top of page


It is fitting, I think, that I finish my quartet of Neapolitan stories with pizza. And particularly the kind of pizza that is made in Naples which differs from that made in other parts of Italy. Throughout Italy, from north to south, and on the islands, flatbreads are made. They have various names and differing qualities but they are all a variation of pizza. I’ll write about that in another post because I think it’s fascinating but for now, let’s concentrate on la vera pizza napoletana.

A week or so ago, Naples made culinary news. It was at that time that UNESCO announced that pizzaiuolo – the art of Neapolitan wood fired pizza making was added to UNESCO’S Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

What does this mean? According to UNESCO’S site (, the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity comprises cultural “practices and expressions [that] help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance”. Particularly, this list seeks to defend and recognise forms of cultural heritage that may disappear. Many of these cultural practices are oral and generational; they rest with the custodians who are becoming elderly, infirm or simply moving, of necessity, away from the venue of production.

There were some thirty cultural practices that were added to this year’s “intangible list”, only a few of them were culinary. Some that piqued my interest were artistic and performance based while others respected a way of life fast disappearing. On this year’s list, for instance, was the Kok Boru, a traditional horse game from Kyrgystan, and also the Khaen music of the Lao people. The craft of the miller-operated windmills and watermills of the Netherlands was also recognised as were artisanal processes for weaving textiles for the pinta’o hat of Panama. The full list is fascinating reading and I had cause to thank Womadelaide, for introducing me to folk dances and singing that are also on the list for “intangible” cultural practices.

Kok-boru is a popular horse game in Kyrgyzstan in which two teams of riders try to carry a goat or calf carcass into the opposing team’s end zone. According to UNESCO, this traditional horse game offers a “rare glimpse into Central Asia’s nomadic past”. (© Igor Kovalenko / epa / Corbis) Credit also to Mike Ives. August 8, 2012

Along with the Neapolitan pizzaiuolo, the culinary tradition of the Malawi people was also inscribed this year. The staple food in Malawi is Nsima which is a thick maize porridge that is moulded into patties and served with either beans, meat, or vegetables collectively called Ndiwo. Again, thanks to my gig, hosting Taste the World at Womadelaide, I have not only tasted Nsima but helped cook it too.

There is, however, another List and a much more urgent one at that: The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. The full list appears on UNESCO’S web site and makes challenging reading. I do not want to see the extinction of Colombian-Venezuelan Ilano work songs or live with the fact that Ojkanje singing no longer exists in Croatia. I have heard neither but it saddens me because the world would be a poorer place without the singers and the songs.

Some cultural practices are threatened also because of globalisation and quite simply the lack of regard by most people. As Cath Kerry (, discusses in “Respect”, her Rugged Individualist will brand us pedants, or worse. Food should be allowed to evolve, grow and change. I agree...except where that food is essential to the character of the place, of its history or of the season.

And after that lengthy digression, I come back to pizza.

Even in Naples, they make ‘take away pizza’, here called pizza a portafoglio (folded like a wallet for easy eating on the go); they make stuffed, fried pizza at Sorbillo and even at the venerable Starita on Via Materdei that has been operated by the same family for 110 years; they make 'gourmet' pizze with creative toppings at the trendy 50 Kalo’ on Piazza Sannazaro and at La Notizia’s young protege on Via Caravaggio, 94 where they experiment with figs, fresh baccala’ and lemon.

Photo credit for following three images: Julie Reece, October 2017 tour .

Pizza on the 'go': street food for tourists and students.

Pizza fritta at the famous Sorbillo. This tiny, hole in the wall shop is in the heart of Naples, onVia dei Tribunali. Owned and operated by brothers, Gino and Antonio Sorbillo.

Pizza fritta from Sorbillo served on paper with a napkin. Antonio Sorbillo won the World Pizza Championship in 2016. Unpretentious - utterly delicious.

Photo credit: "Gourmet Pizza", with vongole, roasted red and yellow capsicum and fresh oregano. Notice the traditional copper dispenser of oil and notice, too, the 'puffy' texture of the pizza base. And look, no tomatoes, no cheese and sparse toppings. Imagine.

