This article was originally published Sept 2014 and updated Feb 2020
Story of Neapolitan Pizza
Forget cannoli, forget sfogliatelle, if you are visiting this ancient Greek-founded city you are here for one thing and one thing only – PIZZA.
Naples pizza, the stuff of lore, the garden of gastronomic delights, is heralded by all political spectrums from left to right and even up and down. Naples’ flour-dusted, fragrant pizzerias harken back to the ancient bakeries uncovered at nearby ancient Pompeii. Known lovingly as Pizza Napoletana, it’s a gastronomic experience independent from the other pizza styles your traveling taste buds will encounter in Bell ‘Italia. Seeped in tradition, Naples pizza is the culmination of history, nature and mankind that combine to offer a supernatural force for your tummy.
Visit Naples with an open mind and on an empty stomach.
PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA!
Like the Italian autochthonous wine varieties, the infinite Italian pizza variations boggle the mind. However, the holy grail of pizza, Naples pizza, is now a Unesco recognized intangible piece of human culture worthy of special recognition. It holds a special place reserved in the history of pizza.
Although the practice of baking bread and adding in flavorful ingredients like cheese and herbs can be traced back thousands of years to the flatbreads, focaccias and matzos baked by Romans, Persians and Jews, Naples is credited with adding tomatoes in the 18th century. The result is what we now recognize as modern pizza.
The unofficial origin of Pizza Margherita begins on June 11, 1889 when the new Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy visited Naples. To celebrate the Italian unification in 1871, it’s said that the pizzaiolo of Pizzeria Brandi created a tri-color pizza that incorporated the flag colors of the newly unified Italy – Red (tomato), White (Mozzarella) and Green (basil). This allegedly is the first time these ingredients were presented together.
However, in Italian the word margherita also refers to the daisy flower. Other oral sources imply that pizza decorated with mozzarella slices to resemble a daisy flower and topped with basil and tomatoes already existed. Whichever origin story you believe, Naples is formally known as the birthplace of pizza.
For the best pizza in Naples, look for signs using the collective trademark Verace Pizza Napoletana which indicates the pizzeria is following Unesco’s rigorous ingredients list and methods of production. The rules require that pizzas be made only in the historic manner developed over centuries.
The trademark is used by the first and only Association of Real Neapolitan Pizza-makers or AVPN. Consequently, the authentic pizzas are limited to two types only: Marinara (tomato, oil, oregano and garlic) and Margherita (tomato, oil mozzarella or fior’di latte, grated cheese and basil). When the fior’di latte cheese on a Margherita is substituted by authentic buffalo mozzarella, it’s often called Pizza Margherita DOP and this too is a recognized, though less widespread, variation.
Pizza insiders know that the best cow’s milk fior’di latte, is produced in Agerola, a rustic hill town high above the Amalfi Coast. Recognized by the Slow Food Foundation, sample it whenever you spot it on the menu. Alternatively a more exquisite, though less traditional use of Buffalo-milk mozzarella from the Campania and Lazio regions is allowed and everyone has their own opinion on which is best.
The fertile volcanic plains surrounding Naples produce arguably the best tomatoes in the world. The uniquely shaped pomodori add an unmistakable acidic bite to Naples’ celebrated pizza and insalata caprese. Only three varieties of local, fresh or peeled canned tomatoes are permitted on your vera pizza Napoletana. The most popular are San Marzano DOP, Corbarino and Pomodorino del piennolo del Vesuvio DOP.
Farmers cultivate all three exclusively on the lush volcanic soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius. While essential to pizza today, it’s difficult to fathom that tomatoes did not exist in Italy until after explorers brought them back from the Americas.
According to Unesco rules, Neapolitan pizza should be soft, elastic, and easy to manipulate and fold. If you are accustomed to crispy Roman pizza or crunchy crusts, this is an entirely different experience. The dough is achieved by using a proprietary mix of wheat flour type “00” and “0” with a small percentage of wheat flour type “1” the properties of which result in a highly elastic and high protein (11-13.5%) dough completely stretched by hand. No rolling pins or mechanical presses are allowed.
The dough must complete 2 stages of rising with the final levitation stage a minimum of eight hours and maximum of 24 hours. This simplifies the starches, and one fun fact about the best pizza in Naples is that it is more easily digestible than other pizza dough. As an extra bonus to weary travelers, the characteristic series of bubbles in the crust add to the pizza’s overall lightness and flexibility.
Neapolitan pizzas must be baked in wood-fired ovens and reach 485 degrees C (905 F) for 60 to 90 seconds. Gobble down your cheesy-goodness immediately or no later than 20 minutes if takeaway. Despite your hunger, try to avoid bars or snack shops with pre-made pizzas or frozen pizza crusts.
Pizzas are not by the slice but instead are entire masterpieces made by hand from scratch. Dedicate time to incorporate a food tour of the best pizzerie in Naples. Most are not open for lunch so plan accordingly. An additional tip: Pizza with pineapple is considered sacrilegious so take time to explore the original flavors before delving off into hybrids that will offend your seasoned pizza host.
Where to Go
Despite all the complex rules to create traditional Naples pizza, the best street food in Naples includes even more exciting pizza variations like pizza fritta, pizza portafoglio and montanara. In order to discover all the fantastic pizza in Naples, Italy these variations should not be missed and are easily sampled during our food tours in Naples, Italy.
For a taste of the real Vera Pizza Napoletana we recommend you visit our recommended pizzerias listed below. Please confirm all opening/closing times which may change. For an exhaustive list of all the certified real pizzerias in Naples and world-wide you can consult the 803 – member list here.
One of the most historic pizzerias in the heart of town. Pizza for lunch and dinner with no reservations allowed. Be prepared to stand in line.
Via Tribunali, 31/32
Tel: +39 081 446643
Dinner only. No Reservations. Be sure to check out their two other locations, which serve up additional options like pizza fritta. Also offers individual professional and group Naples pizza classes.
Via Michelangelo da Caravaggio, 53/55
Tel: 39 081 714 2155
The first member of the Vera Pizza Napoletana Association with authentic pizzas, a rustic vibe and even hard to find Neapolitan specialties like Sartu’ di riso. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Online/phone reservations allowed.
Via Santa Brigida,71/73
Barely open just two years ago, this modern and inviting space is Naples newest member of the covered APVN association and wins the award for the friendliest staff for those of us who don’t speak Italian. No website but you can find them on Facebook. Be sure to order a side of arancini.
Via Duomo 218
+39 081 554 6789
If you cannot stop salivating or want to try all of Naples’ hidden gems, book A Night Out in Naples food tour for an authentic Naples adventure!