Words like “delicious” and “the greatest” commonly accompany references to New York pizza. But what is it about New York pizza that people love so much?
Some believe it’s the city’s mineral water, while others think it’s all in your head thanks to confirmation bias and emotional reasoning fueled by the placebo effect. There seems to be some research that suggests the answer is intermediate.
THEORY #1: WATER
The “soft water” of New York City is said to have an effect on the taste of baked goods including bread, bagels, and pizza. Most of the city’s water originates in the Delaware or Catskill watersheds and is piped to the Hillview Reservoir, where it undergoes chemical treatment and has its ph adjusted. After another three to twelve months, it reaches city dwellers through a network of pipes (mainly iron and steel) stretching over 7,000 km. It is believed, maybe exaggeratedly, that New York City’s tap water is the “champagne” of the water supply and the second softest in the nation (behind only Boston). It is unlikely that its notoriety will fade very soon.
Is the water in New York City good for making pizza? It turns out that the answer is “not really,” at least according to Serious Eats. The mineral concentration (in parts per million) of New York City water is said to contribute to crispier crust, however a research by Serious Eats seems to debunk this. It was discovered that other factors had a higher impact on how people rated the pizza’s quality. The findings demonstrated that crispiness is a major determinant of pizza quality, but that water is not directly responsible for reaching peak crispiness. While this notion was examined in detail, the sample size was too little to draw firm conclusions either way.
THEORY #2: CONFIRMATION BIAS
One of the most important things in the world to native New Yorkers is the quality of their pizza. The locals, like their beloved Yankees, are going to think the world of their cuisine. New Yorkers’ longstanding reputation as pizza masters may have contributed to a subliminal sense of superiority. The city’s aesthetics, which provide an almost stereotypical background to the pizza experience, may also contribute to this impression. Pizza parlours are a major part of New Haven’s history and culture. Famous New York movies like “Do the Right Thing” by Spike Lee have included family-run Italian eateries in their stories.
Despite their devotion to another city, many nomads disagree with this hypothesis since they’ve seen a significant improvement in New York pizza. In the late 1990s, when pizza was still a thing, New York Pizza was the best there was. But surveys conducted over the previous five years show that opinion may be shifting. Some anonymous surveys have shown that New York City’s pizza is no longer considered the best in the nation. Since the subconscious mind may function in intangible ways, drawing any firm conclusions about this hypothesis is difficult. In the case of pizza quality, however, relying only on the subjective lens of an individual may play a role.
THEORY #3: TRADITION, SKILL, & EXPERTISE
The best place to start investigating why one city’s pizza is so much better than another’s is with the people who make it. Many of New York City’s best pizzerias—and the recipes and methods that made them famous—have a long history of family ownership and have been handed down through the generations. If you’ve been exposed to your skill your entire life, you’ll likely grow more proficient at it. Pie baking is an art, a craft, and an undeniable talent because of all the nuance involved, from fermentation to combining ingredients. Some of the best pie bakers in the city are from families that have been making pies since the early 1900s, when the city began importing water from the Catskill Mountains. As time goes on, it seems sense that they would improve their skills.
If it were only a matter of following tradition, learning from others, and perfecting one’s craft, a New Yorker who excels at baking pizza might easily go to another city. Both yes and no may be true at the same time. Many New Yorkers have tried their luck in other cities, with varied degrees of success. Those who remained in the New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut metropolitan area are often seen as of greater quality than their counterparts who have relocated to the South and West. Several New York City pizza joints have gone on to become national franchises, and this list includes across the country into California, Louisiana, and Texas. This is best shown through Grimaldi’s work. Is the Grimaldi’s pizza consistently good at all of their restaurants? No. To which I reply: it all comes down to who’s doing the creating.
There are several reasons why New York pizza is so fantastic. The people who are creating the pies are perhaps the most important part of what makes them so good, particularly because they are carrying on a long-standing practise that has been passed down through the generations. There are, however, compelling signs that the city’s water supply further improves the quality. Nobody has been able to confirm these things as irrefutable facts, but the evidence implies they are, at the very least, feasible. The judgement is still out on the city’s aesthetics and the confirmation bias of its residents. If you really want proof, you could go to New York City in the summer and get a couple of slices to go home and eat.