In Naples it has long been recognised that la vera pizza napoletana is unique, endangered, often disrespected and, therefore, must be protected. At Da Michele, Corso Umberto 1, lunchtime queues are crazy but people wait patiently in line clutching their numbered ticket. The pizze are traditional with only two flavours on offer, Margherita and Marinara.

Photo credit: Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana website. Pizza Margherita, created in 1889 for Queen Margherita, is in the foreground and its even simpler friend, Pizza Marinara, in the doorway of the oven. Marinara (nothing to do with fish) has only tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil.

UNESCO'S announcement has lead to a bitter/sweet week for Neapolitans at home and abroad. Of course, in Naples, there was jubilation in the streets, teams of pizzaiuoli, that is, pizza makers, marched down the narrow streets throwing dough into the air to show the world just how it's done. Pizzerie (pizza restaurants) handed out hundreds of pizze to delirious locals, some of them in tears.

But the rest of us, too far away to be warmed by the radiant glow of success, had to endure a week-long barrage of bad jokes – “a pizza history”, “you can’t top that”, “a slice of Naples on a plate”, “on the rise” etc, etc. Honestly, is it not enough that we have dessert pizza with Nutella and that people persist with pineapple and ham? We have to add insult to injury?

Photo credit: istock.

Tossing pizza dough into the air is not just Neapolitan showmanship. There are, in fact, scientific reasons for it. There is no need to throw it high into air, unless you do just want to show off your acrobatic prowess, but merely tossing the stretched dough from one open hand to the other will also do the trick. It helps to regulate the moisture as the air flowing over the dough allows the surface to dry off a little, making it less sticky but keeping the moisture within. Also, since pizza makers never use a rolling pin to flatten and spread the dough because this leads to dry, crisp crust, spinning the flattened discs in the air or slapping them between the hands or on the bench helps keep the crust uniform.

How to eat a pizza.

Pizza “fosters social gatherings and intergenerational exchange... [and the]...pizzaiuoli (pizza makers) are a living link for the communities concerned,” so said UNESCO in its documentation. Few would argue with that. And yet, sitting down with Neapolitans for pizza is fraught with potential gaffi. La vera pizza napoletana is not fast food in any real sense, although the cooking of it should never exceeded 60-90 seconds, and Italians generally do not eat it on the go, they savour it slowly at a table. And they don't share - they order their own. Pizza is eaten with the fingers, no cutlery required. Tear off a piece if it is uncut or fold a wedge in half to contain all the topping. Because proper pizza crust is soft and pliable, it is pointless to pick it up from the crust. Firstly, all the topping slides off and, secondly, it is so undignified trying to get the pointed end into your mouth.

The practices surrounding pizza making have become dangerously close to farcical and totally inauthentic. So much so, that in June, 1984, Neapolitan pizza maker, Antonio Pace, formed the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana and put into writing the precise rules for the preparation and processing of ‘pizza verace', the original, true pizza. In 1989, the centenary year of the Pizza Margherita, the Association also began the long process of putting the protocols in place to be able to declare D.O.C certification. Like a wine varietal, D.O.C is a certificate of origin to a particular locale or city. Finally, all the protocols and rules for verace pizza napoletana were ratified in 2004.

In an interview quoted on the Association’s English pages website,, Pace states: “We are fighting nobody, we just want to affirm our ancient traditions. We are against the cultural and commercial deformation of our pizza and against its industrialization; in fact, the ready-to-eat and frozen pizzas sold in supermarkets have nothing to do with the original ones.”

The members of the Association read like a who's who of the best pizzerie in Naples. One of its initiatives is a committee that oversees the visual and organoleptic characteristics of those pizze that claim to be authentic, not just in Naples but worldwide. I have downloaded the Association's 12 page regulations for 'obtaining the use of the collective trade mark "verace pizza Napoletana" '. This document outlines the strict practices that establish the characteristics of the neapolitan pizza. It is required reading for pizza lovers.

The following is not a piece of poetry: it is the official, legal definition of a true neapolitan pizza:

"The consistency of the " Verace Pizza Napoletana " - (Vera Pizza Napoletana) should be soft, elastic, easy to manipulate and fold. The centre should be particularly soft to the touch and taste, where the red of the tomato is evident, and to which the oil or for the Pizza Marinara, the green of the oregano and the white of the garlic has perfectly amalgamated; In the case of the Pizza Margherita, the white of the mozzarella should appear in evenly spread patches, with the green of the basil leaves, slightly darkened by the cooking process.....The crust should deliver the flavour of well-prepared, baked bread. This mixed with the slightly acidic flavour of the densely enriched tomatoes, and the respective aroma of oregano and garlic or basil and the cooked mozzarella ensures that the pizza, as it emerges from the oven, delivers its characteristic aroma -perfumed and fragrant".

