No offense to youse guys in New Yawk and New Joisy whose Italian ancestors arrived at Ellis Island two or three generations ago, but those vecchi nonni would absolutely spin in their graves if they could see a lot of what has been done to their beloved traditional food – to say nothing of their native language. Yeah, I'm talkin' to you, people who say “moozzarell” and “proshoot” and “ragot.” But that's a topic for another time.
There's been a real tempest brewing in a teapot in the New York media lately because the new mayor, an Italian-American guy named Bill de Blasio, got caught eating his pizza with a knife and fork. I live hundreds of miles away and I swear I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth from here. Everybody in New Yawk knows dat da way to eat a slice 'a pizza is to pick it up wit yer hands, fold it ovah and stuff it in yer face. Capeesh? So when the mayor gets caught with a knife and a fork, why it's like he roots for the Red Sox or somethin'. Oh, wait........he does root for the Red Sox.
“Disaster!”, cries one New York writer. “Forkgate”, screams another.
In his own defense, de Blasio, whose mother was Italian, says, “In my ancestral homeland, it’s more typical to eat with a fork and knife.” He added, “I have been in Italy a lot and I have picked up the habit for certain types of pizza,” noting that the pie he allegedly butchered at Goodfellas “had a lot on it.”
And you know what? He's absolutely right. It is indeed proper etiquette, especially when dining out, to eat pizza with a knife and fork. Nobody wants to see grease dripping down your fingers and toppings falling out of your mouth as you fold a slice like a freakin' sandwich and shovel it into your pie hole. Italians don't even let their children eat that way.
In the first place, real Italian pizza isn't served by the slice. I didn't used to be served that way in America either. Those old guys at those early pizzerias sold it by the pie. You go in and ask for a slice and they show you the door molto rapidamente. It took a long time for “by the slice” to catch on, and it still hasn't caught on in some more traditional places. So the way you eat a pizza in Italy is to cut it in quarters with your knife and then cut small bites and transfer them to your mouth with a fork.
Now, because a lot of traditions “evolved” once they came to America, a lot of people – yours truly included – will take those first molten hot bites with a knife and fork. You know, the ones that leave burned places on the roof of your mouth if you just stick the pointy end in and bite down? And that pointy end is usually pretty droopy, too, and everything sort of slides off on the way to your face and ends up on your shirt. Once I get far enough into the slice that it has cooled a bit and is a little more stable, I'll eat it with my fingers, American style. Sometimes. Depends on who I'm with and how much crap I want to take.
And Hizzoner says that's the way he does it, too. “I often start with a knife and fork but then I cross over to the American approach and pick it up when I go farther into the pizza,” he explained.
In fact, although the Italians did not exactly “invent” the fork, they were responsible for its refinement into an eating utensil and for spreading it around Renaissance Europe. So Italians and forks go way back.
A lot depends on the pizza, too. In Italy there's no such thing as “supreme” or “meat lover's.” They don't load their pies with everything but the kitchen sink. Authentic Neapolitan pizza, made according the the strict standards of Vera Pizza Napoletana, requires that the crust be no more than 14 inches in diameter and no thicker than 0.8 inches. The allowable toppings include tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, oregano, and garlic. If you want pepperoni pizza in Italy, go to an American tourist trap. The real pizzerias won't know what you're talking about.
The cardboard-crusted abominations foisted off on an uneducated American public by the likes of Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Little Caesar's, Papa John's and the rest wouldn't even qualify as pizze in Italy. And many of the pies produced by supposedly “authentic” pizzerias barely make the grade. If you have to juggle your pizza and fold it in half and hold your mouth just right so the grease doesn't drip and the copious toppings don't slip, you're not eating a decent pizza anyway. It's like those tomato and cheese casseroles they call “deep dish pizza” in Chicago. I dare you to fold up one of those bad boys. And even if the crust is thin and crispy on the outside with a nice chewiness on the inside, if you load it down with so much garbage that it all slides off in your lap, what's the point?
So cut Bill de Blasio some slack, anti-forkers. He's right, you're wrong, live with it. I don't care if 8.3 million New Yorkers think they're right. Sixty-one point three million Italians will say they're not, and that pretty much settles the question. Capisce?
I'm outta here. All this talk has me craving a nice thin-crust pizza Margherita, so I gotta go get my knife and fork. Ciao!