Naples throws pizza party over UNESCO recognition
Proud pizza-makers and eaters in the Italian city of Naples were so sure their historical specialty would win UNESCO heritage status that they were pounding the dough and chewing it up in celebration even before the distinction was announced on Thursday.
“After 250 years waiting, the pizza is UNESCO heritage! Congratulations Naples!” cried pizzaiuolo (pizza maker) Enzo Coccia as crowds in the street outside the Sorbillo pizzeria erupted into cheers. It did not matter that the cultural body’s World Heritage Committee was still hours away from declaring it “intangible heritage”: For these specialists, there was no chance the world-famous dish could lose.
Ahead of Thursday’s announcement, discs of floury dough flew through the air as jubilant pizzaiuoli feted their art of pizza making — from the wooden ovens used, to the spectacular handling of the mix to “oxygenate” it. Passing families and youth whizzing by on scooters stopped to grab fresh slices dripping melted mozzarella as a man with a guitar burst into a song dedicated to the Italian delicacy.
With the news of the victory early Thursday morning, other chefs began handing out free pizza to locals and tourists in the southern city who paid homage to pizza’s social and cultural role.
“How perfect to celebrate with pizza for breakfast. The word pizza must be the most famous in the world in every language and now everyone knows we invented it!” said Marco Toeldo, 47, who was on his third slice.
Rita Rollen, a pensioner who stopped for a bite, said she was “really happy. Instead of the Camorra [the city’s powerful mafia], we are being recognized for something positive for once! Something delicious.”
Salvatore Stile said he hoped foreigners would now realize “a pizza somewhere like London is not the same because the ingredients are not as good quality. Pizza making is a serious thing.”
Down the centuries, the Neapolitan art of pizza making has been based “on a few key elements: water, flour, salt and yeast — and the excellent produce from the Campania countryside,” Coccia said as he pounded the dough. “But it is also the hands, heart and soul of the pizzaiuolo that allow us to make magic,” he added, describing stretching and turning the dough as “a love and passion that we transmit to others.”
The pizza’s humble ancestor, a plain affair topped with lard, was born less as an act of love than as a cheap, easy and fast way to feed the city’s poor in the 18th century.
“In around 1750 the first pizza appeared in the taverns, after which people began to specialize as pizza chefs,” said historian Antonio Mattozzi. “By the end of the 18th century, the first pizzerias were born.”
However, despite being an immediate hit with the locals, pizza failed to take off outside the city at first, he told AFP.
The story goes that it was 19th century Queen Margherita’s love of the classic tomato, mozzarella and basil version that fired up the imagination and taste buds of diners far and wide.
Tasty legacy: Neapolitan pizza makers pose with a pizza to celebrate the UNESCO decision to make the art of the Neapolitan pizzaiuolo an “intangible heritage” on Thursday in Naples.