Let me start by saying that I love pizza, and those that don’t, well, I never want to share a table with you. It’s not me, it’s definitely, you.
You see pizza is so multifunctional as a food that we can seriously underestimate its vigour to cure all the ills; hangover, fatigue, lethargy and sure, why not, hunger. We’re taught at an early age that we stop that painful rumble in the stomach by eating, and it happens to be pizza that was probably the first thing I ever remember eating.
Not pasta. Not rice. Not even a block of cheese; which ironically fills my mid thirties arteries today, but pizza. I was spoilt. I lived on the outskirts of Naples and I was, at just 18 months versed in the art of warming up a slice for breakfast some 17 years before University ever happened. Take that social norms!
Neapolitan pizza is like nothing else. The soft chard, the just off bitter tomato, the fior di latte cheese, the drizzle of olive oil and that dough. Soft yet firm, sour yet mouthwatering.
You see we now have real pizza parlours. Places that know what they’re doing, and building restrictions which Bob The Builder couldn’t cock up when installing the Devil’s own mother of pizza ovens so we too, can experience Naples without some S*n reporter telling you it’s as dangerous as Raqqa. Prick.
As Katy Salter put it so eloquently in 2013, “there is a pizza revolution going on – and it doesn’t involve pineapple or hotdog-stuffed crusts. Authentic, Neapolitan-style pizzas are winning over an army of British fans.”
Something changed about the attitude to pizza in the UK around the early 2000s. For years, we seemed to be happy with accepting anything but the real thing. Where stuffed crusts were considered novel and exciting, where a thin base was as rare as unicorn shit and toppings were as phantasmagorical as the Harry Potter series and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy combined. I mean, a Ke-fucking-bab on a pizza. A pizza. In a wrap or pitta, sure, but this, this was always the step too far.
When I recently spoke to Pasquale Chionchio, co-owner of the famous Santa Maria Pizzeria in London his theory was simple. “It’s only been the last 15/18 years that we’re seeing a shift in pizza culture, and we need to thank Easyjet, Jamie Oliver and a man called Giuseppe Mascoli.”
“What Giuseppe taught us all was, that real Neapolitan pizza was achievable outside of Naples. There was no compromise on his part, or my restaurant about quality and ingredients, he taught a lot of aspiring pizzerias that there shouldn’t need to be. His input was cultural and significant, it spawned what is now the new-wave of pizzerias across the city of London and, what has started across the country.”
Pasquale Chionchio would know a thing or two about pizza. Co-owner of Santa Maria Pizzeria based in London, (Ealing and Chelsea), this Neapolitan has been dishing out the traditional stuff since 2010 and working in the industry for some time before that. The stores have won multiple awards, been considered one of the best pizzerias in the United Kingdom are at the battlefront of true Neapolitan quality. If someone is obviously going to make you understand the market, and how we got here, Pasquale is your man.
“Easyjet (and other low-cost operators) flights have to be thanked for the development of pizza culture in the UK. For £30, Brits, for the first time were experiencing Naples, seeing the quality of the food was different and then asking the question, ‘why can’t we have pizzas like this?’ It’s made a significant change to how people perceive quality and what they should be paying for an authentic slice.”
For now, sure, they are mainly located in London, and that isn’t a problem… yet. I’ve waited twenty fucking years to have a good slice of pizza, waiting one more for all the rage to kick in up north is no big deal. I know, there are places in Manchester (Rudy’s), Leeds (Ecco) and Edinburgh (Pizzeria 1926) , I guess I won’t be happy until they are on every street corner in the UK! But the biggest threat to this movement, and I know, I said I wasn’t going to mention it, but I need to, is Brexit.
Yes, that massive spot located in the crevice of your undercarriage that rubs ever so violently if provoked and worsened when witnessing his great lordship, the mouth fart that is Nigel, could seriously dampen the thirst for a slice of celestial genius.
Firstly, the staff. Sure, Brits could learn to make the pizza the way Naples intended, but then, you thought Pizza Hut was the muts nuts for near on thirty years, and that Pizza Express was high end pizza chain, it would be like trusting a python to watch over a box of mice; I just can’t. The inhumanity of it all.
Secondly, the cost of raw ingredients. If you want to say you’ve had a real Neapolitan pizza, you need San Marzano tomatoes, last time I checked, they’re in Italy and if the pound gets any lower, and export costs get any bigger not only will you obliterate any profit margin, but make the thing that is essentially water, flour and yeast as expensive as small mortgage on a villa in Munich; and only experimenting doctors would ever pay for that.
Did anyone else get an image of the human centipede? No? Moving on…
The point is this, for years, I have yearned for a slice of home, the sourdough concoction that can make me go from neurotic, shopping channel watching narcissist into someone rather pleasant. I don’t want to pay £6 for a supermarket pizza that has some form of wild ham on it, or grilled vegetable that reminds me of a dodgy salad I once had in Kos. I don’t want to pay £3 for a Dr Oetker bastardised frozen thing either, I wouldn’t serve it to my worst enemy, you get the picture.
We’re so close to pizza nirvana now, in the UK that is. We’ve got it nailed that pizza need not cost £11 for substandard, and that by looking beyond our own borders we can truly accept some good things can happen; like pizza. True Neapolitan pizza that is, and amen, the UK is starting to realise that as well.