Identifying Neapolitan pizza from its counterparts isn’t challenging due to its distinctive fluffy texture, vibrant sauce, and captivating aroma.
Don Antonio Starita, a renowned pizza expert from Naples, confirmed, “Actually, you can tell by just the look.”
The creation of Neapolitan, or Naples-style pizza, is grounded in the use of authentic ingredients, meticulous dough fermentation, accurate kneading methods, along with the perfect combination of a dedicated oven and precise timing.
“Not all Italian pizza chefs can make Neapolitan pizza like the Neapolitans do,” he stated.
Though globally loved by food connoisseurs and enlisted as a Unesco cultural heritage, the Neapolitan pizza interestingly began as a meal for the poor.
Traced back to 997 AD, pizza began its journey as a common flatbread dish in Central and Southern Italy. Presently, Naples, the birthplace of pizza, is home to over 900 pizzerias.
Among the most longstanding and esteemed is the 122-year-old Starita family’s pizzeria located in a narrow lane in the Materdei district.
Pizzeria Starita a Materdei, established in 1901, is not merely a foodie’s delight but also featured as a significant cultural backdrop in Vittorio De Sica’s 1954 film L’Oro Di Napoli.
This pizzeria also holds sentimental value for Don Antonio, as he was brought up as the third-generation member of this pizza-crafting family.
“Being the only son of six children in an indigent household, I had to learn how to make pizza from a very young age so I could continue on with the family business and help earn money,” he shared.
Under his leadership, the family enterprise expanded beyond Naples, extending to Milan, Turin, and Florence as well as New York, where Don Antonio opened a branch in Midtown Manhattan in 2012.
Don Antonio recently introduced Starita Bangkok, the first Starita pizzeria beyond Italy, at Thong Lor 13.
“This project is not just business, but it is also to share our family heritage with Thais, especially the younger generation, so they can really understand Neapolitan cuisine and be able to make authentic Neapolitan pizza and not just any pizza,” he asserted.
“Hopefully, it will not conclude as only a restaurant but also a pizza academy.”
When asked, “Why Thailand?”, he replied, “I believe people from Naples and Thais have similar favourable energy.”
He highlighted that Thais, much like the Neapolitans, are lively, social, and broad-minded, in addition to possessing inherent culinary talent and a vibrant street food culture.
These attributes are critical for crafting excellent Neapolitan pizza, which doesn’t confine itself to specific recipes.
To create an ideally risen dough, the pizza chef must adapt the ratios of flour, salt, yeast, and water to suit the climate.
The toppings are a testament to the proficient manipulation of raw ingredients, particularly fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella cheese, preferably from the Campania region.
Nevertheless, there are certain guidelines and standards in the pizza kitchen that must be respected. One such condition, Starita points out, is the oven.
For a soft, slightly-charred, and airy crust, the Neapolitan pizza needs to be baked in a wood-fired oven constructed from volcanic soil and stone.
Starita exclusively uses faggio (beech wood) to maintain the constant flame heat of 430-480C, enabling the pizza to cook perfectly within an exact 90 seconds.
The Margherita, garnished with tomato, mozzarella, basil, and extra-virgin olive oil, and the marinara, adorned with tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, and garlic, stand as the two most prevalent Naples-style pizza versions.
Starita Bangkok, staffed by a crew of pizza chefs hailing from Naples, also features an array of pizze fritte (lightly fried pizza), including the Montanara topped with Neapolitan sauce, smoked provola cheese, Pecorino Romano PDO, and basil.
When it was suggested that the inventive Thais might create novel local adaptations of the Neapolitan staple, he responded, “The key is that you have to respect the original.”
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