The Maseiantonios, whose roots are in Naples, left their native Italy in search of opportunities and, like so many other Italians, found Buenos Aires. There, they offer the native Neapolitan recipe of pizza to the country that offered Naples its most delectable sports star.
BUENOS AIRES — With the soft-rock Italian crooner Renato Zero sounding in the background, Paola Maseiantonio kneads the dough in one of two pizza joints her family runs in Buenos Aires. She prepared the dough early that day, using a recipe brought over from her hometown of Naples, Italy. Her youngest son, Kevin, looks on. The 30-year-old is the pizza chef at this branch of Maldito Tano, where the menu includes the Maradona, a rectangular pizza to honor the late soccer legend.
Fans of the sport know that Maradona played for the Napoli club in Naples between 1984 and 1992, where his magical skills on the pitch made him a cult-like figure in the city, no less than in his native Argentina.
Years later, in 2019, the Maseiantonios left Italy to escape its "economic crisis," though many Argentines will wonder how they could end up picking an even more dysfunctional economy. The first to "flee" was Paola's spouse Carlo Primo, who toured the continent looking for a place to open a pizzeria. After Canada, the United States and Mexico, he arrived in Argentina, which he decided was the perfect spot.
The family's two kitchens are replete with Maradona memorabilia, and their menu includes the Maradona, shaped like a soccer pitch. "We're the only restaurant that has a pizza dedicated to Maradona," says Kevin. The Maradona is the second-most popular pizza, after the Puglia, which recalls the Italian flag with its burrata cheese, green pesto and red peppers.
The Maradona, which needs a special oven, is decorated with rocket leaves as the pitch and parmesan "lines." Kevin says "we put 11 cherry tomatoes on one side for the Naples side, and 11 mushrooms on the other for the "dogs" of Juventus (its rivals)." The pizza is crowned with a slice of ham in the shape of a 10.
It's not any old recipe. Maradona tried it years ago in Naples. He "gave us his blessing to putting his name to this pizza," says the family. The Maseiantonios want their pizzas — the prices of which range from the equivalent of nine to 16 euros — to conjure typical flavors of Italy.
So much like Italy
The family opened its first kitchen in 2019, in the youthful, eclectic Buenos Aires district of Palermo. They now have a second restaurant in San Isidro on the outskirts of the capital.
Carlo fell in love with Argentina, because it's so much like Italy.
"Carlo fell in love with Argentina, because it's so much like Italy. He loved the way people treat you. He called me and said, 'this is where we have to live, this is our place'," Paola says. At the age of 54, she agreed to leave Naples, with her sons and dog, and settle in Buenos Aires. Her colloquial speech has become a mix of Argentine Spanish and Italian.
The Maseiantonios speak fondly and respectfully of Naples, but insist they will not return. They feel at ease in Argentina, where they see better prospects. All they miss for now is the Mediterranean sea and grandma. "There's nothing to miss from Italy. Italy is food and we're making it," says Kevin.
Indeed, food was key to the family's integration in Palermo, where people love them for their pizzas. And they owe some of that success to an Italian educational system that includes cooking as a basic school subject. For two years in secondary school, Italian pupils learn cooking fundamentals, before some go on to pick a specialty including pizza-making. And some of those will take that to a professional level at the university stage.
That is how Paola and her husband began to "play" with dough early on, before perfecting the habit. They opened a pizzeria in Naples in the 1980s, before moving to the quieter Rimini, a city on the Adriatic sea, where they developed their recipes.
"When we arrived in Argentina, we tried to find out what the Argentines liked, to adapt our pizza concept to their idea of it. We created between 20 and 22 pizzas," Kevin explains. "Everything we do is meant to give the customer the impression of eating in Italy. Here, you have an Italian cooking and making your pizza."
After three years, and in spite of the pandemic's hardships, Paola says, "I don't want to return to Italy. I'm comfortable here. I don't feel like a foreigner."
The Maradona pizza is crowned with a slice of ham in the shape of a 10
An Argentine piece of Italy
The pizza joint in Palermo is a happy marriage of Italy and Argentina, with a bit of time travel thrown in thanks to the Maradona memorabilia and framed Italian landscapes.
A giant oven seen at the end is the beating heart of this business. But the pictures of Maradona tell you what's in the heart of its owners. Paola recalls that years ago, Carlo's teacher, who knew Maradona, took the star to his restaurant, where Carlo served him a "Maradona pizza."
Hearing the anecdote again brings tears to Kevin's eyes. "It's always Maradona season. It'll never end, because what he did for Naples will stay in history. It's part of Italy. It's in our DNA," the son says. "He achieved what nobody else could, not the politicians nor even the people, though Neapolitans are fighters. He gave them the voice they needed."