A Slice of the History of Pizza Pie

Luca Varuni is a master at his craft. As head chef and owner of Varuni Napoli he swears by the freshest ingredients and uses traditional Italian techniques to create the best Neapolitan pies. Growing up in Naples, Italy, he was surrounded by Italian chefs and studied under renowned chef Enzo Coccia, head chef of the only Michelin rated pizzeria in the world. After years of experience, he has settled in Atlanta with the goal of showing everyone what real Italian food is supposed to taste like. Inside Varuni Napoli you will notice large family-styled tables as well as conventional seating for smaller parties with the aim of creating an atmosphere best fit for you desired experience. Don’t be afraid to go alone, sitting at the bar gives you a firsthand experience and a direct view of the chefs at work. Since Varuni Napoli is based on the idea of tradition, we must travel back in time to see where these traditions originated to appreciate how pizza has ended up on our dining table.



Pizza has a complex history. Some suggest this dish started in Greece, others say Egypt, but the pizza we are familiar with today, got its start between the late 1700s and early 1800s in Naples, a city filled with the poor and working class.

The majority of the population required a quick and inexpensive meal during the day, before returning to work. Street vendors sold these flatbreads made with different toppings to satisfy the needs of workers. They were not looking for a rich or high quality meal, just a little something to tide them over during the long work hours.


A man named Raffaele Esposito, considered by some to be the father of modern pizza, was known all over Naples to serve the most delicious pizzas. After Italy was unified, King Umberto and Queen Margherita visited Italy when Esposito was called on to make different pizzas for this royal couple. During the meal, Queen Margherita expressed her delight with the flatbread covered with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes (to represent the three colors of the Italian flag) so much that they named the pizza after Queen Margherita. After approval from the queen, the popularity of pizza grew and expanded beyond the borders of Italy.

Similar to Queen Margherita, Luca Varuni is also passionate about margherita pizza. He says here in this interview, “You can tell the quality and authenticity of a pizza place by the quality and authenticity of the margherita.” He proudly explains that the cheese, sauce and olive oil for his pizzas are all from the region of Naples.

During the late 19th century, many Europeans moved to the United States of America searching for factory jobs where the Neapolitans started family-run pizzerias. Americans couldn’t get enough of this Italian novelty as it spread quickly all over the country. Once pizza made it’s way to US, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first documented pizzeria in New York City in 1905, which still operates today. Pizza is a simple dish that started as a snack for peasants, and is now devoured by young and old people all over the world. There are hundreds of pizzerias all over the United Sates, but the Gayot Guide recently named Varuni Napoli as one of the top pizzerias in Atlanta for 2015.

5 Cities in Jamaica You Must Go To!

Jamaica is a wonderful island known for its white sand beaches and reggae music. The country is a perfect destination for a family vacation, wedding celebration, outdoor excursion, or culinary tour. Here are some of the most important Jamaican cities you must visit:

1. Kingston

Kingston, the capital, is Jamaica’s bustling metropolitan city and is considered the cultural district of the island. It’s mix of jungle, modern business, and original colonial architecture makes the city a must-see for any visitor. Kingston is located in the Southeast corner of Jamaica far from the northern resort towns, which speaks to why Kingston is known as the most authentic city on the island. An interesting tourist destination located in Kingston is The Bob Marley Museum, which is coincidentally the departed reggae star’s former home in Jamaica. All of the rooms in his home have been meticulously preserved to display Bob’s life as accurately as possible, including his personal recording studio, closet, and award showcase. Also, the “One Love Café” in the museum boasts some of Bob’s favorite meals.


2. Montego Bay

This Jamaican destination is perfect for the traveler who loves relaxing on the coast with a piña colada in their hand. Montego Bay, or simply “MoBay” by the locals, is home to many famous and luxurious beaches. The city is the second largest on the island and is located in the Northwest corner where it holds many hotels, restaurants, and a cruise ship port. For the beach bum, Doctor’s Cave beach is the most popular beach in Montego Bay and is known for it’s clean and beautiful waters. Interestingly enough, one can also experience a winter wonderland in the city while enjoying the tropical paradise. CHILLIN at Coral Cliff holds the island’s only ski lodge and ice bar!

