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Neapolitan Pizza – Everything You Didn’t Know About This Perfect Italian Dish

Naples is the undisputed homeland of pizza. On our most recent visit to Naples, Jacky and I only had one specific mission: To find the very best pizza in Naples. In just three days we managed to eat no less than 15 pizzas, all in the name of science, of course. We put our stomachs on the line so you won’t have to. So if you’re wondering where to get the best pizza in Naples, make sure to scroll down and check out our recommendations! We have also included a map of our favorite pizza places in Naples, as well as a couple of practical tips.

Who Invented the Pizza, Anyway?

If you think about it, pizza is nothing more than a kind of flatbread with tomato sauce. Flatbread has been around for thousands of years as an integral part of our diet. Most food historians concur that pizza-like dishes (flatbread with oils, spices, and other toppings were consumed by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.

However, before the 1700s, flatbreads were never topped with tomatoes, which is now a defining characteristic of pizza. Tomatoes were brought to Europe in the 16th century by explorers returning from South America. By the late-18th century, flatbreads made very simply from dough spread with cheese, olive oil, herbs, and tomatoes became a common street food in Naples. It was primarily a dish eaten by the lower classes of Naples. The origins of the archetypal pizza—Pizza Margherita are disputed. Popular legend has it that during the patriotic fervor following Italian unification in the late 19th century, a Neapolitan pizza maker by the name of Raffaele Esposito was tasked with making pizzas for Margherita of Savoy, the new Italian Queen on her visit to Naples in 1889.

Out of the three pizzas he prepared for her, one was topped with red tomato sauce, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil leaves, representing the colors of the national flag of Italy. The queen, who had never eaten pizza before, enjoyed this pizza the most, and Esposito named this pizza “Pizza Margherita” in honor of the queen. However, later research has cast doubt on this legend. Regardless of the veracity of this legend, pizza is an intrinsic part of Naples’ culinary history.

What is so Special about Neapolitan Pizza?

As the home of pizza, Naples has its very own style of pizza, called Neapolitan Pizza. There are three official variants of Neapolitan pizza:
Pizza Marinara: Topped with tomato, garlic, oregano, and extra-virgin olive oil
Pizza Margherita: Topped with tomato, freshly sliced cow mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil
Pizza Margherita Extra (or “DOC”): Topped with tomato, freshly sliced buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil


What Ingredients are Used in a Neapolitan Pizza?


Traditionally, the tomatoes used for Neapolitan pizza are San Marzano tomatoes which are grown on the fertile soils of Mount Vesuvius. San Marzano tomatoes are particularly fragrant and less acidic than other tomato varieties. Authentic Neapolitan pizza can use only two types of mozzarella cheese. One is for di latte made from cow’s milk and the other is mozzarella di bufala, made from water buffalo milk. These buffaloes are typically raised in the Campania and Lazio marshlands of Italy.

The silky texture of buffalo mozzarella bears no resemblance to the rubbery cow mozzarella that is more commonly found.

In order to get the right crust, the dough must be made with highly refined Italian type 0 or 00 wheat flour, Neapolitan or fresh brewer’s yeast, water, and salt. and be left to rise for at least six hours. Finally, Neapolitan pizza is topped off with fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil.

How is a Neapolitan Pizza Made?

In recent years, there has been an effort to standardize the look and taste of a Neapolitan pizza. An association of Neapolitan pizza chefs has recently outlined the ingredients and methods that have to be used to make pizza.

According to the ‘Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana’, the pizza must be baked for 60–90 seconds in a wood-fired oven at 485 °C (905 °F). The base must be hand-kneaded and not rolled out with a rolling pin, and must not exceed 35 cm in diameter and 3 mm thickness in the center. The extra virgin olive oil has to be poured into the dough in a spiral motion. The buffalo mozzarella (chopped in slices) or the cow mozzarella (chopped into strips) have to be spread uniformly on the pizza. Ideally, the best pizza should come out of the oven with the cheese bubbling and be slightly charred around its edges.

Why is Neapolitan Pizza Sometimes Referred to as ‘Soupy’ or ‘Sloppy’?

At times, you will hear somebody refer to their pizza as ‘soupy’. This is because the pizza base is often very thin and generously topped with tomato sauce and, of course, olive oil. As the sauce and oil soak the thin crust, the middle of the pizza becomes ‘soupy’. In order to eat it with your hands, you’ll need to fold the tip of the pizza back and eat it quickly.

Where to Get the Best Pizza in Naples, Italy

As the restaurant scene is ever-changing, some of the oldest pizzerias have suffered in quality of food and service. Two prime examples of this are Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba and Pizzeria Brandi which we had to exclude from our quest for the best pizza, although they are two of the oldest pizzerias in town. In this guide, we’re going to focus on 3 different kinds of pizza: Pizza Marinara, Pizza Margherita, and Pizza Fritta. So without further adieu, let’s dive in to take a look at the best pizza in Naples.

INSIDER TIP

Dinner service in Naples is traditionally very busy, and you may very well wait up to an hour for a table. You have a better chance of getting a table if you a) arrive early (around 19:00), or b) are more than 2 people (e.g. party of 4). Some restaurants take reservations, but most operate on a first come – first serve basis.

I Decumani

I Decumani is a family-run pizzeria located in the old part of Naples. We ordered our typical pizza Margherita and pizza Marinara, although the restaurant is probably best known for its specialty pizza, known as X. The pizza is served in the shape of a ring and generously topped with fresh ingredients which makes it a nice alternative to other pizzas in town.

I Decumani is known to get crowded on the weekends, particularly when they are showing a soccer match on their flatscreen TV. If the wait for a seat in the restaurant is too long, they also offer a takeaway option. To be fair, you can get a great pizza pretty much anywhere in Naples, but some restaurants are still a notch better than the others. You’ll especially want to avoid any restaurant that has people outside trying to get you inside. As a general rule, a great restaurant will never have to ask you for your business. The best pizzerias in Naples are often cramped and crowded, with marble-top tables.

Antica Pizzeria & Trattoria AL 22

We stumbled upon AL 22 rather by accident because we had already eaten at our top-choice restaurants. Although it hadn’t initially made our list of must-eat pizza places in Naples, AL 22 was a pleasant surprise. This unassuming place is a classic eatery in the old center of Naples. It’s convivial, warm, and simple. We arrived a little later than usual and needed to wait about 5 minutes for a table.

AL 22 is a bit off the tourist trail and we seemed to be the only foreigners at the restaurant. Unlike other pizzerias in Naples, AL 22 also serves pasta dishes in case you’re in the mood for something different! The Marinara was slightly better than the Margherita at AL 22.

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele

Pizzeria da Michele is probably the most iconic pizzeria in Naples. Established in 1870 and popular for over a hundred years, the restaurant catapulted to international fame in 2010. In case you didn’t know, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is the pizzeria at which Julia Roberts ate in the movie Eat Pray Love.

The restaurant is extremely spartan but still has a lovely atmosphere. Although there is no coperto, the servers may push you for a tip. Da Michele’s emphasis is on pizza purity and they only serve two varieties of pizzas, a Margherita and Marinara. I particularly enjoyed the ‘soupy’ quality of both pizzas, although the Marinara clearly outshone the Margherita.

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