Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Potica Is Not Pizza: A Papal Joke and a Culinary Lesson, thanks to President Trump

Pizza, from Wikipedia

I try to steer clear of politics in this blog, but it is impossible to resist this breaking news story. 

During his historic visit to the Vatican, the stocky President Trump was subject to a little gentle teasing by Pope Francis and the First Lady. 

During a cordial exchange, the Pope asked the Slovenian-born Melania:  "What are you feeding him? Potica?"  

Melania replied with a smile: "Yes, potica." 

Apparently, some of the news sources misunderstood this as a reference to pizza, which might be Italy's most famous culinary export.  

The New York Daily News has a full and accurate report of this gaffe, which was not (for once) the fault of President Trump. 

So, just for the record: Pizza has no connection to potica, beyond the obvious: Both are treasured national dishes that use yeast dough as a base. But otherwise, the differences are pronounced.

Potica is rolled and filled. The dough is rich and the filling is usually (but not always) sweet. It is an elaborate creation that is normally reserved for holidays and other celebrations. Pizza is flat, just a simple yeast dough covered with a savory topping. It is an everyday dish that probably began as a quick way to use leftover bread dough. 

Pizza looks like that tasty photo at the top of the page. Potica looks like this: 

Homemade Walnut-Honey Potica, from Blair K's kitchen

Pretty hard to confuse the two dishes, no?

But here is the likely source of the confusion: Italy and Slovenia share a border. In the border regions, there is a blending of both food and language. The rich, rolled yeast pastry/bread that is called potica in Slovenia (where it originated) is called "putizza" in Italian. So the meaning probably just got lost--or tangled--in translation. Potica/putizza morphed into pizza. But it's not.

The most famous Italian version of this shared dish is called putizza di noci. It is a specialty of Trieste, a cosmopolitan port city that is now part of Italy but was previously within the borders of the former Yugoslavia. There is a particularly delicious version of putizza filled with chocolate and nuts that is also a holiday dish in the Jewish community of Trieste. That is how I discovered this fascinating culinary overlap across three cultures.

If you would like to try your hand at the chocolate-filled Trieste version of putizza (or just want to learn more) see my previous post:

In the photo below, the putizza di noci slices are on the left and the potica slices are on the right. They look very much the same. But you would never confuse either one with pizza!

Left: Putizza di Noci with chocolate-walnut filling.
Right: Potica with almond-honey (top) and poppyseed filling (bottom)
From Blair K's kitchen