Neapolitan pizza is a topic of foodie lore. Everyone knows about it, everyone wants it, and there’s intense competition for the best pizza in the city. Eating pizza is undoubtedly the most quintessential Neapolitan foodie experience. Even if you’re only passing through Naples, it’s the one thing you have to do. I had about half a day in Naples and I went with two explicit goals: eat Neapolitan pizza from one of the best pizzerias in the city and eat sfogliatelle.
So what’s so special about this pizza? Traditional Neapolitan margherita pizza consists of tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, and a drizzle of oil. The dough is typically kneaded by hand and the pizza is cooked in a wood-fired oven at a high temperature for 60-90 seconds. The crust is thin and characterized by small charred spots; however, due to the short cooking time, the center of the pizza remains soft. These qualities distinguish Neapolitan pizza from other varieties and food-lovers go wild for it.
I embarked on my mission by first heading to Pizzeria Da Michele (the one featured in Eat, Pray, Love) only to find that it was closed. My heart sank just a little. It’s alright, there are other pizzerias on my list. I will prevail! I continued on to the next closest pizzeria on my food map: Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo. Also closed! GAH! This is what I get for arriving in Naples on a Sunday! However, none of this would deter my search for delicious pizza!
Onto the next closest pizzeria: Di Matteo. I walked down Via dei Tribunali, a busy street in Naples’ historic centre. My eyes were wide open and I was thinking, “Where is Pizzeria Di Matteo? WHERE IS IT? IT BETTER BE OPEN!” Just then, I saw a small crowd congregated in front of a window. I looked up and there it was! Pizzeria Di Matteo! It was open! Third time’s a charm, right?
The scene was chaos. A large number of people were waiting in the street in front of a take-away window. People were also going up to a staff member who stood at the entrance as he was making a list of those who wanted to dine in the small seating area inside. The crowd seemed to be a mix of both locals and visitors. Very promising indeed.
In the midst of all this hustle and bustle, it wasn’t instantly clear what the process was for acquiring pizza. While I observed the crowd to figure out how to make an order, locals pushed past me to get their name on the wait list. Clearly, you need to be aggressive to get what you want in this dog-eat-dog scene.
I noticed two girls in the crowd behind me who were clearly as confused as I was. They were from Holland and they too wanted to get their hands on this famed pizza. I tried to emulate the Neapolitan directness I had witnessed and thought to myself, “That’s it, I’m going in!”. So I stepped up to the man at the entrance and ended up asking in a quintessentially polite, Canadian manner, “Excuse me, how do we order a pizza?”. I followed this up with a smile so that he’d hopefully sympathize with me.
Him: To take away?
Him: In here.
Yes! WE. ARE. IN.
The Dutch girls and I stood at a small landing just past the entrance. Here you can watch pizzas being freshly made (see videos above). Two men were behind a counter: one was flattening and shaping the dough and the other was assembling the toppings. A third man on the other side of the counter was wielding a large pizza paddle (what are those even called?) and he was ushering the pizzas in and out of the wood-fired oven. The three of them were like clockwork! Flatten and punch dough, pass it on, add toppings, place pizza on paddle, insert into oven, take out of oven, serve. They were pumping out the pizzas FAST. It was great to watch! The scene genuinely brought foodie happiness to my heart!
The dough shaper behind the counter took our order. Three large margherita pizzas coming up! Because I was taking quite a few pictures and videos, the dough shaper played along. He’s the one you see waving in the first video above and he also offered to take a picture of me with the pizza oven master! I love that he stopped shaping dough to do this – and I didn’t even ask! What’s more, my pizza oven friend decided to give me a peck on the cheek for the photo! It definitely made for a memorable experience!
We got our pizzas (so exciting!) and when we went to pay, we were shocked to find that it was only 3 euros per pizza! It felt like daylight robbery! The Dutch girls and I parted ways, but it was certainly a relief to not be the only one going through that initial confusion. I took my pizza a little further down the road, sat on a curb, and ate it. It was gooooooooooood. Simple ingredients blended so seamlessly.
Neapolitan pizza is known for being thin, a bit chewy, and a bit wet in the middle. This pizza was all of those things. The key for maximum satisfaction is eating the pizza while it’s still warm. As it cools (and it’ll cool fairly quickly), the cheese becomes a bit more solid and chewy. Not that this is a terrible thing. It was still completely enjoyable! A strategy is to use the folding technique to make it easier to eat. But damn was I satisfied after eating this pizza. After consumption, I went back to the pizzeria to get more photos and there was STILL a huge crowd in front of it, maybe an even bigger one than before.
Pizzeria Di Matteo made me a very happy foodie! And FYI it made Bill Clinton a happy patron back in 1994 too. Yes, you might have to wait a little for your pizza, but that seems to be the case at most pizzerias in Naples. Who knows? If you go to Pizzeria Di Matteo, you might even get a small kiss out of it!
- If you want to sit in to eat, get your name on the wait list as soon as you arrive.
- Also try the “frittatina” – a fried dough filled with cheese.
- Cash only.