Struggling uni students are often led to the enthrals of “pizza” chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut. But these thick-crusted, Americanized concoctions are nowhere near as satisfying and deliciously wonderful as the real deal. I’m talking real Italian pizza hailing from its birthplace in Naples, Italy, and more specifically, the all-time favourite, Pizza Margherita. Although pizza has become in some ways a national identifier for Italy as a whole, regional pride still reigns on in Italia, and Neapolitans are very proud to say that pizza is their dish. The best pizzerias in Italy are found in Naples, but pizza, especially Margherita, has become so widespread, varied and loved around the world.
Pizzas were originally sold in Naples without toppings, and, because of their relatively cheap prices, were sold to peasants. After the tomato was finally accepted as edible in Italy, and endorsed in 1889 by Queen Margherita (legendary), the pizza alla Margherita became what we know it to be today and can be enjoyed all over the world, especially in the many Neapolitan pizzerias.
The dish has taken on such a different face around the world, with thicker crusts, different cheeses, different herbs and all sort of variations. However, in its home of Naples, one is able to find the simple thin crust, topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil (reminiscent of the Italian flag!). What’s even better is that the price is a lot cheaper than the standard $20 gourmet pizza you find in Melbourne!!
While Pizza has become like a national dish in Italy, it’s important to recognise its regional roots in Naples and remember that Italy’s cuisine is a celebration of its regional diversity.
Sometimes, I just crave something salty. Luckily for me, one of Catalonia’s most well-known traditional dishes, Esqueixada, has that fresh, salty, oniony and tomatoey flavour that makes me oh so happy.
Esqueixada, meaning “torn” or “shredded”, is one of Catalonia’s favourite warm weather dishes, a homely dish enjoyed in many waterfront restaurants in the Spanish region. The salad dish is made up of yummy shredded salt cod, tomatoes, onions, vinegar, salt and sometimes bell peppers and olives. Esqueixada’s simplicity is so different from the molecularised foods emerging from Catalonia’s “boom gastronómico” but that’s where its beauty lies.
The salad makes use of the Catalan staple salt cod, an homage to its Mediterranean coastline and love of fish, as well as tomatoes, brought from the New World by Spain’s own Columbus. The use of such key ingredients encapsulates the way in which Catalan cuisine weaves together its rich culture and history and how it’s an “inheritance from and tribute to all the civilizations that have ruled Europe since Imperial Roman times”.1
I’ve never seen this dish plated up in Melbourne and would definitely not classify it as haute cuisine. Outside of Catalonia and even Spain, the only difference with the dish concerns the availability of ingredients. Salt cod is not too popular in most parts of the world, and thus when making the dish, the cod would have to be cured and salted at home. I did come across some Ferran Adrii inspired versions of the dish however, demonstrating how the traditional, home-style cooking of the region is being modernized.
Prior to studying Catalan cuisine, I wouldn’t have even considered the significance behind such a simple salad!
1L’any del menjar, cuina i gastronomia, p. 20.