New York's Pizza Rival
Stand on nearly any thoroughfare in Buenos Aires, and you're never far from a pizzeria. Cross a street at random and find yourself dodging scooters delivering hot pies, while delivery boys on foot hoist flat boxes overhead to navigate crowds swarming the streets. One quickly concludes that pizza is wildly popular among Portenos ("People of the Port"), easily as popular as in Naples, where pizza was invented, or maybe even in New York, which boasts the world's greatest and most diverse pizza culture. I recently spent a week in the South American capital pondering the pizza phenomenon there.
Buenos Aires ("BA" for short) offers two basic types: a thin-crust called a la piedra, cooked in a stone-floor oven with the pie resting on the bottom and hence crisp, and de molde, with a thicker, doughier crust, often cooked in a conventional oven. The former began as the province of larger pizzerias, which had the wherewithal to construct high-volume, flame-spewing ovens. The second type are mainly made by small ma-and-pa shops that dot neighborhoods like NYC's own local pizzerias. In practice, the line between the two types of pies is often blurred in a way bewildering to visitors, and there are more obscure varieties of pizza too numerous to mention here.
The best of the neighborhood pizzerias, such as Pizza Krozz in Palermo Hollywood, make their own dough, fashioned by hand into pies of approximately 14 inches in diameter cut into eight slices with a knife that looks almost like a machete. (The circular-blade pizza cutter has apparently not made it into the southern hemisphere.) The crust is slightly thicker than our own traditional pies, more like Staten Island pizzas.
The toppings, available singly or in combination, are limited in number, mainly confined to mozzarella (always spelled "muzzarella," as if pronounced with a Brooklyn-Italian accent), anchovies, baked ham, green or black olives, boiled eggs, salami, and -- quite oddly, I thought -- Roquefort cheese. The mozzarella often constitutes a thick blanket, making the ubiquitous "double mozzarella" option seems absurd. Sometimes a cheesy béchamel is substituted for mozzarella, probably for reasons of economy.
At Krozz, my friends and I ordered the Calabresa, intrigued that the pie referenced the part of Southern Italy described as the heel of the boot, and a region from which many immigrants to New York came. It's also a place known for its love of hot chiles, usually eaten in dried form sprinkled on dishes. But we found no hot peppers anywhere on Buenos Aries pizzas. The Krozz Calabresa pie -- which took the guy 20 minutes to produce, from dough ball to finished pie -- boasted a thick blanket of cheese but little tomato sauce, rounds of thick sausage something like pepperoni, pitted green olives, and a hearty sprinkle of dried oregano. The crust was nicely browned, thick without being doughy, and verged on the wonderful. Altogether, a satisfying pie and a bargain at 39 pesos, which translates into about $6 in American money.