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“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!” American tourist family overheard in Rome
February 9th in the USA is National Pizza Day.
First, the facts…
… Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)
When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!
For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch. There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.
The main meal of the week was Sunday dinner which was usually roast beef, pork or lamb (chicken was a rare treat and a turkey was only for Christmas) served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, which for some reason mum always called batter puddings, and strictly only seasonal vegetables because runner beans weren’t flown in from Kenya all year round as they are today.
We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine; Monday was the best of the left-over meat served cold with potatoes and on Tuesday the tough bits were boiled up in a stew (we would call that bouef bourguignon now) and on Wednesday what was left was minced and cooked with onions and served with mash and in this way one good joint of meat provided four main meals with absolutely no waste. Thursday was my personal favourite, fried egg and chips and Friday was my nightmare day with liver or kidneys because I liked neither (and still don’t!) I complained so much about this that later I was allowed the concession of substituting sausage for liver but I was still obliged to have the gravy (which I didn’t care for much either) on the basis that ‘it was good for me!’
If we had been Catholics then we would have had fish I suppose but we didn’t have things out of the sea very often except for fish fingers.
I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.
It was lunchtime and because we were in Naples we had to visit a pizzeria because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic. Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the famous pizza on a visit there in 1889. Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas – of which, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) the simple and patriotic version was her favourite.
A lunchtime pizza stop in Rome…
Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’. This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.
I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it. And, I am not the only one who thinks pineapple is wrong on pizza; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas. He said…
“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza. For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”
Interestingly I cannot see that Italy itself has a National Pizza Day!
Maybe because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World. Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY! I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.
Canada joins in on Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie. If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit”.
Happy National Pizza Day USA and Canada and Australia too, I believe – have an extra slice for me (no pineapple preferred).
“To an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It
seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver
ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it!” – John Steinbeck
There are three main problems when driving in Italy and the first is the condition of the roads. Unlike Spain, where the Government has spent millions of Euros investing in and improving the transport infrastructure and built many new roads and where driving is a pleasure, in Italy they clearly haven’t spent any of their EU money on highway improvements and the annual maintenance budget is zero.
The condition of the roads is appalling which makes using them rather like like playing Russian roulette. Pot holed and poorly maintained and with white lines that were first painted when Mussolini was in charge they are down-right dangerous.
On account of this there is a general speed limit of fifty kilometres an hour but Italians generally ignore that and this is the second problem – the drivers.
In Italy, traffic regulations currently in force were approved by the Legislative Decree number 285 of 30th April 1992 and are contained in the Italian Highway Code called the Codice della Strada, but anyone visiting a busy Italian city or town would be certain to dispute that there is such a thing as a highway code in Italy.
Italian drivers obey no rules and have no self-control, manners or tolerance, junction priorities mean nothing because show a moment of hesitation and this is interpreted as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to pull-out, cut you up or just simply push in. They are ignorant and impatient and show a split-second of indecision and they go for their car horn like a trigger-happy wild-west gunslinger. At a junction or a roundabout the Italian driver narrows his eyes and flashes a ‘do you feel lucky punk’ sort of glare while his right foot hovers menacingly over the accelerator pedal.
Driving in Italy is like one massive demolition derby! Red lights are ignored, speed limits are purely advisory and it appears to be compulsory to drive while speaking on a mobile phone. After half an hour or so my nerves were in complete tatters and my stomach was as twisted as Chubby Checker and as knotted as one of the trunks of the thousand year olive trees at the side of the road.
Then there is the third problem – parking! There is no parking discipline because an Italian will gladly block you in, double-park, use the bumpers to nudge other cars out of the way, scratch and graze other parked vehicles on the way in or the way out and generally disregard all of the normal civilised rules of parking a car.
“I love the way Italians park… it looks like a parking competition for blind people. Cars are pointed in every direction, half on the pavements and half off, facing in, facing sideways… fitted into spaces so tight that the only way out would be through the sun roof. (Italians) park their cars the way I would park if I had just spilled a beaker of hydrochloric acid on my lap.” – Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’
We thought that we might now leave the coast and take the main road towards the town of Fasano and then on to another of the white cities, Martina Franca where we arrived about forty minutes later and where the traffic was at its murderous worst and by the time we had found an empty car park I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Kim wasn’t too far behind me.
I found a car park the size of a football pitch and to be safe I parked the car right in the middle where there was no other vehicles and then walked towards the centre. I wasn’t absolutely confident because what normally happens to me in these situations is that I find a good parking spot like this and then a few seconds later someone in a 4×4 or a twenty year old beat-up Transit van comes along and parks right up next to me.
Perched on a hillside Martina Franca didn’t look anything special so we rather unfairly wrote it off as not worth stopping for and we carried on to Massafra where the driving deteriorated even further where I swear the drivers were all competing in some sort of scrap-heap challenge. Caught up in the flow of speeding traffic I was terrified by the narrow lanes, the closeness of the steel barriers at the side of the road and just how near people were prepared to drive to the rear end of our car.
