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Pizza

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On Eating Pizza Like Lisbeth Salander

Billy's Pan PizzaIf you’ve read the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you’ll probably remember that there are several mentions of Lisbeth Salander’s meal of choice, Billy’s Pan Pizza.

You might have assumed that Stieg Larsson just made it up for the book, but nope — it’s a real thing.  So of course I ate one.

I’m not gonna lie: I was fully expecting to hate it.  I’m not a fan of frozen pizza in general, and the last time I ate a square piece of pizza from a freezer, it was literally the worst pizza of my life.

Billy's Pan Pizza

Well maybe it was the rock-bottom expectations, but I actually thought this was okay.  I mean, it is what it is: cheap cheese, tiny little pieces of some kind of mystery meat, sauce that tastes like it’s made almost entirely from tomato paste and a lot of sugar, doughy crust…

But it wasn’t horrible.  It’s one of those things where you know it’s not very good, but there’s something about it that compels you to keep eating.

The Worst Pizza in the History of Pizza

Vending machine pizzaRemember when I tried a vending machine kebab sandwich, found it disgusting, but then admitted that I’d eat more weird vending machine food if I found it?

Well I’m a man of my word.

I was at the Prater amusement park the other day to ride the ferris wheel, and I figured I’d walk around a bit and check the place out. And that’s when I saw it: a pizza vending machine.

Vending machine pizza in Vienna, Austria

I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but I couldn’t stop myself. I ordered the cheese pizza (or käsebaguette) because it was the cheapest one at €3.30, and I wanted to pay as little as possible. The machine whirred to life, and within a couple of minutes, it spit out an inoffensive looking rectangular pizza.

Vending machine pizza in Vienna, Austria

It was so bad.

Featuring some kind of slimy cheese-like substance resting atop a crust that tastes like a bundle of Kleenex that’s been soaked through with sea water and left out to dry in the sun, it was actually kind of surprising how bad it was. Like, you expect a vending machine pizza to be gross, but this was next-level bad. There was absolutely no texture here other than soft and mushy and gooey, and the flavour was just saltiness and fake cheese. It was absolutely horrific — it made the vending machine kebab look gourmet in comparison.

You know how some people say that even bad pizza is pretty good? Those people need to come to Vienna so they can see how wrong they are.

No, They’re not all Perfect

PizzaI’m not going to post about every pizza I eat, because that would get boring pretty fast (what’s that?  It’s already boring?  Tough but fair!).

However, just in case you think that every pizza in Naples is a mind-blowing, life-changing experience, it’s probably good to know that mediocre pizzas exist here too (though to be fair, mediocre for Naples would still be pretty damn good back home).

The pizza in question was from Pizzeria I Decumani, which is quite well-regarded — maybe they were having an off day?  I ordered the margherita pizza, because I figure if I order a margherita everywhere I go, it’ll be easier to compare the various pizzas (also because they’re crazy delicious).

The biggest issue was the crust.  There wasn’t as much char as the previous pizzas I’ve had, and it was much more crispy — borderline crunchy. I’m not exactly a pizza expert, so I might be wrong, but I suspect the oven wasn’t as hot as it should have been.

So it was a bit boring, texture-wise; just crunchy and slightly chewy, but without the depth that makes the better pizzas here so magical.

The cheese distribution was also a bit off — you can’t really tell from the picture, but the areas of the pizza that had cheese had a lot of cheese, which threw off the pizza’s balance.

Still, it was good — I ate the whole thing, and I’d eat another if you put it in front of me — it just wasn’t great.  The little ball of uncooked fresh mozzarella was a nice touch.

But here in Naples, a pizza that’s just good actually kind of sucks.  That’s what you get when the bar is so high.

Overdoing it (is an understatement)

Huge lineI was walking around after eating a pretty great pizza at Pizzeria Brandi, when I saw a huge crowd lining up for what appeared to be some kind of food. A bit of investigation revealed it to a place called Zia Esterina that’s actually really famous for their fried pizza.

If you’ve read my post about Las Fritas in Barcelona, then you’ll know I’m pretty much entirely powerless to resist a line for food. What’s at the end of that line? How delicious is it? I must know.

But… I just ate an entire pizza. I’m not hungry. I’m actually the opposite of hungry. What’s that again? Oh yeah: full. As in the state of being where you don’t eat a fried pizza like a moron.

I’ve said before that I’m not very smart. I’d like to reiterate that, if it’s even necessary at this point.

