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COVID-19 takes pizza out of Naples

Daniela De Lorenzo Italy
April 11, 2020

In 2017 Neapolitan-style pizza and the pizzaiolos' craftsmanship received UNESCO World Heritage status. But with Italy in lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, pizza-making in Naples is on hold.

Inside a pizzeria making traditional Neapolitan-style pizza
Image: DW/D. De Lorenzo

The Italian National Confederation of Artisans estimates that across the whole country there are 76,457 pizza businesses, ranging from deliveries to pizzerias. Not surprisingly, the southwestern region of Campania tops the chart with around 16% of these businesses. For the pizza makers and citizens from this area the closure of the industry has caused a profound sense of distress and a loss of identity.

Read moreItalians search for hope in times of coronavirus

Stuck at home, pizzaiolos from the regions have been flooding social media channels in search of recognition, support and to vent their frustration. Sharing their spinning pizza moves and pizza recipes, they're showing Italians — way beyond the regional borders — how to make Neapolitan-style pizza from their home kitchens.

Errico Porzio, a pizzaiolo from Naples and owner of six pizzerias with more than 60 employees, shared his pizza tutorial on his Facebook page, reaching almost half a million views in a few days. "It means that people are really staying at home and feel the need to make pizza," he says.

A pizza chef on Facebook sharing his pizza recipe
Errico Porzio hopes he can get back to his kitchen in his restaurant in the near futureImage: Facebook/Pizzeria Porzio

Pizzaiolos' concerns go viral

He set up multiple chats within the pizzaiolo community to encourage others who are worried about their jobs and businesses. Most back the stay-at-home policy, but some are angry and cannot afford to stay closed.

"Those owners who saved money are able to hold out for a month or two, but others are in serious trouble," says Porzio. In order to secure an income for employees as well as lessen the burden on restaurant owners, the government has set up an integration fund. "Obviously we all miss the fire from our ovens, but we cannot be the priority of the government right now."

Read moreCoronavirus hits heart of Italy's economy

That sentiment is shared by Egidio De Cicco, a pizzaiolo from the city of Quindici, 40 kilometers east of Naples. "We filed the documents within the March 31 deadline, but I would like to be working." The lockdown is set to continue until mid-April and he hopes that he will not need to use the integration funds after that. "What I miss the most is the contact with people. They make you love what you do even more."

Nostalgia for pizza

Egidio continues making pizza for his family: "These days in Campania anybody would die for a pizzaiolo at home. A friend of mine wanted to spend his lockdown period here," he says laughing.

Home-made calzones in an oven
Exchanging pizza recipes among friends and family has become a familiar themeImage: DW/D. De Lorenzo

It is almost a tradition to eat out at a pizzeria once a week. In the Vesuvio region there is one pizzeria for every 335 inhabitants. With their favorite restaurants closed, the locals who miss the wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza have turned their custom into a domestic habit.

"There is a lot of pizza nostalgia. We try to make it at home, but there is no comparison," says 36-year-old Roberta Esposito from Portici, just outside Naples. "My three-year-old son Giuseppe wears an apron and watches me make pizza." She works as coordinator at a foster home for teenagers and still travels to her workplace where some of her charges teach others how to make pizza.

Paola Dalla Monica is confined to her home after her street food eatery Colapesce, in the heart of Naples, had to close.

"I support [President of the Region of Campania Vincenzo] De Luca's decision [to close the restaurant industry], despite the economic crisis," she says. Her restaurant had opened only in November and she was planning to recoup her investments during the spring and summer season.

Infografik Pizzerien in Italien EN

Now, she spends her days cooking at home. "It's a pastime, my days pass quicker," she says. She follows her grandmother's pizza recipe. "It's certainly rewarding to make it for yourself, but when a pizzaiolo makes it, it's way more satisfying."

As more and more of those in lockdown attempt their hand at making pizza, yeast and flour are disappearing from supermarket shelves.

"People are now sharing videos on how to make sourdough, to substitute regular yeast," says Claudia Giardiello, who lives on outskirts of the city of Benevento. Making the perfect pizza is a regular topic of conversation among friends and families. "I think we are eating double the amount of pizza than before," she laughs.

Starting over

The pizza industry and related businesses have been growing exponentially for the past decade — and so too have profits. But the recovery is likely to resemble more of a slow-cooking process.

"Pizza in Naples has become like coffee. This habit will not change," says Porzio. "But the new restraints that will take place in the aftermath of reopening will mean that our entire business model will have to change. We will all have to introduce reservations and we'll have to increase our takeaway deliveries. We must adapt and try not to create inconveniences for our consumers."

Read moreCoronavirus: Italy launches mental health service for lockdown

Egidio, who's been a pizzaiolo for the past 10 years, says he lives from one day to the next. "With the little means they have at home, people have proved their love for pizza. This makes us pizzaiolos proud and we know that when all of this is over, pizza will be loved even more than it already is."

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