At every junction I had an expectation of a collision – at a roundabout I showed some hesitation and a twenty tonne truck just cut straight across me, missing me by inches! I realised by now that stop signs are completely meaningless as, on approaching one, an Italian driver just ignores it and simply pushes the front of his car into the flow of traffic while he continues to chat away on his mobile phone.
My nerves were in shreds and I was so pleased to get back to Alberobello and park the car in a safe place where it was now going to stay until tomorrow morning when happily we would be returning it to the Sixt car rental office in Ostuni.
You have probably guessed this already but I didn’t enjoy driving in Italy and it will be a very long time before I do it again!
The next day it was only a short drive to Ostuni and when we arrived there I was really, really glad to be able to return the car. The man at the hire car desk silently and menacingly checked the documents and then looked up and with just a momentary look of threat and anticipation in his eyes asked one simple question “what damage to car?” as though this was surely inevitable.
I told him that I was absolutely certain that there was none and he looked at me as though I was the World’s biggest liar and came round from behind the desk and went off to check.
He inspected both inside and out, several times as I recall, and then had to concede that there was no damage and then, with a look that had turned from anticipation to disappointment, almost reluctantly it seemed to me, signed off the hire release papers.
Italy’s roads are dangerous and 2014 was probably the worst year and according to EuroStat there were thirty two thousand, nine hundred and fifty-one road deaths in the EU and five thousand, six-hundred and twenty-five of them were in Italy. That is about 17%. In the ten years up to 2014 the Italians slaughtered sixty-five thousand, one hundred and twenty five people in traffic accidents so it pays to have your wits about you when crossing the road and why if you want to be sure of avoiding death on the highway in Italy it is probably safest to visit Venice.
… the village of Vallone di Furore, a narrow fjord where steep rock walls sheltered an enclave of fishermen’s houses and a tiny harbour with a beach littered with small hard working fishing boats all resting for the day. I had seen this place before and thirty years later it was completely transformed. In 1976 it was a shambles with dilapidated buildings but now it was renovated and restored but had kept its charm intact.
Have you ever returned somewhere years later and found it greatly changed?
Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here
Now and again I look back over my posts to review what has been going on. One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.
One of my most successful posts is about the day I attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party and I get lots of odd Google referrals about this one. So far this year my favourites just have to be:
- who uses diplomatic tent at royal garden party buck palace
I have to say that this is a really easy one to answer – it will be diplomats! At the Garden Party there are a range of tents all arranged in an appropriate hierarchical order. At the bottom are the common tents for people like me and you. Then there are tents for important people like the Prime Minister and his guests and then tents for foreign diplomats and at the very top are lavish affairs for visiting royalty who just might happen to drop in!
- how much does it cost to hire Buckingham palace for a garden party
…and I have to say that I am fairly certain that the Queen of England is not so short of cash that she needs to hire her back garden out for a corporate event.
But my favourite this time is…
- This year’s theme for Buckingham Palace party?
A garden party is a formal affair where guests where their very best clothes. The day that I went there were gentlemen in tails and top hats, women in floral dresses and elaborate hats and it reminded me of a scene from a nineteenth century painting of a sophisticated social event. And there were so many military uniforms that it was almost like being in an episode of Foyle’s War!
Surely I do not have to explain that a garden party at Buckingham Palace is not a fancy dress party but then again perhaps someone should have advised Prince Harry when he thought it was amusing to attend a society party dressed as a Nazi!
I also get a lot of referrals from questions about behaviour – here are a couple of tips about not what to do…
Next I have some rather bizarre geography questions:
- Is Benidorm in north Europe
And the answer is no, it is in Southern Europe and hopefully my post about Benidorm helped to correct this misconception.
- Liechtenstein is it in Austria or Germany
Actually it is in neither, it is in Switzerland. It is a boring place, hardly worth visiting but I went there once in 2008 and stayed overnight near the capital Vaduz. I have to say that I am not surprised that anyone may not know exactly where Liechtenstein is because it is an instantly forgettable place which I once included in my list of disappointing places to visit.
“It occurred to me that there is no reason to go to Liechtenstein except to say that you have been there. If it were simply part of Switzerland… nobody would dream of visiting it” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here Nor there’
- where is Europe located next to Italy
What a wonderfully stupid question. It is like asking where is USA next to Texas? Where is Canada next to Calgary? Or where is Australia next to Melbourne?
Actually, Italy was the first European country that I ever visited when I travelled to Sorrento in 1976!
Mine is not a food blog but I am always happy to help out with culinary questions whenever I can and I like this one… should I put vinegar on the chips or not?
I include this one even though I do not find this not such a stupid question. What you should put on your chips is a matter of personal choice and a subject that I debated quite recently when I considered the origin of frites.
Staying with the food theme I am going to finish this current round up of bizarre search questions with my favourite so far this year:
What was General Franco’s favourite food?
I am sure that this is a question that only his personal chef could realistically be expected to answer with any authority but my suggestions are…
- Skewered Republicans
- Roasted Liberals
- BBQ’d Communists
Some time ago I tried to visit General Franco’s tomb but the Spanish don’t like Franco any more and it was closed at the time on account of the fact that it was being demolished.
When General Franco met Führer Adolf Hitler I can only assume that either they couldn’t agree on the menu or they were both on a diet…
Thanks for reading and I will do another round up when I have enough material…
… Have you spotted any bizarre search questions bringing unexpected visitors to your blog posts? – Do Tell!
“…when the sun burst through the morning mists and fired this tinted magnificence, it topped imperial Vesuvius like a jeweled crown!” – Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad
Planet Earth is just like a human being – when it becomes angry it gets to shout its mouth off!
On the next day we were back on the road with a half day trip to nearby Mount Vesuvius which is an active stratovolcano situated to the east of Naples. I am being deliberately specific here because what that means technically and geologically is that it is a tall, conical shaped volcano composed of many layers of hardened lava and volcanic ash laid down over the centuries by all of the many previous eruptions.
Or, if you don’t like Vesuvius here are some other Volcano Visits:
In the spring of 1976 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental Europe and booked a Cosmos holiday to Sorrento in Italy with my girlfriend Linda. We were due to go on the 12th June but at some point shortly before travel she fell for the charms of a reporter on the local newspaper and abruptly ended the relationship.
This created a problem because it was within the no refund period and so I was faced with the prospect of losing all my money. I could have begged I suppose but that would have been undignified so instead we had a family crisis meeting and the solution was found when dad enthusiastically stepped in and agreed to take her place. That’s what dads are for, I would do exactly the same!
And so, on the appointed Saturday, we travelled to Luton airport for the Monarch Airlines flight to Naples. Apart from the Isle of Wight this was the first time that dad had been overseas as well and to be honest he was slightly overdressed for the occasion in his rather formal sports jacket and tie.
There again this was still a time when passengers still wore their best clothes to travel, it was something special, airport departure was far more civilized without the dehumanising process of security checks and where officers at passport control called you Sir.
Airline travel was so different in 1976, the flight had proper seat allocations and the plane had comfortable reclining chairs with adequate leg room and stewardesses who wore smart yellow uniforms seemed genuinely pleased to see you and served a complimentary hot meal and free drinks. These days they are called Flight Attendants in the same way that actresses are called actors. I really don’t understand why women/ladies/girls don’t want to be treated as feminine any more. I guess I am getting old.
The plane landed at a rather Spartan military airport base near to the city of Naples and after I had already taken a picture of the plane on my Kodak Pocket Instamatic we were firmly warned against taking photographs. It wasn’t an especially welcoming sort of place as we passed through a rather austere passport control and baggage reclaim hall both decorated in varying tones of slate grey and in dire need of a welcoming makeover and then made our way through to the coach that was waiting for us.
The twenty-mile drive to Sorrento took about forty-five minutes along a busy road running alongside the Circumvesuviana railway and on the way we got our first look at Mount Vesuvius which towers up dangerously close to the city, and then as we swooped down through cypresses, citrus groves and vineyards around the Bay of Naples we could see the Mediterranean Sea and the Island of Capri.
I think I remember being speechless. The sea and the sky were so intensely blue that at times it was difficult to be sure where one finished and the other started.
This was breathlessly exciting stuff because previously we had never been further than Cornwall or Norfolk and the blue, almost luminous, water looked a lot more inviting than the grey North Sea that’s for sure.
When the coach arrived in Sorrento it started dropping off the passengers at their various hotels and finally drove to Sant’ Agnello and a position directly on the coast on the top of the cliff and guests stopping at the Hotel Mediterraneo were invited to leave the coach. This was our stop and we were immediately impressed with where we would be staying and I smugly congratulated myself on a good selection.
The hotel was six stories high and painted a dazzling white, so bright it hurt your eyes to look at it, with smart green shutters on the windows. At the front it was surrounded by trees with attractive pink blossom and at the back there was a secluded garden full of citrus trees with oranges and lemons hanging invitingly low in the branches.
At the reception we checked in and the clerk handed over a room key attached to a bell-shaped key ring which would make it difficult to misplace and he had a surprise for me and handed over a letter from the pigeon-hole behind him. It was my birthday (22) in three days time and this was an envelope, which obviously contained a card, with an English stamp commemorating the bicentennial of American Independence.
This is one of the reasons that I am proud to be British – we can even celebrate our defeats without any bad feeling. In 1966 we had a Royal Mail stamp collection commemorating the ninth hundred anniversary of the Norman Conquest.
The handwriting on the envelope I instantly recognised as Linda’s and that made me feel rather sad.
Our room was on the fourth floor and the hotel had one of those old-fashioned lifts that were little more than a metal cage that went up and down the shaft and you could see the walls flashing by through the grill. This was the sort of lift that you don’t see any more because if you put your fingers through the frame it would rip them off and sensibly they have been consigned to history by European health and safety legislation.
The room was on the back of the hotel overlooking the garden and although it was basic it was clean and comfortable and we agreed that it would do very nicely indeed. There was a tiled floor and real wooden furniture, beds with crisp white linen sheets and a bathroom with an old-fashioned bath suite. Being 1976 there was no mini-bar of course and no television and certainly no Internet access. We allocated the drawer space, emptied our suitcases and made ourselves feel at home.
I was in Italy, my mind was racing, my heart was soaring and my senses were filled with a whole gazetteer of new experiences….