Monday, February 21, 2005

On Pizza

Reading this post by Alan at BuffaloPundit, I note something odd about pizza.

Alan is a partisan of New York City-style thin-crust pizza. For those who don't know what this is, the crust is thin, but not so thin as to be cracker-like. Instead, it's just thick and doughy enough -- and not one bit thicker or doughy-er, thank you very much -- to be foldable in the hand whilst being consumed. It's a unique texture for pizza, and even though Buffalo is in the same state as NYC, that style of pizza is very hard to find in these parts. So Alan reports on a few places here that make the authentic NYC-style product.

But what interests me is this (as I comment on his blog): everybody I've ever met who grew up on NYC-style pizza, with that type of pizza being their virginal pizza experience, loves it to the point of loathing every other kind of pizza that exists, anywhere. On the other hand, every person I've ever met who loves pizza but did not encounter NYC-style pizza first tends to love NYC-style pizza when they discover it, but they don't drop every other style of pizza in its favor. I don't know why this is, but it's true. Talk to a native eater of NYC-style pizza, and they'll react with horror at the idea of consuming any other kind of pizza. But talk to a non-native eater of pizza, and if they'll likely say, "NYC-style? Yeah, that's pretty good. So's Chicago...."

(For the record, I think we make pretty decent pizza here in Buffalo. But it's not NYC-style. We're a Great Lakes city.)

UPDATE: Alan adds more here, giving the background that supposedly establishes NYC-style pizza as the best: according to his account. NYC-style pizza is the closest thing you'll get to what is served as pizza in Italy. So, I suppose if one defines "best" along the lines of "most authentic", I suppose that there's an argument to be made. Pizza may have become the great culinary specialty of Naples, but it's not like the Neapolitans invented it -- the idea of putting toppings on flatbread goes back way farther than the Neapolitans. So, even though I love a good Neapolitan pizza, I still see little reason to anoint it "the best" pizza possible. (Outside of personal preference, that is.)

However, I don't always think that "most authentic" is the best indicator of "best", and pizza is one of those times. Pizza is a dish that has sprung into so much regional variation that I think that quibbling about authenticity almost misses the point entirely. It's like chili, albeit not quite to that degree -- chili's regional variation is so extreme that it varies not from region to region, but from pot to pot.

Finally, here's an interesting history of pizza, that offers among other things this tidbit about offical Neapolitan pizza:

Today, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the Association of True Neapolitan Pizza) maintains strict member guidelines for ingredients, dough, and cooking. This elite organization maintains that pizza dough must be made only with flour, natural yeast or brewers yeast, salt and water. Dough must be kneaded by hand or mixers which do not cause the dough to overheat, and the dough must be punched down and shaped by hand. Also, only wood-burning, bell-shaped brick ovens are permitted in pizzerias that belong to this organization. The pizza must be cooked on the surface of the oven (often made of volcanic stone), and not in any pan or container, with oven temperatures reaching at least 400-430° C (750-800° F). These ovens often have to heat up for hours before the first pizza is cooked.

I know that Alan will disagree, but for me, I love the fact that in Buffalo I can get pizza in just about any variety that exists. If I want a NYC-style pie, I can get one. If I want a good old Great Lakes region pizza, on fairly soft dough with lots of toppings, I can get that, too. I can even get those Californian seafood-topped pizzas, Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas, and more.

(Just don't ask me about "breakfast pizza". I can't get into that, at all. I don't know what it is, but that stuff just looks wrong to me, even though it's basically a quiche on a pizza crust. I dunno.)

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