Just two days before our graduation at ENSP, we were supposed to make food for the ceremony and pizza was on the menu. My Italian friend, Ignazio was overjoyed and excited. If you have ever come across an Italian, you know how much they love their food. It was 7:30 am and a debate started in the kitchen regarding the tomato sauce that is supposed to go on the pizza. Ignazio spread raw tomato sauce and Angelee, my Indian-American friend was perplexed by that.
Angelee – “Ignazio, that’s raw tomato…you have to cook them first”
Ignazio – “It doesn’t matter. It’s going to cook in the oven!”
Angelee – “no… that’s not how it’s done”
Ignazio – raises eyebrows
And it went on for 15 minutes… Seeing an American correcting an Italian how to make pizza and experiencing their pride expressing in interesting gestures completely fascinated me. Almost instantly I decided to delve deeper in the pan and discover the respective lineages going back centuries. It piqued my curiosity when a delicious rivalry cum debate about New York pizza vs Neapolitan pizza, opened up like some hidden treasure.
In 1900s many Neapolitans migrated to USA, particularly NYC, Connecticut and New Jersey. It’s safe to say that this, is the birth place of pizza in USA. The migrants wanted to feel like home so they started making pizza. Unfortunately they didn’t get wood fired ovens like they did in Naples so the pizza in NYC was made in coal fired ovens. So that was one big change right there! They didn’t get fresh produce either like they got back home so they started using canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes taste more like cooked tomatoes and are jammier. Hence answering my confusion about the heated debate between Angelee and Ignazio. Americans have been using canned tomatoes ever since pizza came to the States so it’s obvious for Angelee to lash out and it’s absurd for Ignazio to cook the tomatoes first.
Apart from the sauce, the cheese is the next big difference! The pizza you get in Naples has fresh buffalo mozzarella but the same wasn’t available in the States so experimentation with different cheeses lead to a different kind of mozzarella cheese which is yellow, stretchy and nothing like what you get in Italy. The American mozzarella cheese is available in blocks or shredded unlike the fresh buffalo mozzarella. For this reason you can see dollops of cheese in a Neapolitan pizza whereas a NYC pizza would have cheese spread all over it. So both the countries make the same thing but very differently and I think that’s the summit of culture.
Moreover, in today’s world the sky is the limit for toppings. You can have the classics, pineapple, arugula, salmon or even clams on pizza! Now for an Italian, a pizza with clams, pineapple or salmon wouldn’t be pizza. But for an American, it will be because America is all about innovation. As Chef Wolfgang Puck says, America is a melting pot of cultures so what’s wrong with melting some of the cuisines together. But is that authentic? What is authenticity even? For you, someone making pizza with the ingredients they grow in their own backyard can be authentic. For someone else, authenticity can be importing true buffalo mozzarella from the Campania region in order to make pizza.
Let me know your thoughts on what is an authentic pizza for you. Do you think pizza is still considered Italian or Italian-American? Would you have Neapolitan pizza or the NYC style pizza? I personally feel both of them are different products and something I always say is that if you want nostalgia, you go to Italy. If you want adventure, you go to America.