I hate premises. Boring, useless most of the time, you might write ten long digressions rather than one premise. But I feel I have to write a couple of them this time, so here we go.
– I’m from Naples, born and raised in Via Duomo. My building is next to Via S. Biagio dei Librai and opposite to Forcella, two famous streets both for tourist and crime reasons. Forcella is home to what almost anyone defines the best pizzeria in Naples (that means the best in the world), L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. It’s pointless to add I’ve been there many times.
“An average Neapolitan diet considers one pizza per week. At least.”
– Neapolitan people are devoted to their city in a sick way. Not only they will never lose their traditions, their language, their accents and their habits, they will always try to spread them, to teach them to whoever they meet. The devotion is sick even because they’ll protect it against any kind of offence and attack, even when legitimate, in particular, if it’s from a “fellow countryman”, despite the fact that they’re the first to disrespect their beloved ones on a daily basis.
– Neapolitan people love complaining as much as English people. However, while an English person complains in order to have a free coffee or other useless similar reasons, a Neapolitan complains about life itself, our complaining is deeper and has its roots in a primordial and grotesque desire of being someone else’s victim. Neapolitans are nostalgic about a kingdom not even their grandparents have lived in. For instance, most of them haven’t even read about it, they just love to complain about how everything was allegedly better for us before the Italian unification.
– An average Neapolitan diet considers one pizza per week. At least.
That said, the first night after Easter holidays I decide to have dinner at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Stoke Newington, the same branch of the one gorgeous pizzeria which stands a few minutes walking distance from my home in Naples. I went together with two friends, we got a bus that took 50 minutes to get us there, but of course they were all worth it in my mind. Waiting for the table didn’t take that long, probably because of the day we picked, and the limited choice of the pizza. Just like in Naples, they only make two kind of pizzas, the classical ones: Margherita and Marinara.
“Next time you come I’ll let you jump the queue.”
When the waiter served the pizza I was ready, I was there, mentally, physically and spiritually. I hadn’t had pizza in a while and I was thrilled I was at Michele, my Michele, the one in my original neighbourhood. I cut the first slice, I was so excited, I brought it close to my mouth, I was still excited, I bit it and… the famous castle of cards fell down. I suffered the blow in silence and I didn’t give up. I had a second slice, then a third one and then… it was too much. The tomato sauce was average and the mozzarella was chewy and tasted funny—I’m being politically correct here. But the dough, that terrific unique dough you can only taste in L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Via Cesare Sersale 1, Naples, Italy. Born from an ancient and super-secret recipe, the dough which makes Michele’s pizza THE pizza, that one dough was missing and replaced by a horrible tasteless version not even remotely similar to its original. I said it aloud and a couple sitting next to us confirmed my feelings. “We came here last week and loved it, but today the pizza was so bad…”. I called a waitress, a Neapolitan one, because you tend to trust a fellow countryman in a foreign country. I asked her if I was just being fussy and she told me “the dough had a bad rising” and that was all. She left. Like going to a steak house and being told the meat was rotten. I couldn’t believe it.
We finished our pizzas because we were hungry anyway, and then asked the bill to the waiter that was serving us. I complained with him as well and, after saying what the waitress told me again, he didn’t make any serious apologies nor tried to make amends at all. I wasn’t going all-Bristish-style, but just claiming moral and gastronomical justice for the crime they committed. While we were leaving, he only awkwardly added “next time you come I’ll let you jump the queue”. Yes, mate, you completely got my point, jumping the queue, as if I don’t have anything else to do but to come back to you and see a sand castle falling down again.
“They betrayed a symbol, a name, a whole city”
I got the bus for another long travel to home, but couldn’t stop thinking about what happened. I felt betrayed, not only as a pizza lover, but as a Neapolitan. It’s like going back home to visit your parents, but your parents are gone and now there’s a supermarket where once your flat stood. And when you call them asking why they didn’t tell you anything, “shit happens” is the only answer you get. I thought I had been just unlucky that night, even the best boxer can lose a few matches, so Google helped me by showing all the reviews the place had had till that day. I was scared by the number of people who complained about the same things I complained about. And we’re not talking Neapolitan or Italian only, people from all over the world who’ve been at least once to the original Michele and was expecting the same treatment here in London. But London is a black hole. You don’t know where it is going to spit you out.
Something like that would never have happened in any pizzeria in Naples, not in the city centre, not in Michele. There might be a general lack of customer service all over the city, but the pizza is so gorgeous you don’t really care about anything else. And when you go to Michele you may queue for three, four, five hours, then you go inside, you eat your pizza and they kick you out as soon as you’re done. The whole experience might last no more than twenty minutes, but I assure you you’ll never forget it. You can try the best pizzerias in the city and make your own top list, but once you try Michele you immediately understand these guys play in a league of their own.
So think about a guy born and raised for almost a quarter of a century in a city like this, eating more than one pizza per week, this kind of pizza. Now think about the same guy living in a foreign country with all the difficulties that an immigrant life brings. He loves his city, he loves its food, he loves its pizza. Then, the best pizza from his city comes to the foreign country where he lives now and that’s what happens.
I feel betrayed and I will always be disappointed with them. They betrayed a symbol, a name, a whole city. It might be just a pizza, it might be just dough, mozzarella and tomato sauce, but it is not. It’s something more. It’s culture, it’s history, it’s love for them both, and you don’t mess up with love. I’m not here to sponsor anyone, but I do like honesty and a well-done work, so I’m happy to tell you this other tiny story.
There’s this guy called Luche, he’s a rapper from the slums of Naples, the one you can see in Gomorrah the TV series. He decides to move to London and open his own pizzeria. He has no name, no symbol, no history, just the usual immigrant luggages. He does it, he opens it in the South, and I’m more than happy to say that there you can find a true Neapolitan pizza, my personal favourite one in London so far.
It might be just dough, mozzarella and tomato sauce, but we can better talk about it once you’ve been to Naples. And you are dead.