So fried

They have a few different combinations of fillings, but I went with the base model, which is tomato sauce, mozzarella and ricotta.

And I mean, it was good. How could it not be? Pizza is delicious. Fried things are delicious. That’s like a collision course of tastiness right there.

But it wasn’t great. Maybe it’s just the extreme fullness talking, but it lacked that perfect balance of textures and flavours that makes regular, non-fried Neapolitan pizza so remarkable. It was a bit sloppy, and though it had that crispy fried exterior, most of it was soggy from all the sauce and cheese. I basically enjoyed it, but it tasted enough like a regular pizza to make me wish I was eating that instead.

The inside

But I mean, I was ridiculously full, so maybe take my opinion with a grain of salt? It’s certainly popular enough.

Also: I absolutely do not recommend eating one of these after eating a whole pizza. I didn’t even manage to finish it — I got about two-thirds of the way through and then quickly chucked the rest before I’d have a chance to change my mind — and I was still profoundly, uncomfortably full (you can file that one under yeah, no shit, Sherlock).

A Pizza History

NaplesPizzeria Brandi claims to have invented the margherita pizza back in 1890 (though Wikipedia disputes that fact); true or not, a lot of people want to check the place out.  It’s tourist overload. When I went, it was the most Asian people I’ve seen concentrated in one spot since coming to Europe.

Still, as jammed with tourists as it was (and it was jammed), how could I not go here? They invented the margherita pizza. If you love pizza and you don’t pay this place a visit, you’re doing it wrong.

Now that's an oven

I would have been happy to come here just for the history, even if it weren’t particularly good. But holy crap, it’s so good.

I talked a little bit about what makes Neopolitan-style pizza so great in this post, about a restaurant called Pizza & Contorni.  As much as I liked the pizza there, I think I liked this one a little bit more; the crust was slightly lighter and fluffier, but without sacrificing that amazing chew.

So good

Speaking of the crust, here’s something that made me way more enraged than it probably should have: the older couple at the table next to me ate the middle of their pizzas and left almost all of the amazing crust; it just sat there on their plates in a ring of failure until the waiter finally took them away.

I literally wanted to punch them both in the face.

Listen: this isn’t Little Caesars, you goddamned philistines. The crust at a place like this is huge part of what makes the pizza so great. Leaving it behind is like having a sundae and scraping all the toppings off the ice cream: i.e. it’s what morons do.

If you ever come to a real Neapolitan pizza joint, please eat all of your pizza, unless you want to enrage those around you (or just weirdos like me, I guess. I saw another person do this a bit later, and I know it seems like I’m joking around — and I kind of am — but I legitimately found it a bit upsetting. I’m still getting a bit worked up just thinking about it. The crust is so good, you guys).

Naples: So Far, So Good

Gimme pizza!If you’ll recall, a bunch of terrorist jerkfaces did their stupid jerk thing in Barcelona and kind of made me question my desire to stay in Europe.

Well guess what, jerkfaces?   I’m still here.  And boy am I glad I am, because I’ve been in Naples less than a day and can already tell that the food here is, in the immortal words of Guy Fieri, out of bounds.

I tried a couple of seriously delicious things just by randomly wandering around the Airbnb, which I have to imagine is a good sign.

First up: gelato.  Gelato was everywhere in Portugal and Spain, but I purposely avoided it because I knew I’d be in Italy.   May as well wait for the real deal.

I went to a place called Fantasia Gelati and tried a small cup of pistachio.

Delicious

I can’t say conclusively that it’s the best gelato I’ve ever had (there’s a lot of great gelato in Toronto), but it’s certainly right up there.  It was super creamy, with a really intense pistachio flavour and a perfect amount of sweetness.

Next up was pizza — I’m in Naples, after all.  Pizza needed to happen immediately.

I ordered the margherita pizza at a restaurant called Pizza & Contorni.  Margherita pizza is a very strong argument in favour of simpicity in food.  It consists only of a very basic tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, a few basil leaves, and a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.  That’s it — and yet, when done right (and they certainly did it right here) it has an amazing depth of flavour that belies its simplicity.

So damn good

A lot of what makes this type of pizza so special is the amazing crust that you can only get from an oven that’s insanely hot (Neopolitan pizza ovens can get as hot as 1000 degrees).  The crust winds up lightly crispy on the outside and satisfyingly chewy on the inside, with a slight bitterness thanks to the char from the blazing hot oven.

The version here was maybe a little bit too dense, but was otherwise pretty amazing.  And again, I just stumbled across this place randomly.

I think I’m going to like it here.