Pizza that doesn’t exist

Passed on by Kim Darnell, a BBC News piece from the 5th by Dany Mitzman, “The day I ordered pizza that ‘doesn’t exist'”:

Bologna, Italy — One of my favourite things about living in Italy is the pizza, and it’s recently given me an insight into how our brains are wired differently.

Pizza has taught me that logic can be subjective and that subjective logic can be cultural. It has also made me humbly realise that, in some ways, I’ll probably always be considered here as an ignorant foreigner.

Traditional pizza comes from the southern city of Naples, but you can find good pizza everywhere, often, in fact, made by migrant Neapolitans. Under the porticoes here in Bologna, just downstairs from my flat, there’s a great little takeaway pizzeria. Needless to say, I’m quite familiar with the place. I’ve been through a number of the menu’s enticing combinations, a favourite being Grande Uccio, made with mozzarella, Tropea onions, parmesan and potatoes roasted in the pizza oven. The pizzaiola, Emanuela, is one of the few female pizza-makers I’ve ever come across, and her accent confirms she’s from proper pizza territory. She’s got crimson hair with blue streaks, which she covers with a bandana when she’s working. I reckon in a past life she was probably a pirate. She’s fierce but friendly… well, she was until last week.

Because last week I made the mistake of asking her for a marinara – which is a simple tomato and garlic pizza – with the addition of mozzarella.

As soon as I say the words, Emanuela looks at me with disbelief and, in retrospect I realise, disgust.

“You can’t have a marinara with mozzarella,” she says. “It doesn’t exist.”

“What do you mean, it doesn’t exist?” I reply, oblivious to her hostility, since she’s quite aggressive at the best of times. “I’d just like a marinara but with some mozzarella on top.” Unwittingly I make matters worse by miming her mozzarella-sprinkling action.

“La marinara is a pizza rossa,” she states frostily. “A pizza rossa is made with tomato and without mozzarella. So you can’t have a marinara with mozzarella because there’s no such thing.”

Then she says something I find incredibly funny.

“I suppose,” she mutters grudgingly, “I could make you a margherita with garlic.” (For those unfamiliar, a margherita is a pizza topped with tomato and mozzarella. )

“And the difference…” I ask, laughing blithely, “between a marinara with mozzarella and a margherita with garlic?”

Emanuela doesn’t laugh. She simply repeats her final offer.

… Later, I see Monica, an Italian sociologist who now lives in England. She confesses that she “sort of agrees” with Emanuela. “People who order marinara usually do so because they don’t want mozzarella,” she says. “So it does seem strange to then ask to add it.”

And that was when the penny finally dropped. At last, I understood that it was all about definition… of paramount importance in Italian culinary tradition. A marinara is, by definition, a pizza with tomato and garlic and no mozzarella. Essentially, I’d been asking for the equivalent of a black coffee with milk.

So, should I ever want it again, I’ll simply order a pizza topped with tomato, garlic and mozzarella.

See my recent posting on food names and plant names, where (among other things) I noted a difference in the semantics associated with ingredients in named food preparations: sometimes an ingredient is required (seafood in Australian marinara sauce), sometimes it’s excluded (cream or milk in black coffee), and sometimes it’s merely allowed (seafood in American marinara sauce).

I also noted how much local variation there is in these matters. A pizza marinara by one definition excludes mozzarella, but these things aren’t set in stone. Still, lots of people are emotionally invested in the definition they themseves use (see the paragraph on chili).

Wikipedia on pizza with more lore:

Pizza … is a flat bread generally topped with tomato sauce and cheese and baked in an oven. It is commonly topped with a selection of meats, vegetables and condiments. The term was first recorded in the 10th century, in a Latin manuscript from Gaeta in Central Italy. The modern pizza was invented in Naples, Italy, and the dish and its variants have since become popular in many areas of the world.

… A popular contemporary legend holds that the archetypal pizza, Pizza Margherita, was invented in 1889, when the Royal Palace of Capodimonte commissioned the Neapolitan pizzaiolo (pizza maker) Raffaele Esposito to create a pizza in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita. Of the three different pizzas he created, the Queen strongly preferred a pie swathed in the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella). Supposedly, this kind of pizza was then named after the Queen as “Pizza Margherita”, although recent research casts doubt on this legend.

… The bottom of the pizza, called the “crust”, may vary widely according to style — thin as in a typical hand-tossed Neapolitan pizza, or thick as in a deep dish Chicago-style.

… The original pizza used only mozzarella, the highest quality ones buffalo mozzarella produced in the surroundings of Naples.Today, other cheeses have found their way onto quality pies, including provolone, pecorino romano, ricotta, and scamorza.

… Authentic Neapolitan pizza (pizza napoletana) is typically made with San Marzano tomatoes grown on the volcanic plains south of Mount Vesuvius, and mozzarella di bufala Campana made with the milk from water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio. This mozzarella is protected with its own European protected designation of origin.

Photo of a Neapolitan pizza margerita

… Calzone and stromboli are similar dishes (a calzone is traditionally half-moon-shaped, while a stromboli is tube-shaped) that are often made of pizza dough rolled or folded around a filling.

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