Pizza. Ubiquitous and controversial in equal measure. On the one hand, I’ve eaten something loosely described as pizza everywhere from the islands of Thailand to the boondocks of the United States, and most countries in the world have some sort of cheap, dough-based dish topped with local produce – think of Turkish lahmacun or German flammkuchen. On the other hand,
So when I discovered that Amsterdam is in the grip of a new wave of strictly Neapolitan-style pizzerias, I was eager to try them. Maybe one of them would transport me back to the sun-soaked terraces of Naples, circa 2000? The first I ate at was nNea, which only opened earlier this year in West to huge critical acclaim. Their dough takes over 50 hours to produce, and the result is like a warm pillow… fantastic, if you’re in it for the dough. (If you’re the kind of person who leaves pizza bones on their plate, nNea is going to look like a waste of calories.)
We tried the quattro pomodori, because it sounded like a nice change from the quattro formaggi that you see in most places. The tomatoes were sunny and bright and flecked with oregano, which was just as well since (I had missed this on the menu) it was a vegan pizza. As flavoursome as those tomatoes were, I missed the cheese, and the base ended up a little wet. But I appreciate the fact that nNea is trying to make their pizzas more accessible to those following a plant-based diet. We also tried the amatriciana pizza, because it included the magic word guanciale – possibly my favourite pork-based ingredient in the world. Think bacon but ten times sexier. The amatriciana also involved pecorino, basil, chilli oil and a decent layer of tomato sauce but without mozzarella. All in all, the entire meal felt lighter than usual (no pizza coma experienced) despite the doughiness. And the two pizzas together (we shared) balanced each other out in terms of richness and saltiness. I only had one glass of wine (a smooth red from Ischia) but the drinks and service seemed to be up to the same quality as the pizza.
Second on my list was Pizza Beppe: accredited by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, it now has three branches in Amsterdam, of which we tried their Middenweg location. Their pizza oven is in the middle of the room, which makes for atmosphere and warmth, and the Italian service is just as warm and friendly. Here, we tried the margherita salsiccia, which was made with San Marzano tomatoes, cow’s milk mozzarella from Agerola, basil, and fennel sausage. The dough was good, although slightly less puffy than nNea’s and with a drier bottom. However, I resent it when I order a €16 pizza and can count the number of pieces of sausage on one hand. Beppe’s “menu tip” is the tartufo, so we gamely ploughed through a Coppa di Parma pizza topped with rocket and truffle sauce as well – and at least here the toppings seemed to be rather more plentiful.
Prices were pretty comparable at the two pizzerias, with the food at Beppe costing slightly more but the wine at nNea being a little pricier. Either way, you’re going to spend somewhere between €17 and €24 per person for a pizza and a glass of wine, depending on which pizza you choose. Which is not an insignificant amount of money for something that is primarily… dough. Albeit Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana-certified dough.
So, did nNea or Beppe live up to my summer of ’00 pizza memories? In a word: no. But then again, I doubt anything ever will. In the meantime, my favourite pizza in Amsterdam still comes from La Perla, where I’ve been ordering whatever pizza involves artichoke and/or ‘nduja for a decade. Experts tell me that La Perla serves Roman-style pizza, which is how I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s the style I probably prefer. But really – it’s all academic. At the end of the day, pizza – like most comfort food – is utterly subjective, laden with memories, and dictated by emotion. My love of La Perla is as bound up with my experience of Amsterdam in 2009 as my first Napoli pizza was bound up with my experience of southern Italy in 2000. And that’s ok. Because, as the Italians have taught us, pizza is worth getting passionate about.