The Italian city of Naples is determined to maintain its reputation as the spiritual home of one of the world's favorite foods, Pizza.
For the last week, the gritty southern port has been playing host to "Napoli Pizza Village" -- an extra-large celebration of the art of combining bread and tomato sauce with cheese and just about anything else that comes to hand into a plateful of calorific yumminess.
AdvertisementMore than 50 pizza joints from the city and much further afield joined forces to create the world's largest open-air "pizzeria" as chefs from all over the world congregated to swap notes and pass on tips along the seafront.
Some of them were also vying for the prestigious title of champion "pizzaiolo", as the Italians refer to the cooks trusted with whisking the national dish in and out of fiery ovens.
Naples certainly didn't invent the idea of bread with a savoury topping. Such dishes were common across the Middle East long before the late 19th Century, when Neapolitan baker Raffaele Esposito is credited with giving birth to what we now think of as pizza with his creation of the Margherita.
The celebrated mix of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil was inspired by the red, white and green colours of the Italian flag.
"Raffaele created it in honour of Queen Margherita," who was Italy's queen from 1878-1900, local Lello Magnetti told AFP-TV.
"But pizza's origins are much older. Let's just say that they have even found Chinese roots for it!"
Organisers of this week's festivities were anticipating feeding half a million people by the time the festivities wrapped up on Sunday.
"Through an event intended to defend a product, we have managed to promote a whole city and its region," said Sergio Miccu, the chair of the organisation "Pizzaiuoli Napolitani", which put on the show.
Among the chefs willing to put their pizza to the ultimate test of judgement by their peers was South Korean Joo Young, who had travelled from Seoul in search of fresh insight into his chosen profession.
"Real Neapolitan pizza is still not very well known in Korea, but, little by little, people are beginning to hear about it," Joo told AFP as he showed off his creation of a pizza in the form of a bowler hat of the kind favoured by Toto, a famous comic actor often considered to have been Italy's Charlie Chaplin.
- Teaspoon of sugar -
Joo's creation was not enough to win him the top prize, which went to 28-year-old local Valentino Libro di Quarto, who succeeds his compatriot Davide Civitiello and a long line of overseas winners of the "Caputo" trophy.
Among those dishing out lessons was 70-year-old Gennaro Cervone, a born-and-bred Neapolitan who put together his first pizza at the age of seven. Among those on the receiving end of his wisdom was Loredana, who told AFP-TV she had come in search of "the secrets of the pizzaoilo".
To which Cervone's reply is: "There are no secrets! Water, flour, yeast and salt: that is the secret!"
Not quite, it would seem. Seconds later this veteran of the ovens is whispering that "a little spoon of sugar in the dough -- that helps to bring out the colour during the cooking".
Famous for producing a pizza with a base that is essentially well-proven bread -- as distinct from the crispy wafer-thin crust favoured up the coast in Rome -- Naples wants its signature dish included on the list of foodstuffs considered by the UN's cultural arm UNESCO to form part of the heritage of humanity.
The application is still pending more than three years after it was first made and Serio Miccu is at a loss to explain why.
"For Italy, the pizza is as much a symbol as the Colosseum or Pompeii. Why not have the pizza and the pizzaiolo representing one of the world's most ancient arts?"
Italians are hoping UNESCO approval will come in time for the 2015 Universal Exhibition, which is due to take place in Milan and will have feeding the planet as its principal theme.