Of Napoli... and Pizza Margherita

Please go to this pizzeria. Order margherita pizza with double mozzarella. If you do not eat this pizza when you are in Naples, please lie to me and tell me that you did. -Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

This pizza, however, is not the one that was served to me at the Gilbert-recommended Da Michele. However, you can see that too if you scroll down further. This is what I created in my desperate bid to replicate what I had there. I isn't perfect, it will never be. Da Michele wouldn't be 'Da Michele' then: the place where thousands flock everyday for their unique pizza, the very reason why many food enthusiasts visit Naples in the first place!
There's nothing much to write about the Napoli leg of the journey. After 15 days of being on the run, we were more than exhausted by the time we reached Naples. It was 4-ish in the evening and even though our hotel was a meagre 2.8 km from the station (2.8 km IS meagre because by now we were averaging 12-14 km walks a day), the amount of goodies we had already bought made dragging our suitcases an impossibility!
Let me be very honest here. For the last fortnight I had been traversing Italy like there was no tomorrow, and Naples, undubiously, emerged as the most underwhelming city of the lot. We were kind of prepared for it, but we still kept it in our itinerary because a) that was the gateway to Amalfi coast and b) I wanted to get a feel of the rowdy underbelly of southern Italy. But over and above everything else, I wanted to get a taste of Napoli's iconic Pizza Margherita. Enough said.
If there's one thing that I could say about my less-than-24 hour stay in Naples, this would be it: I saw nothing. In the sense, I didn't visit a single place of attraction. By the time we reached, it was getting dark, no monument worthy of being seen would be open. But to me, "places to see" in a city doesn't rank as high a "things to do". And the major thing to do here was sample the "world famous" Pizza Margherita at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, made even more popular by Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love.
So we made our way through to Da Michele, the GPS failing us the first time in the trip. We had gone much further ahead and had to retrace our steps when we saw Da Michele tucked away in a corner, it's outer mirror collaged with announcements of numerous honours and awards. It was overflowing with people and the next hour was spent waiting for that coveted pizza, somewhat like this:
But trust me, every bite of that pizza was worth every minute we had spent looking at our watches and sighing. The pizza was nothing like anything I had ever had before. The base was soft a pillowy, not thin and crusty, the tomatoes were fresh and bright red, the basil was fragrant and the cheese was melting. For the next 10 minutes, we didn't speak. In pindrop silence we devoured the beauty that was spread before us. And our halt at Naples was justified beyond question.
The next day, we woke up late: too late to go around the city visiting the sights and sounds we had skipped the previous day. After grumbling for a short while (I am a control freak when I'm travelling, which means I MUST do all the things I had initially planned upon doing), we decided to not waste whatever little was left of the morning before we had to board our train at 12.30 pm to Rome.
We walked a couple of blocks and hopped into a cafe + bakery. Naples, I tell you, has the most ah-mazing food for half the prices as that of northern or central Italy. That would probably be its foremost claim to fame. After helping ourselves to a hot cup of joe and some panini while loitering around the street, we decided it was time to head to the hotel. But one thing was still unaccomplished. I hadn't yet seen a typical Neapolitan residential area: you know the kind where houses lean against one another in tiny, dingy streets, where nonnas share the day's happenings across balconies and pot-bellied men huddle together in the corner with newspapers in their hands? The kind of area where fish mongers make room for themselves even in those tiny streets to spread out their offer and big bags are dropped down so that vegetable vendors can stuff it with the freshest produce of the day? The kind of area where an old, old model of a bicycle leans against a graphitied wall? Well, I hadn't seen any of it. P couldn't understand my fascination with google-searching "dingy residential areas in Naples" and insisted that we'll get to see a lot of it once we go back to India. Well, it wasn't exactly dingy lanes that I was looking for, it was the character of the place I was so keen on discovering. I hadn't yet got a taste of a slice of life in Naples and it pained me greatly to go back without beholding with my own eyes the kind of videos I had seen so much and so often on Youtube.
It was already 11 and we just had to make our way back. We had walked almost 3 km along the main road (which strangely resembled Kolkata's Dharmatala area) but the GPS now showed that there was a 1.8-km short cut which would take us to our hotel. We started following that route, sipping into our second cup of coffee and discussing why the Naples stay was somewhat futile (barring the Pizza Margherita of course!). And then it happened. We took a sharp turn and suddenly there were fish mongers lining the street. Clothes hung on thin wire lines in balconies. There were no women chit-chatting across houses, but there was a bicycle that leaned against a wall, even though that was not graphitied. I couldn't believe it was happening. It wasn't the Taj Mahal, nor the Sydney Opera House, not even the Eiffel Tower or Colloseum. It was probably the dirtiest street I had seen in entire Italy, but the Naples that was in my mind was finally in front of my eyes. And I no longer thought that the last 24 hours were spent in futility.
Pizza Margherita
Serves: 2
Ingredients:

For Marinara Sauce: (Makes 1.5 big cups)
Fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped: 5-6
Garlic, chopped finely: 1 tbsp
Onions, chopped finely: 2 tbsp (optional)
Olive oil: 1 tbsp
Basil leaves, torn or chopped roughly: 2-3 tbsp
Salt: to taste
Black pepper powder: to taste

For the pizza:
Pizza base: 1 (I used store-bought whole-wheat pizza base)
Mozzarella, cut into rough slices: 100-150 gm
Olive oil: for drizzling
Fresh basil leaves: for garnish

Method:
1. You can start with making the sauce first. In a deep-bottomed non-stick pan, aprinkle olive oil. Add chopped garlic and onions (if using). Sauté for 2-3 minutes till translucent. Now add the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes or till the sauce boils at the edges. Keep a watch on it constantly as it has a very strong possibility of getting burnt. Make sure the sauce has thickened considerably.

2. Now place the pizza base on your baking tray, spread the tomato sauce evenly on it and dot the top with slices of mozzarella. Sprinkle a few basil leaves as well.

3. Preheat your oven at 200ºC and bake the pizza for 10-12 minutes until the sides of the base is crispy and the cheese is golden and bubbling.

4. Sprinkle with some fresh basil leaves, cut into slices and devour your Pizza Margherita like you're in Napoli!
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For more travel stories, click here
To read about the Milan leg of my Italy trip, click here
To read about the Venice leg of my Italy trip, click here
To read about the Tuscany leg (Pisa, Siena Florence) of my Italy trip, click here
To read about the Amalfi Coast leg (Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Amalfi Town) of my Italy trip, click here
To read about my entire trip to Italy and my culinary adventures therein, click here

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