(Also known as: The pizza that ruined my life.)
Since 2/3 of my family is in Italy right now (they left me and my littlest sister at home — don’t bring it up), I thought it was fitting to do a Travel Tuesday post on Italy since it’s been on my brain lately. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled through Italy quite extensively, north to south, coast to coast and I could write an individual blog post on each of the 12 cities/towns I’ve visited since each has its own unique characteristics. But today I decided to take a foodie spin on things.
Italy is a place very close to my heart. My family hails from Italy, and I’m a second generation American. On my last trip to Italy, I even got to visit my relatives over there and see the town my grandma and relatives were raised in. And boy, is that a hysterical story. But we’ll save that one for another day. Today, we’re talking about pizza!
Prior to visiting my relatives on my most recent trip, my travel buddy and I stopped in Naples for a couple of days as we made our way south. I had heard mixed reviews of Naples – can be a little bit of a rough city, but worth it for the pizza. And I am not one to pass up on a foodie experience, so we added it to our itinerary and I’m so glad we did. They say the best pizza comes from Naples and I have to say, I agree.
Have you ever had something so good that it ruined you for that type of food from anywhere else? Well I have, and it was this pizza from the famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. It’s been around since 1870 and hasn’t changed a thing about the pizza recipe throughout the years — Grandfather Michele’s tradition of leavening the dough and using only natural ingredients still stands.
L’Antica is a no-frills place. The walls are white, the floor is white, and the tables are formica. If you go at lunchtime or dinnertime, you’ll probably have to wait forever in line (but it will be worth it). We went around 3pm, and waited maybe 20 minutes. There are only two types of pizza at L’Antica – Margherita and Marinara (sans cheese). These are the two traditional Neapolitan pizza styles; no added veggies, no added meat, no funky toppings.
I ordered the Margherita because I can’t fathom eating pizza without cheese, but one of our local friends ordered the Marinara style. You get an individual pizza, which is common in most Italian pizza joints, and you are expected to eat the entire thing. Don’t ever insult an Italian cook by not eating all of their food! The pizzas are huge and definitely more than enough for one person, but I ate every single bite because after the first bite, there was no way I was letting this go to waste.
Remember in Eat Pray Love where Elizabeth Gilbert says she’s having a relationship with her pizza? Yep, this is the place she goes to. And I can say, without a doubt, I understand what she means when she says that. It was so perfectly simple but so perfectly cooked and so perfectly tasty and just so perfectly everything. Neapolitan pizza is characteristically known for having a thin, chewy crust. This is not typical of our pizzas here in America. We normally have thick and chewy or thin and crispy. But a thin, chewy, and doughy crust is quite possibly my favorite. The crust is slathered with a thin layer of sweet and tangy tomato sauce and then topped with melted pearls of fresh mozzarella, garnished with a single basil leaf.
I ate every. single. bite. And I’ll always remember my friends cheering me on as I took that final bite of that final piece. This pizza has both made my life and also ruined my life, because now I can never be fully satisfied with pizza that is not from L’Antica. Also did I mention these pizzas only cost €4-5??
If you are visiting Naples, or considering planning a trip to southern Italy, you have got to factor L’Antica into your trip. Trust me, it’s worth it for the life changing pizza. And Naples is also going through a bit of resurgence. The city gets a bad rap for being a little dangerous, and while there are rough parts of town, there are also beautiful areas of the city, such as the trendy dining district along the waterfront. You just have to know the parts to avoid and you’ll be fine (and most locals can tell you this). Also the gorgeous views of Mount Vesuvius over the harbor don’t hurt either!
Other foodie delights in Naples:
Pizza isn’t the only thing Naples is known for. They also make some fabulous pastries. There are a number of varieties typical to Naples, but my favorite were Sfogliatelle and Baba au Rhum. Sfogliatelle is kind of like an extravagant croissant made from flaky layers similar to puff pastry. It is crispy, intricate, and filled with a custard ricotta mixture. Baba au Rhum are little cakes soaked in rum syrup. These pastries are the perfect sweet treat on an Italian morning (or afternoon, or night).