt, oregano and finely chopped garlic. Others are covered with formaggio grattugiato e condite collo strutto (grated cheese and seasoned neck lard), and then topped with a few leaves of basil. To the first one is often added tiny fish, to the second one thin slices of muzzarella. Sometimes you are using prosciutto slices, tomatoes, clams, and etc. Sometimes folding the dough over itself as what is called calzone.”

So, in the above-quoted passage, Bourcard basically describes two types of pizzas if I am not mistaken:

The 1st Pizza:
The first pizza contains oil, finely chopped garlic, oregano, and salt as toppings. Tiny fish are often added to the preceding toppings. Perhaps, the picture below exemplifies the described pizza.

Antichissima (“ancient”) pizza by Ciro Salvo: oil, garlic, oregano, & cecenielli (whitebait)

The 2nd Pizza:
The second pizza seems to bear formaggio grattugiato (“grated cheese”), seasoned lard, and basil leaves as toppings. Thin slices of mozzarella (spelled “muzzarella”) are often added to the preceding toppings. And, sometimes prosciutto, tomatoes, clams, and etc. Perchance, the picture below can serve as an example for the described pizza.

Pizza Mastunicola by Franco Pepe: pork lard, Romano, oregano, pepper, & basil

Some are of the belief that garnishing a pizza with tomatoes became customary only after Queen Margherita’s visit to Naples in 1889. Nontheless, the above-quoted passage seems to bear witness to the usage of tomatoes as a pizza topping prior to Raffaele Esposito preparing the Pizza Margherita for the Queen in 1889.

Pizza Margherita by L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples, Italy

Next article: Part 5: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

Previous article: Part 3: The Mediterranean Phenomenon

May 7, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 3: The Mediterranean Phenomenon)

Mediterranean Sea and bordering countries

Trade, commerce, and empire-building throughout the history of Western civilization have often facilitated cultural exchange amongst various social groups or ethnicities. In effect, certain ethnic cuisines that have been passed down to the present age do not seem to have been formed in a vacuum or in strict isolation from extraneous influences from other cultures. Such cuisines are partly products of economic, political, and historical forces that spanned across various cultures and geographic regions. The Neapolitan pizza does not seem to be an exception! Having studied some of the cultures that have flourished around the Mediterranean Sea, including the Levantine territories, I hypothesize that a roundish, flattened, baked dough burdened with certain simple garnishes, either before or after baking, is typically a Mediterranean phenomenon. In other words, baking a leavened (and sometimes unleavened), flattened piece of wheat dough that is topped (or sometimes stuffed) with certain basic ingredients and baked in a wood-fueled oven is fundamentally Mediterranean. Mediterranean regions such as Egypt, Palestine/Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and etc., they all have their own characteristic flatbreads that are dressed with specific, traditional ingredients. Just to name a few, the typical topped flatbread in Egypt is known as “feteer” (فطير), in Palestine/Israel as “manakish” (مناقیش), in Lebanon as “sfiha” (صفيحة), in Syria as same as the preceding, in Turkey as “lahmacun” (and “pide”, which is oval akin to a calzone), in Armenia as “lahmajoun” (although Armenia is not a Mediterranean territory), in Italy as “pizza”, and so on. There are several overlapping varieties. As shown in the pictures below, the topped flatbreads have certain attributes and ingredients in common.

Feteer (فطير), Egyptian topped flatbread

Manakish (مناقیش), Palestinian topped flatbread

Sfiha” (صفيحة), Lebanese topped flatbread

Sfiha” (صفيحة), Syrian topped flatbread

Lahmacun, Turkish topped flatbread

Pide, Turkish topped flatbread

Pide, Turkish flatbread topped with suckle, not pepperoni

Pide, Turkish stuffed flatbread, which is similar to Calzone

Greek pita bread topped with chopped tomatoes and olive oil

Neapolitan pizza margherita, topped with crushed tomatoes, fior di latte or buffalo mozzarella, basil, and olive oil

Often, people of each Levantine nation (Palestine/Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and sometimes including parts of Egypt, Turkey, and Iraq) claim that such topped flatbreads originated from their respective nations. As some scholars argue, if such topped flatbreads were originated, evolved, and disseminated around the Mediterranean territories from an eminently distant past—when there were no nation-states—, then it might be nonsensical to attribute them to a specific nation at the cost of excluding the rest. Again, my contention is that: a roundish, flattened, baked dough burdened with certain simple garnishes is typically a Mediterranean phenomenon.