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3. Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios, or “Eight Rivers,” was initially a historic site and is now a thriving tourist city. Columbus Park is located just outside of Ocho Rios and is where Columbus supposedly first landed in Jamaica. There is also a port here for cruise ships and interesting scuba diving spots. Even though there are not actually eight rivers in Ocho Rios, there are many beautiful waterfalls in the area. The most well known is Dunn’s River Falls, which receives thousands of visitors each year because of its resemblance to a giant staircase. Tourists can actually climb the waterfalls with a guide in about an hour!


4. Negril

About an hour drive from the Montego Bay Airport lies the quiet resort town Negril on the westernmost shore of Jamaica. A relaxing and popular attraction is Seven Mile Beach full of soft white sand and palm trees for as far as the eye can see. For the more adventurous visitor, a must-see spot is Rick’s Café on the coast. Not only can you taste a great Jamaican meal and party at their nightclub, but you can cliff dive off the rocks. The highest platform jump at Rick’s Café is 35 feet and ensures the thrill of a lifetime.


5. South Coast

The South Coast in Jamaica is a hidden treasure dripping with luxury. Any traveler should definitely visit the Bubbling Spring mineral baths known for their healing powers. The spring is fed by water that is filtered through limestone, and contains substantial levels of magnesium, potassium, chloride, sodium, iron, and manganese. Hungry? Schedule an outing to the Bloomfield Great House. It’s an expansive 200-year-old coffee plantation house that was recently renovated into a breathtaking restaurant.

2911To learn more about Jamaica, attend Go Eat Give Destination Jamaica on April 23, 2015 at Stir It Up Atlanta.

Sloppy Joe’s Havana

Sloppy Joe’s is a historic bar located in Old Havana and one of the must-visit places in Cuba. The landmark sandwich shop opened in the 1930’s. It is believed that the name originated from the unkept nature of the restaurant or the fact that it had “ropa vieja” Spanish version of a sloppy joe as the featured dish.

Over the century, the bar became a popular hangout spot among Hollywood celebrities, international artists and American tourists. Even Ernest Hemingway was said to have frequented the bar often, befriending the owner Jose Garcia. Sloppy Joe’s has been described by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the most famous bars in the world” with “almost the status of a shrine.” The bar, in its heyday, can be seen in the movie “Our Man in Havana” starring Alec Guinness.

sloppy joes cocktails

The cozy bar was known to have the longest mahogany drinks cabinet of Cuba, and still retains its charm after careful renovations. Sloppy Joe’s was shut down in 1959 during the Cuban revolution, but is now open for business. It reopened in April 2013, after 48 years, just in time for my visit to Havana. The new Sloppy Joe’s is made to look like a replica of its 1950’s version with black and white interiors, photos of celebrities and walls adorned with every imaginable variety of spirits. They even offer polaroid photos of guests at the legendary bar.

sloppy joes bar

Go Eat Give volunteer vacationers enjoyed an evening of cocktails, small plates and sandwiches stepping back into time and imagining the splendor of this once all-American hangout. If you visit Cuba now, you should make it a point to step inside Sloppy Joe’s and have an overpriced drink or two. The food is typical of what you would find at a touristy restaurant, so perhaps take your appetite for an authentic Cuban sandwich someplace else in Havana.

sloppy joes

Sloppy Joe’s located on the corner of Calle Animas and Zulueta in Havana Vieja (Old Havana). The entrance is next to the Plaza Hotel.

Florens 2012: A big success!

Last week, I attended Florens 2012, the Florence Culture and Heritage Week in Florence, Italy. It was one of the most memorable conferences I have attended so far, and for several reasons. One, I got to meet the other 5 winners of Team Florens who had come from around the world, namely USA, UK, Australia and Italy. We spent a lot of time together, talking, tweeting, wandering around Florence and eating our way through the city. Continue reading “Florens 2012: A big success!”

Volunteering on Cumberland Island

Love history and nature? Want to take a break away from the hustle and bustle of city life? Here’s a neat opportunity! You can be a Plum Orchard Caretaker for up to 2-3 months. Cumberland Island is a 20 mile long island off the coats of Georgia and Florida. Continue reading “Volunteering on Cumberland Island”

Touring Knollwood

A few more days still remain to tour the Decorators’ Show House and Gardens in Atlanta. Weather you are visiting Atlanta or a longtime native, it is always interesting to see how people live and what sort of art do they admire. While museums and historic homes offer you the opportunity to step back in time, show home exhibits let you visit dwellings that are currently occupied and sometimes for sale.

