The Vanity Fair at Whispering Willows near Chandigarh is not just about women with pizzazz. It is about women with… pizzas! That’s right. Piping hot fine crusts, wafting herbal aromas and dripping molten mozzarella, these hand spun Latinos endlessly pop out of a wood-fired brick oven, and pass into eager feminine hands. The wait at the counter does get a bit tiring, but the first crunchy bite of your very own wedge of Italy, makes it all worth the while in the end.
Clutching them close to the person, craning their necks for a comfortable spot in the shade, the ladies proceed to devour them as quickly as is socially acceptable. Hailing out to one another, suggesting the must-haves and the never-agains, they are spotted throwing dietary caution to the wind, as some wash down the crusty Italians with pints of chilled beer. By the sounds doing the rounds, between bites, you would think they were discussing designer brands. There is the Spinaci, a rage with green-lovers, with its topping of fresh spinach and its devil-defying portions of garlic. The list includes the much loved grilled veggie preparation, Primavera and the Herbivora covered in corn, broccoli, capsicum and zucchini. Meat lovers can choose to bite into the anchovy-covered Napoli, the ham-laden A la Proscuitto, the Bologna, with its generous topping of minced lamb or the delightful Scarmoza with its char-grilled chicken shreds and smoked cheese.
A special mention must be made of the all-time favourite Margherita, cheesy and steeped in history. Story goes, sometime in the late 19th century, Queen Margherita and her husband Umberto I, while touring their kingdom, chanced upon their poorer subjects eating a large, flat bread. Curiosity led to her trying it, loving it and kick-starting a culinary tradition in Naples. In her honour was baked the first-ever Pizza Margherita, topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil, representing the colours of the Italian flag: red, white and green! Later, Italian immigrants introduced the pizza to America, while soldiers returning to France, England and Spain, at the end of Second World War continued their romance with this saucy delight. Today, pizza is consumed the world-over and the marvels of culinary evolution, subject to cultural preferences, have resulted in some truly unique versions. The haryali kebab and seekh kebab toppings come to mind instantly.
However, Neapolitan pizzas are still widely regarded as the best in the world and maintain strict standards stipulated by an elite watchdog organization. The dough must be kneaded by hand and baked in wood-burning ovens. Not to be cooked in a pan, the pizza must be placed directly onto a stone surface for that inimitable flavour. Fresh ingredients, such as, herbs, garlic and tomatoes must grow in the rich volcanic ash of the mighty Vesuvius and mozzarella must be created from the water buffalo’s milk. A tad difficult to replicate all those condition here, I would say. Still, it is a heartening thought knowing that the closest clone is just a short drive away.