Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Pizza in heaven

I got into trouble when I recently wrote about a cheese shop. "Why a cheese shop, for goodness sake? Aren't there more important things in Buenos Aires to write about than that?" 

The simple answer is.....'yes' - pizza!

You need to understand something quite fundamental about Argentina. The language is officially 'Spanish' but those Spanish speakers that visit Buenos Aires quickly conclude that they cannot understand the Portenos. It is because they speak Castillano - a mix where Spanish meets Italian  - meets Buenos Aires. Many Portenos (I was tempted to say most) revel in their Italian ancestry. Some have secured Italian passports on their granparents' birthright. 

Consequentially, pizza is as important as politics. And possibly taken more seriously. A blog about Buenos Aires would be neglectful if it did not feature pizza at least once.

It has gone 9.00 pm - still early for the Portenos - but Tom, Arlene, Stephanie and I set off for El Mazacote. Meeting the other day with one of the world's greatest milongueros, and my first dance master, Oscar Casas was quick to mention the reputation of El Mazacote. "This is where the Portenos bring their Italian relatives for pizza", he affirmed with a look of serious contemplation. "It is, how do you say, magnificent; how pizza should be". 

We enter straight from the street. Hugo the waiter looks up with a half smile. At this point we are simply four diners needing a table. We settle against the inside wall. Despite rain, it is still hot and humid, and the air conditioner above our heads sends welcome slivers of cool air to refresh. Hugo returns. In one movement four glasses, four plates, four sets of cutlery and one menu appear. Stephanie, with her mastery of Castillano - and pizza - takes charge. "No 22, grande, Lopez Malbec y agua con gas". We demure.

It arrives without fanfare. There is no flamboyance; it is simply there. Huge, delicious, sizzling with cheese, topped with green olives, pastry delicate and thin, topping stretching right to the edge.

Tom pours the Malbec. I pour the agua. Our forks are poised.

So, what is special about the pizza of El Mazacote? The first sensation is of the topping - rich, hot and full, creating a special springiness and stringiness to the tongue. The second is the base - rolled to perfect thinness, cooked to the optimum point. It feels soft yet crunchy, contrasting the topping. 

Around us other families and small groups have arrived. This is a family affair. This is where conversation and food combine in an utterly Porteno way. Others drink coke or Quillmes. We swallow mouthfuls of Malbec and feel its earthy tannin against the softness of the cheese, and then suffuse.

You need to allow at least a good hour to share a pizza in Buenos Aires; less would be seen as undeferential to the pizza cause. We have lost count of time, probably because we never sought to count it. We share the small bill and show our appreciation to Hugo, who now smiles voluably. With hugs, we leave to walk the shortest route home to Casa Luna. 

Have you enjoyed the pizza? I sincerely hope you have. Don't forget - it is an institution. It is a part of the Capital Federal. This could be your reason to visit. And if it is, remember to invite us to share your table for a number 22.