Picture it…Napoli, Italy, late morning in Pizzeria Da Michele. A young man named Ethan is celebrating his 30th birthday with a trip to Italy. Through his love of food, the suggestion of a friend and learning how to cross the street in Napoli, Ethan is about to embark on a pizza journey that he is unlikely to ever experience again.
How did Ethan come to be fork-to-mouth with possibly one of the finest meals in his lifetime? Well, let me tell you a story.
Ethan had turned 30 back in January of 2008. Since 30 was one of those milestone birthdays where you’re supposed to evaluate life and your accomplishments. It had bothered him that he hadn’t really travelled yet and specifically hadn’t been to Europe. After some contemplating, he wanted to explore one country really well, rather than doing one of those eight countries in fourteen days type trip. And for him, there was no better place to start than Italy.
The itinerary was set, two weeks in Italy, arriving in Roma, than hoping to figure out how to take the train to Venizia, Parma, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Firenze, Roma and if time permitted, Napoli. As he was leaving, his good friend Sandra gave him a copy of Eat, Pray, Love to read on the plane since the “Eat” part of the book takes place in Italy. Although, the book was now over two years old, Ethan did not know much about the book, but with a six hour flight ahead of him, he had some upcoming free time. Sandra raved about the book and got especially excited about the experience the lead character (Elizabeth) and her friend had when they took a train to Napoli and had a relationship with a pizza that is orgasmic. She thought reading the book would do Ethan some good on many levels and he might even be inspired to try that very same pizza.
To make a long story short, Ethan read the “Eat” part and there was no doubt about it, Napoli and that pizza were on his to-do list. As a matter of fact, he read the “Pray” and “Love” parts as well and he enjoyed every page, more so than he probably realized at the time. Here he was in Italy, back-packing by himself and his initial feelings of nervousness of the unknown quickly turned into a feeling of conquering whatever he was confronted with. He often looks back at that trip in Italy with a smile. That trip sent him on a path that has since seen him quit a job many would view as a “dream” job, move to Vancouver for another dream job working the Olympics, start a blog, go back to Europe, vacation in Hawaii and realize he can do whatever he wants to do!
With an address and his mission to eat pizza, Ethan trained it to Napoli early one morning. He wasn’t sure if it was a rumor or not, but apparently Pizzeria Da Michele often ran out of pizza! He had done pretty well getting around Italy up to this point, but when he walked out of the train station in Napoli, he was not even sure if he was still in Italy. It just felt different to him and crossing the street was shaping up to be a problem. See, in Napoli, there seemed to be a lack of traffic lights and an over-abundance of cars driving really fast. After evaluating the situation and observing others, it seemed that pedestrians simply walk with purpose and the cars drive around them. Ethan was getting pretty hungry and had always considered himself an expert jay-walker, so off he went and sure enough, some cars stopped and some swerved but he crossed the street just fine.
With the map and his appetite, Ethan soon found Pizzeria Da Michele. He looked around to high-five someone, but then remembered he was travelling by himself so he gave himself a little congratulatory pat on the back and entered for a date with pizza destiny.
It was 11am and thankfully they hadn’t run out yet! Ethan looked at the menu, but he knew what he wanted, a Neopolitan original, the Pizza Margherita. As he was seated, Ethan looked around the pizzeria and everything just fit. The cook making the pizza had probably been doing it for 60 years, the wood fire oven probably had probably been there since the place opened and the pictures on the wall of Mr. and Mrs. Da Michele overseeing it all made it feel authentic and added to the experience.
Then came the moment of truth, the long-awaited pizza was presented to Ethan and if food can be art, this would be the David of pizza, simple presentation, yet complex in its taste.
Ethan savoured that first bite, trying to taste the history of the pizza. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion for Ethan that the pizza would live up to expectation after all the hype, but somehow it did and then some. The dough was fresh and aromatic and had the tear factor that is necessary in a good pizza. The tomato sauce was sweet and full of flavor. The presentation of the cheese surprised Ethan as it was not grated like he’s accustomed to, but rather it was slices or chunks when they are that thick and it was pure magic. And lastly, the basil, it was baked into the pizza and that single leaf managed to perfume the entire pizza with the scent of sweet basil. Ethan did not even have to bite the basil to taste it within the pizza.
Leaving was bittersweet for Ethan, he was euphoric in having found something that good and that memorable. However, he realized this was probably the pinnacle of his pizza eating journey. Oh, he’ll eat more pizza, but he’s not sure it will measure up to this morning in Napoli once all the factors are taken into account.
And yes, Ethan ate the whole pizza and even considered ordering a second one, but everything had been perfect and he wanted it to stay that way.