Some scholars posit that the rise of some of the “early empires” (such as the Persian and Macedon Empires), the “classical empires” (such as the Roman Empire), and the “post-classical empires” (such as the Byzantine, Arab, and Ottoman Empires) played crucial roles in shaping and/or disseminating some of the Mediterranean cuisines or certain elements thereof.

Persian Empire (500 B.C.)

Macedon Empire (334-323 B.C.)

Roman Empire (200 A.D.)

Byzantine Empire (600 A.D.)

Arab Empire under Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 A.D.)

Arab Empire under Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171 A.D.)

Ottoman Empire (1683 A.D.)

As the aforementioned empires expanded their powers around the Mediterranean Sea and beyond, they also inadvertently spread various elements of the cuisines of the conquered lands. Such elements were sometimes diffused and adopted by the host cultures with minor or major modifications, or they were sometimes synthesized into a new fusion. (The formation of New York style pizza is a case in point, except it happened not by conquest, but by immigration of the Italians to the United States in late 1800s.) In regard to the Arab Empire, about 100 years after death of the founder of Islam, Mohammad, in 632 A.D., the empire (particularly under the Umayyad caliphate) stretched all the way from the Arabian Peninsula, through the Northern Africa, to Spain, where they ruled for about 700 years. In addition, the Arab Empire under Fatimid Caliphate included parts of the modern France and Italy. And, to the East, the empire expanded all the way to the Western parts of China. As the Arab empire conquered the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, they tried to culturally homogenize the inhabitants of those lands under the banner of Islam. In this manner, many cultural elements of the conquerers and the conquered people were diffused around the Mediterranean areas, including Southern Italy. Such cultural exchanges/influences spread to wherever the empire expanded to and beyond.

Many of the conquered people whom today we consider as Muslim Arabs (such as the people today we know as Egyptians, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, and etc.), were originally neither Muslims nor Arabs until after they were conquered by the Moslem Arabs. The pita bread, which is often construed as the “Middle Eastern” or “Arabic bread”, might be another case in point, perhaps! According to the 4th edition of The American Heritage Dictionary, the word “pita” is defined as follows: “A round flat bread of Middle Eastern origin that can be opened to form a pocket.” However, the word “pita”—literally meaning “pie”—is a Greek word (πίτα)! Furthermore, the Arabic alphabet is devoid of the letter “P”. The actual Arabic word for pita or pita-like bread is Khubz (خبز), which literally means “bread”.

Employing the wisdom of their conquered subjects and due to their own ingenuity, the Arab civilization of the time managed to become quite sophisticated and progressive in realms of arts, literature, math, science, and philosophy—which fueled and made possible the Renaissance in Italy and other parts of Europe. The free Greek thinking of the classical Greece was revived and promoted under the Arab rule, which needed the ancient wisdom in order to be able to administer the ever expansive empire. Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in harmony together under the rule of Arabs in Andalusia (southern Spain). And, they committed themselves to preserving and translating the ancient wisdom embodied in the Persian, Greek, and other texts of antiquity into Latin, which during the Crusades (1095 – 1291 A.D.) made their way into Europe, changing many aspects of European cultures.

Here is an irony: while pizza was imported to the United States by the Italian immigrants (who ended up altering its original Neapolitan composition and gastronomy to the form of what is known today as the New York style pizza), the same was exported to the rest of the world from the United States! Some are of the belief that America’s great economic power has hijacked the pizza! Hence, the rest of the world views the pizza through the American, not Neapolitan, perspective. When a Swedish friend of mine recently came face-to-face with a traditional Neapolitan Pizza Margherita for the first time, he surprisingly remarked: “What?—You call this a pizza?” He had expected to see a New York or American type of pizza; the Margherita looked naked and foreign to him.

So far, the Pizza Hut empire (an American corporation) has expanded itself to 54 foreign nations around the globe:

Pizza Hut around the globe

Moreover, the Domino’s Pizza empire (another American corporation) has so far expanded to 53 nations around the world. No need to enumerate them. ( In addition, according to the official website for Little Caesars Pizza (another American corporation), “Little Caesars has franchisees in over 20 countries on 5 continents from North America to Central America, the Middle East to Europe, and many countries in between.” And, at last, per the official website for Papa John’s Pizza (yet another American corporation), it has so far expanded to Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, South Korea, and Philippines. It is no exaggeration that American business—not Naples—has first and foremost shaped how the world views pizza.

Irony of History!

Next article: Part 4: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

Previous article: Part 2: A Brief History of Naples

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