What I love about Naples is that it is still very much Italian, the way you see it in a movie. The people are the same people that have been here for generations, and they’re friendly and full of character.
My Brilliant Friend
The popularity of Elena Ferrante’s novels and the subsequent television series My Brilliant Friend have spurred the interest of travelers to visit the Naples, Italy area which was the central setting for the colorful characters. The neighborhood mainly seen in the series is not glamorous – nor does it actually exist.
My Brilliant Friend is a post-war period piece shot on a large movie set built in Caserta, north of Naples, or in Italian: Napoli. The setting, with its fascist architecture, is meant to represent a charmless, confining working-class suburb in the middle of nothing reportedly modeled after Rione Luzzatti in eastern Naples.
“The setting for the series shows the reality of a ‘quartiere’ or ‘neighborhood’ as it is translated in the subtitles. It doesn’t show the more beautiful aspects of the city, but that’s not the point of the show,” said Katherine Oates, an American living in Naples working in the tourism industry. “But for the most part, the people of Naples are proud of the television series L’amica Geniale. S
ome of the episodes give a peek at the more beautiful Naples including the sweeping views of Capri and Sorrento from the seafront, the Galeria Umberto and the Piazza Plebisctio.”
Napoli Bellissima Citta?
The volcanic island of Ischia, featured in the more sunny, scenic, summer scenes of the beach on My Brilliant Friend, is beautiful and near Naples. Ischia is the kind of places Oates might plan a wedding for Americans via ItalyDreamWeddings.com. But she says travelers to the region, including the Amafli Coast, should not forget Naples.
“The San Carlo opera house is the oldest in Italy and there are some beautiful back streets around the older heart of the city near the lovely Gesù Nuovo church. Naples is busy and you constantly hear the motorbikes. Some parts are in need of a facelift, but I don’t care, and I like it that way. I love its authenticity,” she said.
Edouard Freda is a native Neapolitan.
Naples is a very special, chaotic city. The people are on top of each other, the streets are tiny, and they scream,” he insisted. “It was the center of art for many centuries and is a stereotypical Italian experience.”
Oates, from her non-native perspective, agrees.
“What I love about Naples is that it is still very much Italian, the way you see it in a movie,” Oates assures. “Just as in My Brilliant Friend, the people have been here for generations, and they’re friendly and full of character. They have Neapolitan passion in everything they do. Every person puts their heart into their work – from shoemaking to pizza baking.”
Fredo found solace in pizza.
“When I would walk the streets taking in the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city, I found reprieve from the chaos by exploring the small pizza parlors adjacent to the main streets. I was guided by the delicious smells emanating from their ovens.”
Having a Talia di Roma on the table in your home is to be transported virtually, for a meal, to Napoli – something that Andrea Grisdale’s Italian acclaimed custom tour company Italian Connection Bellagio (IC Bellagio) does physically for travelers to Italy.
“Italians are very dedicated to regional food. To enjoy farm-to-table cuisine in a traditional trattoria makes people feel good. It doesn’t always have to be fine dining because the atmosphere and the people and the personalities make for an enjoyable experience,” she explained. “The pizzas are amazing.”
Bringing Napoli to You
Napoli pizza, just like My Brilliant Friend, has become an exported ambassador for the city.
“In Napoli to make pizza is an art. It’s the authentic local food of the people of Naples. The basic ingredients are the same as in other places: flour, yeast, water and salt, but the fresh extras from the local area, Campania, probably make the difference,” Oates speculated.
“The Neapolitan pizza focuses on its core ingredients: the mozzarella, the tomato, and the basil. The pie is extremely simple, so those flavors are fully released, said Freda. “That is the experience of Naples – the simplicity and the beauty of taste.”
Freda wanted to share the experience with more than just words.
“Our dream was to create the pizza in Napoli and export it to the world, especially America, without compromising its flavors,” said Freda, who, in 2018, founded Talia di Napoli, the pizza export company of which he is now CEO. Under his direction, and in partnership with Maurizio Ramirez and Guido Freda, discovered a way to literally secure that local flavor and send it to the world – just as the television show My Brilliant Friend has timelessly captured the authentic essence of Naples.
The Sleeping Pizza
Talia di Napoli uses the farm-to-table local ingredients both Oates and Freda lauded without preservatives or additives and bakes the pizzas on sourdough in a hand-built wood-fired Neapolitan oven.
Just as My Brilliant Friend is a drama frozen in time, Talia di Napoli then puts the pizzas “to sleep” at -4 degrees Fahrenheit a cryogenic flash freeze chamber.
“We make the pizza in Naples as if it were going to be served in the restaurant. When it is fully baked it goes into the flash freezing machine. We use liquid nitrogen instead of water to freeze the pizza. The difference is there is no condensation and the pizza does not get wet. It is perfectly preserved,” Freda explained.
The “sleeping pizzas” are then shipped across the ocean from Southern Italy and delivered free to homes across America and to some Whole Foods grocery stores.
Ten minutes in any oven “wakes” the pizza and virtually transports its diner to Naples. The delicious irony of the process is that the 17th century fairy tale Sleeping Beauty was written in Naples about the same time pizza was invented.
Superstar Pizza Makers
The magic is that the 100-percent natural ingredients are combined with the artisanal work of a Neapolitan “Pizzaiuolo” – a master pizza chef. It’s a position designated with UNESCO World Heritage status which making the pizza chefs very well-known in Naples where they enjoy celebrity status. “Intangible cultural heritage of humanity” is that UNESCO dubbed the Neapolitan art of “pizza spinning.” The pizzaiuoli – a “living link” between generations, prepare the dough; roll it into the pizza; bake it in a wood-fired oven; and rotate it to produce an even pie.
“The comparison would be like a Japanese sushi chef in Tokyo. They compete with each other. They are very predominant,” said Freda. “The pizza chefs in Napoli each have their own twist. Some prefer a thicker crust. Some prefer more tomato sauce. Based on your taste you decide which one you follow. There is heavy debate on which one makes the best Neapolitan pizza.”
Oates said you cannot go wrong.
“It is truly the passion and pride of the Neapolitans that makes it so special. This is not a part time job for them – it is their livelihood. Pizzas in and from Naples have a great consistent flavor,” said Oates.
Talia di Napoli secured the talents of “Chef Nino,” a true Master Pizzaiuolo, according to Freda.
“He trained in the trattorias in Naples and has been with us from the beginning and oversees every single station in the handmade pizza-making process and all aspects of production,” Freda said. “He is so dedicated to his craft that he actually lives on property with his beloved dog never staying too far from his beloved wood-fired ovens.”
Love and Respect for Italian Tradition
Talia di Napoli’s founders, like many tourists, love the Neapolitan restaurant tradition of a Margherita pizza – created and named in 1889 to honor Italian Queen Margherita – royal consort to King Umberto. The pizza is patriotic portraying the colors of the Italian flag with its green basil, white mozzarella and red tomatoes.
Talia di Napoli lists its other flavors, including four cheese; primavera; tartufina; bianca; rossi, and gluten free, at TaliaDiNapoli.com where they can be ordered and shipped in multi-pizza packs.
“Our goal is to be an ambassador of the city. We want to bring Naples to your table. Naples is sheer beauty – but it’s simple beauty,” said Freda.
Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected]