GREAT LEGACIES Children

Mama Mia! It’s a pizza

The pizzaiuoli: In action.

The pizzaiuoli: In action.  

What’s it like when Italy’s favourite dish makes it to UNESCO’s list of cultural heritage?

Who can say no to a pizza? There are pizzas and pizzas, but it’s the Neapolitan we are talking about. It made it to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage*.

The Neapolitan pizza originated in Naples, Italy. It is prepared with simple, fresh ingredients — raw tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and olive oil. Nothing else. It is cooked at high temperatures for not more than 90 seconds.

The story of the Neapolitan pizza began in Naples in 1889. The pizzaiuoli (the person who makes the pizza in a pizzeria) spins and twirls the dough in the air to oxygenate it and make it light. It is then baked in a wood fired brick oven. There are songs, stories, gestures, expressions and slang specific to the pizza makers.

A long history

In the 16th century, explorers coming back to Europe from Peru brought with them a red fruit. Initially, everyone thought it was poisonous. But, the peasants topped their flatbread with it and it became quite popular. It was the tomato.

A variation of the Neapolitan is the Marinara. Traditionally, it was prepared by the mariner’s wife (la marinara — get it?) for her husband’s homecoming. It has no cheese. It is also known as the Margherita, named after the queen. A baker named Raffaele Esposito in Naples baked it with the colours of the Italian flag — red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella) and green (basil leaves). Today, this is the classic Neapolitan pizza.

Neapolitan-style pizza typically consists of a thin and soft crust. And, if it is cooked properly at a high temperature, the crust will bubble up and be charred in spots. It is topped with sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese made from the milk of water buffaloes and basil.

Just a slice

When the Neapolitan pizza got its status on the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, pizzas were distributed to everyone on the streets.

Over five billion pizzas are sold all over the world each year.

After World War II, American GIs came home from Italy with a craving for pizza, bringing the food to a broader consumer base for the first time.

Pizza chefs have their own lingo. A ball of dough that’s been stretched and is ready for toppings is called a skin, mushrooms are screamers, and slices of pepperoni are called flyers.

* UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage covers practices, representatives, expressions, knowledge and skills that are part of a community’s heritage. This includes, performing arts, traditional skills and oral traditions. UNESCO has undertaken to protect these cultural heritages worldwide.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 8:09:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/mama-mia-its-a-pizza/article30929083.ece

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