A Love Affair (With Pizza)
You know that movie scene in Eat, Pray, Love where Julia Roberts is eating pizza with her friend in Naples?
If you don’t, you can view it on youtube here.
I am one of those people to which food is a very important aspect of travel. I figure if I cannot eat local cuisine because I’m worried about my weight, I may as well not even go. So to me, that scene profoundly impacted me because sometimes I worry about how much I eat when I’m away. I try not to. I will enjoy the food regardless, but every now and again that little voice of criticism inside my head says, “are you really going to eat all that?”
The answer when I’m traveling, is always YES. This scene helped me to embrace my passion for wining and dining without worry when I’m in an exciting new location and trying to embrace all things local.
Naturally, when I was planning my time in Italy, I made a spot in my itinerary to stop at the exact same pizzeria this scene was filmed at.
I tried to find it my first night in Naples, but I really had no idea how to get around and I got lost, somewhat afraid to venture the streets of Naples after dark, I decided to find somewhere nearby. . After a couple of days I figured out how to get to L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele I planned the route on my map, left in the early afternoon, and arrived around 4pm.
It was actually not hard to find the place, once you get your bearings straight. And there was a crowd of people outside. Always a sign that the place is either famous, really good, or both. I stood back and watched what was going on so I could figure out how to get in and enjoy my little slice of pizza heaven.
Here’s how it appears to work:
An employee will come out and ask for how many your party is. He will then give you a number printed on a piece of paper. Once there is room inside, your number will be called - in Italian. So, it is very important that you know how to say your numbers in Italian. It could be a number from 1-100 (maybe even more), so if you don’t know what it sounds like to say these numbers out loud, I suggest you bring a reference that will allow you to look up or hear the number.
Be prepared to wait a long time. I think I waited an hour outside. I kept myself entertained by making small talk with fellow travelers with the same idea as me, sometimes helping them out a little by letting them know they have to get a number (I stood there for quite awhile before I figured that out, and I didn’t want anyone else to wait longer than necessary). The pizzeria is right off a little square and it’s a very good place to people watch.
My number was called (quarantotto) and I was led to a single open chair at a table packed with people. All the tables in two different rooms are packed with people. I’m placed in the main room, where they are preparing the pizzas.
If it’s not too crowded, there is a space where you can stand and watch the men at work. 2 take the dough and stretch it out, place the toppings on, and one or two of them place the pizzas in the pizza oven. A few more take the pizzas and serve them to the diners.
There aren’t many options here, but from what I’ve learned over the years is you don’t need a large menu to be successful. All you need are a few dishes and to do those dishes very well. Here, you get the choice of 2 different kinds of pizzas (Margherita and Marinara), and a Coca Cola, Fanta, Beer, or Water. All drinks are the same price.
I pick my pizza (Pizza Margherita: tomato, mozzarella, oil, cheese, and basil) and a beer.
As I sit and wait, I study the walls. There are photos of famous people who have visited, and of course there are photos of Julia from that scene in the movie, as well as in a group shot with the staff - many of whom are actually working there on the day I was visiting. It was really heartwarming.
For how many people they were serving, the wait for my pizza once I ordered was very short. My first real Napolian pizza. I sit there and stare at it. Italian pizza is much different than Canadian or American pizza so this comes a little bit as a surprise to me. Let me explain.
Italian pizzas are all large. Usually slightly larger than the full-size dinner plate it’s served on. They are usually quite simple with a maximum of 3-4 toppings. Chunks or slices of delicious, well-made cheese are placed amongst the rest of the toppings. The tomato sauce is to die for. I am going to tell you right now, and I’m sure I will mention it again - you have not tasted tomato until you try tomato from the Napoli region.
There must be something about the volcanic soil from Mt. Vesuvius blanketing the region that makes the tomatoes so great. Because, Oh My God. Seriously, though - it’s orgasmic. Who needs a man when you have pizza from Naples?
That may be slight exaggeration, but it really is pizza done right. I cannot express to you it’s beauty, it is just something you have to experience for yourself, and I hope you do, because L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele is just one of those places where you learn to fall in love again. Whether it’s with food, with friends, or with yourself… it’s definitely worth a visit.