Last week, I had a chance to visit the Knollwood House, a magnificent estate and home in the upscale neighborhood of Buckhead. The home is designed by renowned architect Phillip Trammell Schutze, while 27 of Atlanta’s prestigious designers showcase their work throughout. The 18 century estate was originally constructed by slaves and modeled after  traditional Southern style plantations. Now, the property grounds are scaled down, the home renovated in a modern style and the decor is elegant and functional.

My favorite two rooms in the home are the kitchen (not surprisingly) and the sun room. The kitchen is open and spacious reflecting old world charm and luxurious conveniences. The wood panelings cover oversized appliances and the expansive counters are all in marble. I love how the kitchen overlooks the garden and has its own herb garden by the window. It is designer by Laurie Lehrich of Design Galleria.

The solarium or sun room is something we do not find in homes very often these days. At Knollwood, it was one of the largest rooms with stone floors, floor to ceiling windows, giant indoor plants and comfortable furniture. Designer John Oetgen did absolute justice to this place. Its the perfect place for me to write or have a home office!

There are also culinary demonstrations taking place at the pavilion in front of the home. James Farmer presented “Farmer To Table: Food and Flowers,” and autographed his books. There is food available for purchase by Carole Parks catering, which could be enjoyed in the garden. The 42nd annual Decorators’ Show House and Gardens ends on May 13, 2012.

Photos courtesy of Jeff Roffman

Evolution of the hamburger

Spicy baja chicken burger at Smashburger

Did you know that the name hamburger originally derives from HamburgGermany‘s second largest city, from where many people emigrated to the United States? In High GermanBurg means fortified settlement or fortified refuge; and is a widespread component of place names. Originally what started out in the 15th century as a piece of meat between two slices of bread, has now taken countless new forms and emerged into a class of it’s own.

In U.S., upscale burger restaurants like Farmburger, Smashburger and Flip have given way to more refined palates that reject the fast food chains. Focus is on freshness, organic and bold flavors. The traditional burger has gone beyond meat and bread; it now has crab cakes, lobster patties, tuna, lamb and other meats that weren’t originally associated with the burger.

Another popular item in the burger land is the vegetarian burger. Made with potatoes, mixed vegetables or black beans, every chef has a unique twist on it. Check out the lily’s nut burger at UrbanPl8 in Atlanta made with walnuts, cashews, brown rice, aged cheddar, spicy sour cream and whole wheat muffin.

Lily's nut burger at Urban Pl8

The chain Smashburger has caught like wildfire around the nation. A fast casual restaurant serving smashed up patties that are crispier and more flavorful offer chicken, beef and vegetarian options. With sides like sweet potato fries, fried pickles and rosemary truffle fries, Smashburger is offers more upscale food than your typical American diners.

Another favorite of mine is Farmburger, with two locations in Atlanta. With casual picnic style tables and self service, they offer 100% grass fed beef sourced locally and seasonal menus. Their concept is of “building your own” where you pick your toppings and cheese. Interestingly, their quinoa burger is one of the best vegetarian burgers I have come across. It’s actually good for you!

Flip burger boutique has taken the entire burger concept to a new height. They have a sleek interior decor, a full bar, hip music, shakes made with liquid nitrogen and menu that includes influences from around the world. Their portions are small and ideal for ordering multiple sides with – pan roasted brussels sprouts and vodka battered onion rings. Perfect for a date night, this one is not for kids.


Stepping back into history in Vienna

If you want to step back in time, go to Vienna in Austria.  I visited in summer of 2008 and was plesantly surprised. Surely there are many old cities around the world but what was special here is that the 18th century buildings looked brand new. They were so well maintained that you felt like they have just come up around you. Horse drawn carriages and cobblestone roads were still the norm here. There were cafes and bars at each corner where famous artists, writers and poets have created masterpieces. “Oh that’s where Mozart wrote his music ….and that’s where Rainer drew his painting” the guide would exclaim.vienna parliament

The gardens in front of the Parliament building were magnificent without any pretence. It was summer; the weather was perfect and the flowers in full bloom. As in most European cities, there were street artists, little galleries, fresh food stalls and tiny shops, that further added to the drama.

