Please Don’t Eat Pizza in Napoli, It’ll Only Break Your Heart
Please don’t eat the pizza in Napoli! Honestly. Because unless you plan to stay forever, pizza in Naples Italy will only break your heart.
If you love to travel, at some time in your life you’ll likely visit Italy — land of romance, sexy Italian accents, comforting food smells on the breeze like Sunday dinners at home. There’s something intoxicating about Italy — and the food. Oh, the food!
More than anything, I remember those incredible meals at some of the best restaurants in Sorrento, Naples, and other towns along the Amalfi Coast (I tried to savor it because I knew it wouldn’t last).
And then there’s pizza, one of the tastiest and most traditional foods in the world. Just about every culture has a version of the original.
Pizza in Napoli
But I went looking for the best pizza in Naples, Italy — pizza in Napoli — to give it an honest assessment. Just good, traditional, pure pizza Neapolitan.
Just the thought of it now literally renders me speechless… thoughtless… writers block… I don’t even know where to go from here. Because I know what’s coming. I know it’s true. I am ruined forever on pizza.
I had an idea it would happen, and there were plenty of warning signs. But I thought it was just hype, and didn’t give it a second thought. Probably because I was never a huge fan of pizza before.
My husband has always expressed his love for the pie by saying “pizza should be its own food group”, and I know many others feel the same. Yet, I’ve never had a huge affinity for it. Don’t get me wrong, I like pizza well enough, but I’m more inclined to order a good Italian sub or a big salad than I would a slice of pizza.
Greasy slabs of over-sized pizza slices at the Jersey shore only served to upset my stomach for the rest of the day on the beach, not to mention the unpleasant combo of grease and sand.
I also live in the United States and am a second-generation Italian. I’ve always known that the better Italian food came from the Old Country, and sadly has been ever-so-slowly diluted by each generation since.
“But Gram makes it like this” we’d say. “Well, I put my own twist on it” my American mother would reply. So in the back of my mind, maybe I always knew there was something better, over there, waiting for me across the ocean. Something so good it was worthy of a spot on any Italy bucket list.
And I found it. Oh yes, I found it. Sweet… sweet pizza.
What’s the Big Deal About NAples Pizza?
Let’s start with why pizza in Naples Italy is such a big deal. Because if you’re a pizza virgin, you may have no idea why one might fall so hard. Pizza Neapolitan or pizza Napolitana (Naples pizza) is truly unique.
First and foremost, The Dough is the headliner and takes center stage in the best pizza in Napoli — the crust is soft and chewy, never too hard and crusty.
Generally wood fired, its tomato bed is soft and pillowy, just the slightest bit gooey in the center, so it's best eaten with a fork and knife.
Pizza in Napoli is never sliced. It is either served whole and unsliced, or folded in quarters and put in a paper cone as a street food al passegio.
Naples pizza is not smothered with shredded cheese and dripping with oil — it has just a few blobs of bufala mozzarella and several whole basil leaves (Margherita) adorning the middle. That’s it!! Simplicity.
Together the ingredients become something magical, a stark contrast to what we consider pizza in America. A Naples pizza is a purist's dream. Its reputation as the best pizza in Italy, and hence the world, is well deserved. And once consumed, necessarily ruins the diner on pizza forever.
Where to Eat Pizza in Naples, Italy
Now, to be fair to you and make every effort for full disclosure, I must tell you that my first exposure to this involved Julia Roberts, and I hope that doesn’t bias you one way or the other. You may have guessed it also involved the admitted chick flick — the movie everyone needs to watch before coming to Italy — Eat. Pray. Love.
Arguably the biggest hit movie of the last few decades especially among middle-aged women looking to find themselves through travel, meditation and affairs with hunky Latin men, it also was a huge boon to tourism in Italy, India, and Bali.
We were planning on traveling to Italy for our anniversary anyway, but the movie without a doubt inspired me to find that little pizzeria on a side street in Naples, where I fell in love again. It’s just something you have to do in Napoli.
Eat at Pizzeria da Michele, Naples.
Emilia Romagna and Bologna gets a lot of attention when it comes to food in Italy. They have some of the most delicious traditional Italian food in northern Italy. But in Italy, it's all about regional Italian cuisine.
My constitution is definitely southern Italian which is a good thing seeing how a Mediterranean diet is so good for you — rich in fresh fish, fruits and nuts, olive oil and Omega 3.
OK, there's also pasta which I can never resist, followed by a fresh limoncello, the ubiquitous liqueur made from the grapefruit-sized lemons found along the Sorrentine peninsula, Positano and the Amalfi Coast.
The Italian call it a "digestivo", the perfect aid to digest any Italian meal. So it’s healthy for you.
Pizzeria da Michele, Naples
There was a small crowd gathered in front when we arrived as if Julia herself was still there. You approach the door like a velvet-rope nightclub hoping to be seen and allowed to enter.
The little man who occasionally opened the door in between delivering pies inside hands you a numbered slip of paper, throwing the matching stub on the ground when he eventually calls your number.
So there we stood on the shreds of paper until he opened the door again.
“Numero dieci, undici, dedici”. The door closes.
“We’re next” my husband said, “we're number 13”.
Just one more, and we wait. Here he comes again - “Tredici”.
Yes! We’re in!
Everyone at Da Michele sits shoulder to shoulder at small tables of eight or ten, and we had an easy but quick decision to make - Marinara or Margarita, and Coke, Fanta, or beer. That’s it! Pizzas were being delivered all around us by the little man, each patron getting their own entire pie. No slices here, you get the entire thing to yourself.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such happiness on people’s faces before, and my excitement grew. I think I may have even cinched my shoulders a little bit to go with the huge smile plastered across my face, I was that excited.
And then, there it was. I could see it coming toward me, my own beautiful pie, just like I ordered it.
As he set it down in front of me, unsliced, I could smell the tomato and basil inviting me to dig in. I never imagined I could eat 6 or 8 slices of pizza at home in one sitting, yet I had no trouble whatsoever eating the whole pie in front of me.
Maybe it was the excitement, the normalcy of it all, or the knife-and-fork approach.
I don’t know.
I don’t care.
What I do know is from the very first bite I knew. This is what pizza was supposed to be.
It’s a sad fact of life - with pizza, a lost love, or anything for that matter — there’s nothing better once you’ve had the best.
Ironically, as I’m writing this, a friend of mine is visiting Italy now and she posted a pic on Instagram today of her latest Italian discovery — pizza. Sad for her, I left this comment on her post: “You’re ruined forever for pizza, you know that don’t you?!”
I just wish I could have gotten to her in time.