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December 12, 2010

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In search of the best pizza in Shanghai

PEOPLE who have seen the film "Eat, Pray, Love" will remember the scene in which Liz (Julia Roberts) goes to Naple's L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele seeking what was said to be the best pizza in the world. After one bite, Liz smiles with satisfaction and declares, "I am in love, I'm having a relationship with my pizza."

Roberts, known for her slender figure and healthy lifestyle, actually wolfed down eight entire slices of pizza - one for each of the scenes eight takes - not a single nibble.

When faced with the temptation of pizza, who can resist?

The history of pizza

Like some of mankind's other great achievements (gunpowder, moveable type, the compass), "Italian" pizza, it is said, originated in China.

The story goes that when Marco Polo visited China during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), he fell in love with cong you xian bing, a kind of baked scallion pancake in what was then north China. Of course, it didn't contain cheese, which most Chinese people didn't like - that was an Italian inspiration.

When he returned to Italy, Marco Polo missed the Chinese pancake so much that he described the ingredients and taste in detail to his chef in Naples. But it was impossible to reproduce the taste and embed the stuffing in the dough.

Finally, the cook gave up, spread the ingredients on the dough, added some cheese as well and placed it in the oven. The resulting "pizza pie" smelled delicious and Marco Polo and everyone enjoyed it. Soon it became popular throughout Italy.

The rest is history.

Pizza and Italy

In search of the best pizza in Shanghai, we have been "tasked" with tasting and interviewing enthusiastic Italian pizza chefs who faithfully introduce Italian pizza. And Italian wine and the laid-back Italian lifestyle.

At Prego Italian restaurant in the Westin Bund Center, chef Stefano de Geronimo shows me how to make my own pizza, explaining how to make the dough, roll it out, spread on tomato paste and toppings, and monitor its progress in the oven.

"It is only by experiencing the whole process of pizza, from making to tasting, that you can understand what the real Italy pizza is," he says.

And if not for Daniella, the chef of Y's Table at World Financial Center, I would never have connected the famous Margherita pizza with the three key colors of Italian flag: red for tomato; white for mozzarella cheese and green for basil.

The chef from southern Italy was quite emphatic: "Don't say 'Italian' pizza but 'Napoli' pizza," said the Neopolitan.

One Roman chef, however, said he didn't mind calling his roman pizza as Italian.

Chef Tino Giuseppe of Favola Italian Restaurant of Le Royal Meridien, being good at making Napoli Pizza, said Roman pizza and Napoli pizza - Rome is to the north , Naploli is to the south- are quite distinct, like the regions of Italy.

The north, he said, is more culturally diverse, so Roman pizza to some extent has absorbed influences from Italy's European neighbors. Its crust is thinner and crispier than that of Napoli pizza, which is relatively thicker and softer. Both use buffalo mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. The south, says Chef Tino, is the most traditional and "authentic" Italian culture.

Although Napoli pizza is by far more famous than the Roman style, many Italian chef still complain that many so-called Italian restaurants worldwide serve what they call Napoli pizza that is not made in Napoli style.

According to Vera Pizza Napoletana (Authentic Napoli Pizza), an organization certifying authentic pizza, preparation should follow strict procedure.

First, the pizza should be baked in a wood-fired dome oven; gas-fired and electric ovens are unacceptable.

Second, only fresh, 100 percent natural and non-processed ingredients may be used. Nothing from a can.

Third, the dough should be kneaded either by hand, or with a low-speed mixer. Mechanical preparation is not allowed.

Baking time should not exceed 90 seconds. The temperature and size of the pizza are strictly regulated.

To demonstrate the authentic texture and flexibility of the pizza, the chef advises not to use a knife and fork to serve, but grasp the slice of pizza with thumb on one edge and fingers on the other. Then it should be folded. Good pizza that is soft, puffy and somewhat chewy will bend and not break when eaten this way.

Italy's warm Mediterranean climate, abundant sunshine and fertile soil produce delightful wines to pair with a range of dishes. Many Italian restaurants in Shanghai offer Italian wine from various excellent growing regions, including Campania, Sicily, Tuscany and elsewhere.

