My Dad and I like to rate things.
Growing up in Altona, we would drive past Kooringal Golf Course on the way to my high school each day. For years, we would rate the golf course as to how good it looked on that particular day.
Of course, I’ve never played golf before. I’m even crap at minigolf (which has the non-PC name of ‘midget golf’ over here in Holland). But I really got into Dad’s ranking system.
It actually all began with pies. Not dessert ones, Americans out there; I’m talking about messy, meaty, manly Aussie meat pies. Ones that make you go ‘RAAARGH!!!’ as you bite into them.
Nobody could ever beat Tim’s, which scored a whopping 9.5 out of a possible 10.
Dad often gets two pies; the classic steak and then a fancy one, perhaps a curried steak or maybe even a Thai chicken one. But the rating would only be given to the steak one. Points were added or deducted for the flakiness of the pastry, the temperature, the meat’s chunkiness and the appearance of surprise ingredients such as carrot (addition) or gristle (subtraction).
In addition, there has long been a pizza rating system, though perhaps without the same amount of gusto as that of pies. But over here in Europe, with the pies few and far between, I’ve had to ramp up the rating system for pizza (although I’m also prone to give out scores for kebabs).
Dad’s best pizza, he always says, came from Trinity Beach up in North Queensland. I was twelve at the time and remember it being bloody good; a 9.5. Another ripper came in the unlikely metropolis of Macau, in the middle of a casino. That one got a 9.
If the pizzas were that good in such unlikely places, they surely the pizza must be unbelievable in Italy, I used to think. I was wrong.
I, along with so many visitors to Italy, found out this disappointing news quite quickly; pizzas are so-so in their home country. Sure, they may follow the traditional recipe more strictly, but c’mon people. That’s just a cop-out, an excuse to serve so-so, tasteless plain pizzas. Innovate! I’m over the margherita already!
So I don’t claim to be a pizza purist. I just want one that’s tasty. Three have fit this category; three in perhaps the two months I’ve spent in the country in the past five years. The first was in a little restaurant in Rome not far from Piazza Navona; a group of newly-acquired friends wanted to take me to their local.
It was nearly as big as me.
Look at my eyes. It’s all in my eyes; I cannot wait to tuck into this beast. It is as if I’m about to cackle to myself, I can’t believe my good fortune.
This pizza scored a very respectable 8; the cheese was delicious and the sausage was an added bonus. But in the end it all came down to the size. I polished off the entire thing, perhaps startling my dining companions. What a first impression. I am sure I had tomato sauce all over my face and my chin was most definitely shining with grease.
Another came in the form of this behemoth.
This pizza came from a lovely little place in the Trastevere neighbourhood of Rome, called Dar Poeta. I had been told about this place by my sister, who had in turn had it recommended to her by someone else. I had its name, its address, and set off. I got off the metro at Circo Massimo.
If you know Rome at all you can imagine the lengthy walk which followed, which occurred in the sweltering month of July. I couldn’t find the place for the life of me; I could find the street, but not the number.
I was so hot and hungry that I was getting delirious. It was my first day off from tour guiding in 29 days and this pizza was the only thing that got me out of bed that morning. Finally, two and a half hours after setting off, I found Dar Poeta (the street, in that charmingly Italian way, dog-legged into what looked like a completely different street).
I scored this pizza a 7; good base, delicious prosciutto and under ten euro. The cheese perhaps could have been a bit more melted in. However, it got bonus points for killing my hunger and allowing me to tackle an afternoon of sightseeing around Rome.
Neither of these, however, nor the dozens of other imposters I’ve consumed, have come close to this Neapolitan masterpiece.
This was the only photo I took during my entire time in Naples (I was too scared someone would knock me over for my camera). But I had to get evidence of such perfection. I mean, you can’t find a square centimetre of this pizza not drowned in tomato, cheese and oil. It’s also so big that you can’t see the plate anymore.
Unlike the first two, this one scored bonus points for the gezelligheid; a perfect little Dutch word which describes a cosy, welcoming atmosphere. Da Michele, which is known to be one of the homes of pizza (they all argue as to where it really is), definitely was gezellig. I shared a table with an old Italian couple who offered me some beer out of their little plastic cups; ‘prego, prego‘ they said, holding it out to me.
All that I could offer the couple was some of my mineral water, which thankfully didn’t interest them. I spent the next ten minutes replying to their complicated questions with ‘si‘ and smiling, hopefully in the right spots. But once our pizzas came out, the language barrier was broken. ‘Buon appetito’ we said to each other, almost as an afterthought, and tucked in.
I scored my true Neapolitan pizza a lofty 9. It was plain; there wasn’t an egg or a pineapple in sight. But it was perfect; just like a cold, still Melbourne morning, with the sun just peeking through. Not like a showy, warm spring morning, but a perfect day for golf nonetheless.