what is true neapolitan pizza?
There are a lot of places claiming to make “Neapolitan” or “Neapolitan-style” pizza.
However, just like everything else, the Neapolitan pizza is not immune to plagiarism and knockoffs. And Egypt has A LOT of knockoffs.
To claim that a pizza is Neapolitan, true Neapolitan techniques and traditions need to be respected, which also ensures that the magic that makes Neapolitan pizza so popular is captured. There is even an organisation tasked with protecting the trademarks, heritage, techniques and makers of Neapolitan pizza around the world.
Here’s how you can tell if it’s true or fake:
1. Imperfectly shaped The Neapolitan pizza is an artisanal product and as such, carries some degree of variance from baker to baker. In other words, it’s not perfectly round. It must be shaped by hand (no rolling pins or machines) as a disc of 30-35 cms and made fresh to order. It is characterized by an elevated, golden brown, airy “cornicione” (= crust) and a thin, soft base (not crispy).
2. Simple and strict ingredients The pizza dough must be left to ferment for no less than 8 hours, and generally between 16-24 hours. It only has four ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast. Beware of pizzerias that use oil, milk, or semolina at any point in the dough preparation or shaping of the disc. Additional ingredients used by knockoffs are used to compensate for shorter fermentation times (which helps them sell more pizza with less effort).
3. Real-deal wood-fired ovens Of course, the pizza must be cooked in a handmade Neapolitan wood-fired oven, not in a pan or an electric oven. These special ovens (which you can learn more about here ) are able to completely cook the pizza in 60 to 90 seconds. Some true Neapolitan ovens can also use gas, but wood is preferred for the unique flavours that only a wood-fired oven can produce. You will be pleasantly surprised to find a few spots around Cairo using real Neapolitan ovens, but that’s where the authenticity ends unfortunately.
4. Original and classic varieties There are only two kinds of original Neapolitan pizzas: the Marinara and the Margherita. There are other classic varieties of course, but these two are the original, so they must appear in the menu of any pizzeria claiming to be Neapolitan, anywhere in the world. At the famous Antica Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples, pictured above, they’re the ONLY choice!
5. Easy on the cheese The Margherita pizza is not smothered in cheese (and is never topped with cheddar). The three colors of the italian flag must be clearly visible: red (tomatoes), white (cheese), green (basil). And no, we can’t add more cheese. Why? Because the pizza would become too wet and therefore impossible to bring out of the oven. We'll be posting about the importance and qualities of the right kind of cheese in the future.
6. No highly seasoned tomato “sauce” True Neapolitan pizza is never topped with tomato “sauce.” It’s topped with tomatoes, seasoned only with a little salt. That’s it. Beware of restaurants claiming to make “San Marzano tomato sauce.” There’s no such thing, so they’re basically lying. San Marzano is not a sauce, it’s a type of tomato which grows in a very specific area in Campania, Italy, and is the preferred topping for Neapolitan pizza (for the tomato’s very specific qualities and flavours). However, because San Marzano tomatoes do not grow outside of their native habitat (which makes them very expensive and not available in Egypt), Italian plum “Roma” tomatoes are also used as an indistinguishable replacement.
7. Light and fresh Unlike other commercial pizzas, which are made mostly of dough to provide bulk and fake cheese to withstand long delivery times, the Neapolitan pizza is healthy. It is the quintessential daily Mediterranean meal: light, natural and always freshly prepared. A whole Marinara pizza has around 550 calories and a Margherita about 800 (that’s comparable to a couple of slices of processed deep-dish pizza). And because of the long time it takes to ferment the dough used to make the pizza, it is also easy to digest.
8. And finally, there’s taste! A true Neapolitan pizza wouldn’t be worth seeking if it wasn’t the tastiest, most flavourful pizza you could ever have. That’s why the unique combination of ingredients and techniques used to make it have been perfected and protected for generations. This means an entirely different flavour from other pizza styles that just can’t be “imitated” with shortcuts and improvisation.
There you have it! So the next time you’re told it’s “real Neapolitan,” you know what to look for!