I have had the privilege of living across Europe for extended periods not merely as a passing tourist, but a resident with the same quotidian quandaries as the average local. What it endows you with is a very real idea of what makes those people tick, their joys and sorrows, highs and lows.
My time in Italy, among various lessons, taught me this big one: few populations around the world know how to truly enjoy life like the Italians do. Of course, when I say Italians, I am generalising, but let’s not get pedantic. La dolce vita is not just a cliché here—they not only know how to extract joy from every aspect of life, but know how to do it with a certain flair for the dramatic and extravagant. Food, fashion, fast cars, they don’t just do things for subsistence, it all comes loaded with flavour. From a basic pasta recipe to a simple village wine, everything gets infused with a certain life-enriching shot of vivacity.
So when the Italian ambassador invited me for a socially-distanced World Pizza Day party, I knew we were in for a veritable treat. The evening itself was nothing ostentatious—it was just pizzas and Prosecco in the park with an Indo-Italian fusion concert for company—and yet in spite of all the distancing measures, it never once felt lacking in fun or interaction.
The traditional Neapolitan pizza is an art, one that was recently recognised by Unesco as a heritage unto itself, so now there are standards to be maintained if you wish to call one so. Thankfully, we have places in Delhi which will dish out a proper pie, which comes as close to the original as my Neapolitan-shouldered bespoke jackets do. Diva, Da Susy and Leo’s—three go-to addresses spread across the NCR will have you covered for the real stuff.
These aren’t pizzas which come loaded with another pizza-worth of toppings. It takes only 90 seconds to cook one in a traditional wood-fired oven, so don’t potter about—stay there and watch it come together. The Italian chef at the JW Marriott Sahar in Mumbai once taught me that if you get thirsty after eating a pizza then it wasn’t fermented right. This evening, I was thirsty for some good Prosecco, but for entirely different reasons.
And then, since it ain’t an Italian party till we have ice cream, there was proper hand-churned all-natural gelato by Venezia Italian Artisan ice cream at hand. For a country that nearly tops the world’s charts for ice cream consumption, the Italians have done to this humble cup what Giuseppe Verdi (and many before him) did to music. The creamy folds of a simple vanilla ice cream were sheer soothing joy post a pizza binge, but it was not all. Lavazza, the Italian coffee brand, had set up just besides, so a different kind of fusion entailed—one which involved pouring a shot of fresh espresso over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The purity and simplicity of this is what makes it such an instant classic. It’s called an affogato and it’s equal parts dessert and caffe.
Sadly for me, all my time in Italy I possibly lived with a strange set of purists who never introduced me to this but, in their defence, they also protected me from ending up having a pizza with pineapple on it.
Back to this fabulous party in the park, I walked away still humming the bars of Con Te Partiro, the taste of prosciutto and parmigiano still on the back of my palate, while coffee and creamy vanilla made up the more immediate linger. It was like getting to taste la dolce vita in the time of a pandemic. Grazie mille to His Excellency Vincenzo de Luca and the entire team at the Italian embassy who put this together.
Now, if someone could tell me if there is an upcoming World Pasta Day too…
The writer is a sommelier