I’m back! After 2.5 weeks of travelling around Switzerland, Croatia and Italy, and another 7 days of hotel quarantine in Tseung Kwan O, I am setting foot again onto the streets of this most ruthless city: Hong Kong. Not only the current heat and humidity wave make it ruthless, but it is also the approach to pizza in general that I’ve been observing here for 4 years already. Especially after coming back from Italy, I feel my perception of this ruthlessness has sharpened even more, and I don’t mean this in a negative way (I’ll get to that later). In this article I want to briefly summarize my experience from my trip to Naples, my perception of the pizzas I’ve had there and how Hong Kong relates to that. Are pizzas in Naples really better than our pizzas here? The natural answer would be a clear “yes” – Naples is the birthplace of pizza after all. However, I came to the conclusion that this answer requires a bit of explanation and relativization.
I travelled to Naples for just a few days as I kind of squeezed it in while visiting my family in Europe. It has always been one of my travel goals to explore this city, not only because of its pizzas, but also because of my general fascination for its stereotypes: old narrow alleys with cobblestones, beautiful coasts, the infamous stories about the mafia, the “dolce far niente” lifestyle, a version of Italian language that can’t be understood (Neapolitan dialect), the omnipresence of the late Diego Armando Maradona… so many pictures that I had in my mind before flying in! And before you ask: yes, some of the stereotypes are absolutely spot-on, some others I couldn’t confirm whatsoever (without mentioning which ones). One stereotype that I could validate immediately though is the importance of pizza in this city! It’s almost a bit overwhelming walking around the streets and picking a pizzeria for lunch or dinner, simply because of the vast choice! I read somewhere that there are more than 800 pizzerias in Naples. So, my task was clear: selecting 4 of them that are worthy of representing the quality and tradition that this city has to offer.
Admittedly, I was also quickly pulled out of my mentally constructed dreamland and came to the realization that a pizza in Naples does not automatically get a perfect score. The ratings of the 4 pizzas I’ve had here were:
That’s an insane average, but it was also eye-opening for me that even pizzas which are widely considered the “world’s best” can be further improved (one of them was literally made by the world champion in contemporary pizza). I admit that applying rating criteria is often very subjective: when I criticize a certain pizza for a specific aspect, you may find it unjustified – or vice versa: when I award a pizza with the perfect score, you might say that you didn’t like it 100%. Nevertheless, the reality is that pizzas in Naples are also made by people and not by gods. The only difference to other cities is that Naples has a higher percentage of really skilled pizzaiolos who have got the knowledge and respect passed down from previous generations. That’s why the chances are much higher in Naples that you will get an excellent pie served. Frankly speaking I think it is extremely difficult to find a pizza in this city that would score below an 8/10, while in Hong Kong it’s usually a reason to celebrate when finding something above this score.
The good news for Hong Kong (and any other place in the world) is that knowledge travels. We now have pizzerias like Fiata, Gustaci and Motorino (just to name a few) in our city that have the skills to make pizzas at an equal quality level to what you get in Naples! Not only do such places have actual Italian pizzaiolos at work, but they also successfully transfer the knowhow to the locals, who learn the craft and execute it passionately and diligently. This is a really awesome development that has been going on for many decades in other regions already, but is relatively new in Hong Kong, where places like Pizza Hut and Pizza Express have dominated the market for a long time. We are in a period now where more people are appreciating the true art of pizza-making and paying attention and respect to quality pizzerias.
Finally, I want to highlight one factor that Hong Kong can take as an advantage in comparison to Italy when it comes to pizza: its aforementioned “ruthlessness” (again, I use this term with a positive connotation here). By that I mean that people are further away from the Neapolitan traditions and they would reflect less on what is “allowed” and what isn’t.
I generally have a balanced opinion when it comes to this question: on one hand, I want to see pizzerias respect the tradition in terms of putting emphasis on quality, crafting a proper pizza dough, and creating their dishes with heart and passion.
On the other hand, after getting these basics right, I like it a lot when people push the creativity limit in crazy ways. I don’t see any problem if unconventional toppings (e.g. hamburger patties) or sauces (e.g. Thousand Island) are used. Hong Kong has a more free-spirited approach when it comes to this type of creativity and I generally support it.
So, circling back to the main question of this article: does Naples really have better pizzas than Hong Kong? The short, natural answer is “yes” – and this is probably the answer I would give to somebody if I don’t have enough time to explain further. But the real answer goes more something like this:
Naples has more top-notch pizzerias that use high-quality ingredients, so… yes
Hong Kong has several 10/10 pizzas while Naples has some at 9/10, so… not necessarily
Naples does not have any pizzas with dubious cracker doughs, so… yes
Rating criteria are subjective, so… not necessarily
Naples upholds the pizza tradition like no other city in the world, so… yes
With that said, I highly recommend putting Naples on your travel bucket list and explore this wonderful city when you get a chance. For me personally, it has moved into my top 5 favorite cities in the world!