Since pizza contains a lot of cheese with a heavy, creamy taste, it needs a wine that is acidic for balance.

This week, we introduce five Italian restaurants serving excellent pizza. Managers or chefs will also recommend the best wines to accompany the dish that Marco Polo loved.

Y's Table - Pizza Salvatore & Grill

The most popular pizza is the authentic Napoli pizza (DOC certified) covered with cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese. Chef Daniella says it won the World Pizza Championship last year, held by Verace Pizza Napoleana.

All the ingredients, including flour, tomatoes cheese even water are imported from Italy.

The fragrance is cheesy and creamy. The crust is very crispy while the central part is soft and juicy. The cherry tomatoes represent a perfect balance of sweet and sour; even after baking, they remain moist.

Chef Daniella recommends Italian Farnese Chardonnay IGT since its distinctly fruity taste and high acidity balance the cheese and enhance the flavor of the tomatoes.

Price: Pizza (medium) 88 yuan

Address: B2, Shanghai World Financial Center, 100 Century Ave Dolce Vita

The Roman-style pizza here, called Crudo E Rucola (ham and arugula) is notable. The crust is thin and quite crispy, the edges tasting a bit of charcoal. Ingredients include tomatoes, Parma ham, mozzarella cheese and arugula.

The ham is tender and a little salty, with a rich, fatty aroma. The slightly peppery arugula balances the heavy mozzarella and each bite includes various food textures and layers.

Price: Crudo E Rucola 98 yuan

Address: 291 Fumin Rd


The pizza is also traditional Napoli fare served in a setting where a huge wood-burning brick oven is the first thing that meets the eye. A slightly fruity aroma from burning wood, being cut from fruit trees, fills the air. The Margherita (DOP certified) is recommended; it's prepared with tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and extra-virgin olive oil.

Chef Tino lets diners sample the mozzarella, which at first tastes milky and silky, then somewhat salty and sour, with a sweet aftertaste.

Fresh from the oven, the soft crust is golden and bubbling. The heavy mozzarella, sour tomato and Parmesan cheese combine perfectly.

Eric Huang, the manger, recommends the Michele Chiarlo Gavi DOCG, an ample and fruity white wine with the aroma of linden blossoms. The light taste highlights the original flavors of the cheese and tomato.

Price: Margherita (DOP) 138 yuan

Address: 8/F, Le Meridien, 789 Nanjing Rd E.


Chef Stefano says pizza here is neither Napoli nor Roman style - he takes the essence of each and develops his own pizza. It's a Margherita with oregano-flavored, crushed Rome tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil.

The crust isn't as thick as the Napoli-style pizza, nor as thin as the Roman style - it's in between and the texture is rich. The crust is firm, crunchy and bubbling. The cheese and tomato paste are silky and a little salty.

"I don't say each pizza is perfect, but I promise that I make each pizza from my heart - from making the dough to choosing ingredients to preparing the sauce and finally baking."

Manager Leonardo recommends chilled, refreshing white Ruffino Orvieto, which has a good balance between structure, acidity and fruity notes.

Price: Margherita pizza 118 yuan

Address: 2/F, the Westin Bund Center, 88 Henan Rd M.


The black truffle pizza combines traditional Italian and world contemporary pizza. The dough and the baking process are traditional while the ingredients to some extent draw from other European countries.

Chef Roberto insists on making the dough 24 hours in advance since it needs to leaven slowly, saying only in this way does it taste lighter.

The pizza colors are Mediterranean, like the decor. There's black truffle, white mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, light green mache (while lettuce) - all spread on a thin, milk-white crust.

Although the truffles and cheese have a strong flavor the whole taste is not too heavy. Truffles and cheese call for wine, and chef Roberto recommends Italian sparkling Franciacorta Villa Crespia Numero Zero 2004, with light and clear taste and sense of bubbles.

Price: Black truffle pizza 148 yuan

Address: 4/F, 8 Century Ave


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