I did watch an orchestra perform at the same theatre where Mozart used to play. Nothing seemed to have changed with time here. The New Years Eve orchestra in Vienna is world famous and sold out months in advance. There are also tons of museums to choose from and most of them are free to enter.

Mozart theater ViennaThe best part was the festival that was taking place in front of the parliament building. Every night, a different concert or movie would take place. But there was a food pavilion set up to cater the attendees. There were about 20 stalls of vendors offering drinks and food that would put any food festival to shame! As someone who has this notion that Austrian food is mainly “meat and potatoes”, I was pleasantly surprised. There was fusion of Italian, German, Hungarian, Mediterranean, Spanish, Chinese and much more. I had some of the best mushroom dumplings with goulash for under $10.

Austria remains to be one of my favorite destinations in the world and I hope to return there someday soon.

An Introduction to Moroccan Cuisine

Moroccan cuisine is unlike other Arab, African or Mediterranean foods that you may be familiar with. Although it has influences from other regions around it, Moroccan gastronomy offers an interesting offering of meats, vegetables and spices. Characteristic flavorings include preserved lemons, unrefined olive juices and dried fruits. Spices such as saffron, turmeric, cumin and paprika as well as herbs like parsley, cilantro and mint are heavily used.

A typical Moroccan meal starts with a variety of hot and cold salads. Some of these are relatively easy to prepare, such as boiled beets or carrots seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Moroccan salad is a mixture of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. Zaalouk is a mixture of crushed eggplant and tomatoes mixed with garlic and spices, served cold. Harira is Morocco’s famous lentil and tomato soup, which is also used to break the fast at Ramadan. Khobz, traditional Moroccan bread is served at all meals. You would see everyone from street peddlers to small stores selling it.

The main entrée is almost always cooked and served in a Tagine, a dome shaped heavy clay dish that is sometimes painted or glazed for decoration. The Tagine has a flat circular base in which you cook the food and a large cone shaper cover that retains the moisture while cooking. Tagine of meat (beef, lamb), chicken and vegetables is most common.  There is also an array of vegetables prepared in Moroccan cuisine. Roasted whole artichokes with peas, diced pumpkin with cinnamon, quince and green beans are a few staples. Although Morocco has a large coastline, seafood is only found in upscale restaurants.

Couscous is one of the most popular entrées found here and is said to be of Berber origin. Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa from west of the Nile Valley. Couscous is made of semolina and wheat flour by rolling it into fine granules. The end result is of almost powdery consistency which is steamed and served at room temperature with vegetables or meat stew, and sometimes seasoned with saffron to add color.

Pastilla is an elaborate preparation of layers of phyllo, eggs, almond paste and ground cooked chicken or mixed seafood. It is then topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar and can be served as an appetizer or entrée.

Desserts traditionally consist of fresh fruits. There are a number of bakeries and patisseries in Morocco but most of these sweets are eaten with tea between meals. Puff pastry, honey, nuts, dried fruits and powdered sugar are common ingredients used to make the traditional desserts which may remind you of baklava but are far more diverse in flavors. Green tea soaked in fresh mint leaves and Copyright Go Eat Givelots of sugar is indispensable throughout the day. The Moroccan tea culture involves pouring tea from a beautiful silver kettle into small glasses and is enjoyed leisurely with friends and family.

For breakfast or snack, a popular item found everywhere is the Msemmen, a crepe made of whole wheat flour with layering of butter and oil. It can be eaten with jam or honey. Pain cake and doughnuts are also served at tea time as snacks. Walking in the Medina’s, you would find vendors selling boiled chickpeas in paper cones, steamed snails by the bowls, caked and dried fruits. Juice stands sell freshly squeezed orange, tangerine and grapefruit juices that cost under $1 per glass. Although alcohol is not permitted in the Muslim religion, a lot of Moroccans drink in the restraints and bars. While liquor stores may not be so common, beer and wine is available at supermarkets.

As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in January 2011.