I went to Naples to taste the best pizza in the world.
I was visiting for other reasons too, of course – to see rare art and urban decay, do day trips to Pompeii and Capri – but really, as soon as I’d read that Napoli was home to L’Antica Da Michele, the number one pizzeria in all of Italy, I knew that it would be a stop in my Italian adventure.
I arrived in the city after four weeks of straight travelling, and summer had certainly come early to the country this year. The June heat had been oppressive, especially inland. The white sun bore down on the ancient stone cities like a Centurion, my pale Anglo skin trapped in a perpetual state of swelter. The day I arrived in Naples was no different.
But overnight, even the Roman Gods must have realised they couldn’t take their mortals’ humidity any more, because I woke up the next day to dark clouds and constant drizzle.
I must admit, I was disappointed. My first full day in a new city to explore, and it was washed out. Most of the hostel’s occupants were already camping themselves in front of the common room TV for day of DVDs.
But then, I remembered the pizza.
A little thing like rain wasn’t going to stop me finding this famous pizzeria. I figured I’d spend my morning at the National Archaeological Museum and wait for the rain to clear, then go have the best lunch ever. I grabbed my bag and an umbrella borrowed from the hostel and off I went, pleased with my impromptu day plan.
The afternoon soon arrived. I went to exit the museum, only to find a small crowd gathering at the threshold, staring outside. The rain had not eased.
In fact, it was the opposite – a heavy storm was now sweeping through the city. The rocky streets were slick with rivulets of the long-awaited rain. Even with my umbrella, the five-minute walk back to the hostel would leave me sodden. And the pizzeria was located somewhere on the opposite side of there.
I still really wanted some of that pizza.
I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. I mean, nobody else would be bonkers enough to go out for pizza in this weather except me, right?
So I braced myself and began my journey through the dark sheets of Neapolitan rain, huddling futile under my cheap umbrella. I walked slowly, simultaneously trying to decipher where I was according to my stupidly tiny and scribbled-over map of the city (a page torn out of my Lonely Planet guide), and not to slip over on the unfamiliar cobblestones. Needless to say, I quickly got lost. It took me a good half-hour minutes just to backtrack along the two-kilometre Spaccanapoli after working out I’d long passed the correct cross-street.
But then, through the tempest, the sun momentarily peeked through the clouds and I spied the right street sign. A trill of triumph rose in me. I sped up as I turned the corner!
…And saw a long queue of people packed along the footpath – sheltering patiently under their many umbrellas – starting at the opposite end of the block, and almost reaching me.
As I went to join the queue, resigning myself to even more time in the rain, a snippet of conversation from some American tourists landed in my ear: you needed to take a ticket before waiting in line. I immediately wormed my way through the throng of loiterers at the pizzeria’s entrance and found a waiter. He asked how many people would be dining with me.
“Uh, just one,” I pointed to myself, probably looking pretty worse for wear after my wet-weather wanderings. “Uno.”
He smiled and said in broken English, “We have room for one now. This way.”
I guess the Roman Gods really were on my side that day.
I was escorted to a table near the back, surrounded by the happiest diners I had ever seen. There were only two options on the menu: margherita and mariana. I ordered them both.
In about fifteen minutes the two pizzas were sitting before me, their pools of tomato sauce still bubbling. I had ordered the smallest size, but they were each roughly the size of a dinner plate. The intoxicating aroma of fresh basil and half-baked dough hung heavy and warm in the air.
I hunched over in my seat and admired my beautiful pizzas, telling myself to memorise the sight (this was before my blogger-days of photographing every meal). I then realised how ravenous I actually was. With both hands, I tucked in.
So. Was the pizza of L’Antica Da Michele that good – the best in the world? Were those simple slices of margherita and mariana worth braving a storm in a strange and occasionally scary city, all by myself? My answer is this:
Reader, I ate everything.
All of both pizzas. In approximately the same amount of time it took for them to be made. And went back again two days later.
Because goddamn if it wasn’t the greatest pizza I’ve ever tasted.