Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Political Science in Naples, Italy: The Art of Neapolitan Pizza

While we have been in Naples, we have learned the city is renowned for being the birthplace of pizza. Food is taken very seriously in Naples, but the art of pizza making actually led to Italian laws that specify what Is real Neapolitan pizza.

 On our first night in Naples, we learned that on Sundays, many of the businesses close early in the evening.  We naturally thought we should have pizza and began to seek a pizzeria that was open. The waiters stood in front of the restaurant and said “Prego” (welcome) and encouraged us to enter the open air street cafĂ©. We quickly found one that also had free Wi-Fi, a commodity we have learned not to take for granted. Several of the group ordered Margherita pizza, which is Naples’s signature pizza. The flat bread with mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalo, local plum tomatoes, and basil is reportedly named after a visiting Italian queen.  The 14-inch personal pizza baked in a wood-fired oven reflects the colors of the Italian flag—red, white, and green.

Pizza has been a staple since the 18th century, sold on city streets and served on ships sailing from the Port of Naples. It is cheap to make and only requires a few ingredients.  I learned Naples is so protective of its pizza, a law was passed by the European Union, “giving three pizzas—Marinara (tomato, garlic, and oregano), Margherita and Extra Margherita (both with tomato, basil, and mozzarella)—the same name protection as fine wine.”

The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) we work with have contracted with Pizzerias to teach the proper making of pizza to selected refugees seeking political asylum. This is so they can become certified as Pizzaioli. The $1000 fee for a four- to six-month placement on the job-training course is paid by the NGO or through donations. We have been told that a certified Napolitano Pizzaiolo can easily find work. Hamid, the youngest Afghanistan man at one of the shelters I visited, is currently in a Naples program. He was selected to begin his classes after Ramadan, owing to his quick learning of Italian. Hamid was excited about the classes but admitted he still favors his traditional dishes. We informed Hamid that at times we too miss our traditional food. We encouraged Hamid to complete the program and attempt to adapt to a new culture while retaining his own.

The Neapolitan pizza, as defined by law, is made from a specific kind of wheat flour and yeast, round, no more than 14 inches in diameter and cooked in a wood-fired oven at temperatures above 905 degrees Fahrenheit.  The law specifically states the flat bread is to be made with mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalo, local San Marzano plum tomatoes, and basil.

But, since the law went into effect, no one has been hauled into court for not pouring the extra virgin olive oil in a circular pattern starting from the middle, or for mixing the ingredients in a different order than the one prescribed by the painfully detailed regulations. The backers of the law—not all Italian pizzaioli are advocates—insist this is not about punishment, but rather sharing information about a key aspect of their culture.

- Barbara Brown

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