I will never forget the guy I met years ago, who was sure that pizza had been invented here, in the heart of America, by Chuck E. Cheese. No joke. Obviously, he has not heard of my homeland country, Italy, the cradle of pizza.
As you know, pizza is a simple dish originating from Naples back in 1889. Maybe the U.S. feels a sense of ownership due to their very creative toppings that have definitely deviated from the classics. How could they think of adding BBQ chicken or pineapple? Is it better with a thin or thick crust? Chicago, Detroit, or New York-style? Is Pizza Hut, Domino’s or Papa John’s the king of pizzas?
The last time Viktoria and I visited my family in Italy, we went to a pizza place that required a reservation two months in advance. You read that correctly: there is a two-month-long waiting list to eat a slice of pizza in this restaurant. For that kind of effort, the pizza here must be from another planet. We were not disappointed. “Il Borgo Antico” has often been referred to as the best pizzeria in Prato, Italy, where everyone must go at least once to try the “Scrocchiarella,” their signature dish, and the newest development in terms of pizza style. “Scrocchiarella” is not translatable in English, but the name wishes to give the idea that the pizza is crunchy and melts in one’s mouth.
We tried several kinds of pizza that day. One of our favorites was plain focaccia topped with sheep cheese, honey and walnuts. We would have liked to add a thin slice of pear to soften the sharp flavor of the cheese, but it was still well balanced and original. Generally, Viktoria and I are not easily impressed, especially when restaurants are too popular. In our many travels, we have come across some of the best food in the most inconspicuous of restaurants. But the pizza was excellent at “Il Borgo Antico,” and we stuffed ourselves until we could no longer eat a single bite.
To our surprise, an hour later, we felt great. We did not have that sensation of heaviness that inevitably results from binging pizza in the States. The reasons rest in the wholeness of the ingredients: how the dough is raised – usually twice, and the way it is baked in the oven. Ultimately, the pizza at “Il Borgo Antico” was light, tasteful and addicting.
Would we go back for more? Probably not. For Viktoria and me, it’s ridiculous that for such a simple dish of pizza, we must plan two months in advance. But we don’t regret the experience of trying something new in the food scene of Prato, my hometown in Italy.
By the way, how do you eat pizza? When in Italy, for casual street food, it’s acceptable to eat “pizza al taglio” with your hands, because it is served in a small rectangular portion, like a sandwich. However, for the pizza ordered at the table, the locals typically eat it with a fork and knife. For a tourist visiting Italy, I would recommend giving it a go.
But if your pizza starts flying onto your neighbor’s table, feel free to go back to using your hands: it’s completely understandable. After all, the rules are made to be broken, and no one will care as long as you enjoy the food.
Il Borgo Antico, Pizzeria Ristorante, Via Gherardacci 25, Prato, Italy
~ Written by: Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.
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