One of my fondest memories from growing up in Cape Town, was the occasional treat of delicious delivered-by-babes-with bow-ties Butler’s Pizza. Self titled ‘Cape Town’s number 1 pizza (and I agree), Butler’s delivers tasty pizza with an innovative twist, pushing local ingredients (Peppadews first made it big at Butler’s before going international) and super fast and friendly service. So there was no surprise that my last dinner before leaving Cape Town was a Butler’s Groovy Greek, Red Wine and some quality time in front of the TV.
36 hours after my Butlers-on-the-couch trip down memory lane, and I find myself in Naples, Italy. This is the home of the Pizza. The Real Deal. Naples is big, bad, dirty and they mean business in just about every way, except maybe for trash collection. This, they are not very good at. A famously fiery volcano is as close to your home as Table Mountain is to Newlands. Somehow, living in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius must alter your mindset; it’s no wonder the Neopolitans are careless with their own mortality. And the mortality of others. I’m a city girl from Cape Town, with almost 10 years of travel stamped in my passport(s) but I admit, I was, and am, terrified of Naples.
I make it from the airport to my downtown hotel without issues. The hotel is generic European gleaming efficiency. My room is large and fairly new and the TV works great (I get a full hour of BBC News. Pussy Riot is big this week. Its hilarious). I know that outside there is a city brimming with true Italian food just waiting for me. But sitting in my euro-shine hotel room, online, showered and sipping on chilled bottled water I am very tempted to just stay where I am. Safe and insulated from the smell of rotting trash. And then I think of the room service that I might order: Cheese Burger, Club Sandwich, Caesar Salad. No I can’t bear it. Time to head out, cash firmly placed in my bra and emergency telephone numbers on a scrap of paper inside my shoe. I’m not exaggerating even a little bit. I am scared. And hungry.
Tall, Dark and Handsome Concierge Guy sends me to a restaurant around the corner, Il Pomordorino. The Cherry Tomato. He says it is “the best”. Walking the streets of Naples in the evening feels like running the gauntlet, although in reality it is nothing more than a summer’s evening walk through the city. Families stroll, young girls are impossibly tanned and thin, young immigrants try to peddle designer handbags and sunglasses although only the tourists are buying. I find Il Pomordorino after only one wrong turn, and after entering the restaurant I get my first taste of Neopolitan Hospitality. The waiter looks me up and down, holds up one finger and cocks his head to the side as if to say “Oh, you’re eating on your own. How sad”. Once I’m seated, by myself, alone, solo, I try to order a Campari and Soda. My logic is that since this is Italy, and I really like Campari it would be appropriate to order a Campari as an aperitif. When in Rome, surely? The waiter gives me a very skew look and walks away. Apparently I am unaware of some blood feud between the Pizzerias of Naples and the Campari family of Milan. Foolish woman!
I order my first course entitled Fantasy of Marinated Seafood. It wasn’t really my fantasy, being largely a plate of marinated white, anchovies and fresh salmon. Delicious really, but how many boquerones can a girl eat in one seating? I maxed out at around 12. It is about this time that I became completely distracted by a woman sitting across the room that looked exactly like my younger sister, Jessica. And I’ve known Jess all my life, so I think I know what she looks like from 5 metres away. The hair, the glasses, the age, the skin tone, the clothes – the whole lot! It was bizarre. Only this lady’s husband wasn’t nearly as attractive as Chris – but it was so strange I couldn’t help but look until eventually I was just becoming a bit rude. That’s OK, everyone in Naples is a bit rude. Even the tourists.
Pizza arrives. Topped with fresh mozzarella, rocket and parmesan shavings I thought surely this is about as local a dish as you could throw together. The pizza was a fair size (Butler’s medium I would guess) with a thin base of almost a foccacia like density; warm and a bit chewy dusted with flour but still with an olive oil creaminess. The toppings where just perfect! The mozzarella was warm and elastic, the rocket fresh and biting. The combined flavours reminded me of a jazzed up toasted sandwich – warm and chewy and cheesy, but with some crisp ingredients too to lift the heaviness just a little bit. The bottom of the pizza base had the slightest singe from the pizza oven, lending a particular toasty smokey flavour. Delicious. Unfortunately I couldn’t finish the whole dish (a solo food writers peril – no boys to help finish off the food), and then I proceeded to sit around for a full 20 minutes waiting for the bill after I asked no less than 4 staff members to bring me il conto. I guess you have to be tough in this town.
So after an overnight stay in Naples, I learnt that if you put your best “I’m from Africa, don’t fuck with me” face on, you should be fine, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll get prompt service. But it might be worth the fight, because really it’s a revelation of cheesy goodness with not a single low-calorie option in sight. I also learnt that maybe there really are such things as a ‘double’, and if I could find Jess’ double in a Naples Pizzeria, where in the world could my double be? Or yours?
Ciao, x K