Although this document is legally binding, the 'intangible', personal judgements of the pizzaiuoli raise it to the sublime. Vincenzo Pace,

Antonio’s father, is the Presdident of the Association and has been making pizza since he was 11. He states in an interview with Corriere della Sera: “The pizza secret lies all in the dough rising. Its recipe? It doesn’t exist and I can tell you that, because I’ve learnt since I was a child that dough rising changes according to the weather, hot or cold, dry or damp. For instance if it’s cold, you need hot water and a little salt; if it’s hot you need less salt since it slows down the rising. These issues must be taken into consideration the night before, when preparing the dough. Ten to twelve hours are needed for a perfect rising. You can standardise the process, but it is the experience that refines the art”. Intangible. Knowledge that needs to be safeguarded.

So, what are some of the strictures that the Association lays down?

a. the wheat flour type must be "00". This flour has an almost talcum-powder like appearance, white, fine and is completely free of bran or germ. A small amount of wheat flour type "0" (Manitoba) is allowed to be added providing the percentage ranges from 5 to 20%.

b. Water: must be clean and free of gas with a pH = 6-7 • Recommended temperature for production: 20 – 22°C

c. Salt: sea salt must be used

d Yeast: Compressed yeast, biologically produced, solid, soft and beige in colour ,with quite an insipid taste and a low degree of acidity. Yeast must be purchased in packages ranging from 250-500 grams. The use of Natural yeast is also permitted (see appendices).

e. All types of fat must be excluded from the dough.

The recipe for the ingredients and method are similarly simple but strictly laid down:

Water 1 litre

Salt 50-55 grams

Yeast 3 grams

Flour 1.7/1.8 kg (depending on strength)

Mixing time 10 minutes to add flour and prepare mixture in order to reach its ‘optimal point’, knead for a further 20 minutes. First stage of dough rise requires 2 hours. Then comes the “taglio a mano” where the dough is hand cut and rolled into small balls referred to as ‘panetti’ of approximately 180- 250 grams. The second stage allows the panetti to rise in ‘rising boxes’ for 4-6 hours at a recommended room temperature of 25°c. Following the second rising, the ‘panetti’ can be removed from the rising box using a spatula and placed on the preparation bench in the pizzeria on a light layer of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work area.

With a motion from the centre outwards, and with the pressure of the fingers of both hands on the dough ball, the base is turned over and around many times. In doing this the ‘‘pizzaiolo” (pizza maker)’ forms a disk of dough (disco di pasta). From the centre the thickness is no more than 0.4 cm (a variance of 10% is tolerated), and a border that is no greater than 1-2 cm, forming a frame or crust. The crust, known as ‘cornicione’, is one of the identifying features of the pizza. Specifically excluded is the use of a rolling pin and mechanical presses.

And so to the toppings:

The tomatoes, fresh or canned, must be San Marzano D.O.P. The cheese for the Margherita must be mozzarella di bufala or fior di latte. Only extra virgin olive oil is allowed as it remains unaltered at the oven's high temperature. A traditional copper oil canister must be used for the oil and applied to the dough using a spiral motion from the centre and moving out. Oregano for the marinara pizza is origanum vulgare from the labiatae family and only fresh basil is permitted for the Margherita.

To cook:

“Verace Pizza Napoletana” - (Vera Pizza Napoletana) must be done exclusively in a wood fire oven which has reached the cooking temperature of 485° C. This is essential. Cooking time should not exceed 60-90 seconds. The association recommends wood that does not hold any moisture, smoke or produce odours that alter the aroma of the pizza. Recommended are Oak, Ash, Beech and Maple.

There it is: Verace Pizza Napoletana: The true Neapolitan pizza. A recipe so endangered that UNESCO has stepped in to protect it. Simple. Authentic to its region and its history. A testimony to the skill of its creators. The loss of which would render the world a poorer place.

bottom of page