Food fight: Naples protests 'culinary racism' over pizza snub

Naples prides itself as the birthplace of pizza. So when a top Italian food guide overlooked the city's famed dish, protests erupted.

Mario Laporta/Reuters
Chef Giulio Buonomo shows off a 'euro' pizza, prepared with tomatoes, cheese, basil, and a euro symbol in icing, at his restaurant in central Naples, in 2001. This week the city was outraged to find Verona had been named as having the best pizza in the country in a respected restaurant guide.

It prides itself as the birthplace of the pizza and the global benchmark for Italy’s most famous culinary export.

So when Naples heard this week that the latest edition of Italy’s most respected restaurant guide had nominated a pizzeria in faraway, foggy Verona as the best in the country, there was spluttering outrage. Worse than that, not a single one of Naples’s estimated 2,000 pizzerias had made it into the 2013 edition of Gambero Rosso, Italy’s bible for foodies.

Indignant “pizzaioli,” as pizzamakers are known, staged noisy demonstrations in some of Naples’s most famous pizzerias to rail against what they saw as an injustice and a humiliation.

For the guide to judge the pizzeria near Verona, in the northeast of Italy, as the finest in the country was a snub not just to pizzamakers in Naples, but to the entire city, they said. Francesco Borrelli, a Neapolitan politician, went further – it was, he said, no less than an example of “culinary racism.”

"This is the umpteenth example of hostility towards our city and our traditions. The fact that Gambero Rosso did not find a single Neapolitan pizzeria to include is shameful,” he said.

Neapolitan newspapers tried to salvage some pride by poking fun at Verona for its culinary peculiarities – among them a horse meat stew known as “pastissada” and a bone marrow dish called “peara” – and said the city of Romeo and Juliet should stick to making polenta, not pizza.

The original pizza

Naples was the undisputed birthplace of the pizza, said Sergio Miccu, the president of the Neapolitan association of pizzamakers, even if it has now become a dish known around the world. “Its origins are in Naples – it was Neapolitans who taught the art of pizzamaking to other countries,” he said.

Once they’d stopped choking on their Quattro Stagioni, the pizzamakers in the Mediterranean port went on the offensive, inviting the food critics from Gambero Rosso to put their pizzas to the test so they could at least be included in the next guide.

“If they want to be our guests here in Campania, we will offer them an exquisite pizza in a different restaurant every day,” said Salvatore Trinchillo, the president of a Neapolitan commercial association.

Naples has campaigned for years to be recognized as the spiritual home of the pizza. 

Legend has it that pizza was invented there at the beginning of the 18th  century and the famous Margherita version was created in 1889 and named after Queen Margherita of Savoy.

Its ingredients reflected Italy’s national colors – red tomatoes, white mozzarella, and green basil leaves.

Naples lobbying the UN

Neapolitans have even lobbied UNESCO to include the dish on its “intangible cultural heritage” list of cultural and culinary traditions.

The list is run in parallel with UNESCO’s better-known register of World Heritage sites, such as castles, temples, and historical city centers.

The indignation of Neapolitans might seem a bit of an overreaction.

The row pitched southerners against northerners in a country that was only unified 151 years ago and where regional rivalries remain intense.

The city’s pizza aficionados muttered darkly about a northern “political plot” to besmirch the reputation of Naples.

But it was confirmation, if it was needed, that aside from football and family, few things arouse passions in Italy as much as food.

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