Peppe amused himself throwing handkerchiefs into the air. When he landed in Tokyo, in 2006, he supported himself doing acrobatics on the street. He washed dishes, and then made pizza. Finally, in 2011, he opened his own place, Peppe Napoli sta’ca’’ in Kamiyacho, near the Tokyo Tower. He never abandoned Japan, even in its darkest hour, after the earthquake and the Fukushima disaster. He held on and now he is feeling great satisfaction. In 2015, he opened a second pizzeria in Komazawa. Both are always packed full.
“In 10 years, I saw immense growth. At first, I couldn’t find good olive oil or even a good tomato. Now, you can even find stracchino. The Japanese have excellent palates and understand immediately if the mozzarella isn’t fresh or the tomato is too acidic.” Peppe imports canned tomatoes, fior di latte and buffalo mozzarella directly from Battipaglia with a brand created for the purpose. Quality ingredients enhance an excellent, tender, airy pizza base. Surrounded by the Napoli soccer team’s shirts and scarves, clients can eat one of the best pizzas produced outside its home country.
The edges are high and fragrant, and the pizza itself is easy to digest. According to the tastings for our guide, it is the best in the city. Toppings are a little more abundant than in Italy, to satisfy Japanese tastes, Peppe admitted. The average quality of restaurants in Japan is among the highest in the world, and this food sensibility comes to play in the context of cucina italiana. It is not easy to find so many good Italian restaurants and pizzerias together in any other part of the world.
“They love everything about us: cucina, art, lifestyle. I advise everyone to have a work experience in Japan. But the Japanese are as good at working as they are at eating. If a Neapolitan thinks he can come to Japan and make pizza better than the Japanese, he’s starting off on the wrong foot,” insisted Peppe. His brother Carlo is the silent worker, the helmsman, while Peppe doesn’t try to hide his own overwhelming enthusiasm. His mentor is Salvatore Cuomo, the pioneer of Neapolitan pizza in Asia. Today Cuomo has more than 100 places around the continent and imports over 10 tons of mozzarella per month.
“I owe him everything. He is my role model. I even dedicated Don Salvo, a pizza to him.” This creation is in the shape of a star, half Margherita, half calzone, and is one of Peppe’s most popular items. First courses are also good: the cooking of the paccheri we ate showed perfect Campania sensibility.We wondered what his next step would be.
“I want to open another, up-market place in which everything revolves around pizza and win a Michelin star. Then I’ll be ready to go back to Naples and finish my career by opening a small place that represents the life I spent abroad as an immigrant.”