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The Indiani

Not the Indiani, but similar.

Nobody knows why it’s called The Indiani but The Indiani remains its (unofficial) name. The pronunciation is not like Indiana of Indiana Jones; instead a long stress on the ‘a; less American, more sinister.

The Indiani is a bar/pizzeria tucked down a narrow back street without a sign. A few streets away from the central area of town, it has a real name but no one can remember it.

A pizzeria owned by two brothers. Except that they are not brothers. The Indiani generates myth as well as pizza.

I asked them once, if they were brothers. They laughed but didn’t offer an explanation. Explanations aren’t the Brothers’ (or non-Brothers) style.

There are many good things about The Indiani. There are also many bad things about The Indiani. The best thing about the Indiani is that you know you will always be guaranteed a seat. On Saturday night in Oristano, it’s tough to find a place to eat pizza without booking (which of course we never do, on principle – though what the principle is we have forgotten). We do our Saturday night ritual and wander around the 10 pizzerias in the centre of town, only to be turned away from all of them, and then, finally, there comes the inevitable question:

‘Shall we try the Indiani?’

You never actively choose The Indiani, you end up there by default. There’s something a bit guilty about it, the acceptance of defeat. A guilty but pleasurable acceptance. When all your nice pants are dirty and you finally get to wear that big old saggy pair with a hole in that you secretly love.

They greet us, and we wonder if they know their business relies on them being the only pizzeria in town with space to spare. The pizzeria that people come to after they’ve tried everywhere else. There is a triumphant glint in Brother 1’s eye. A lopsided smile. He knows why you’re here. Far be it from him to turn his nose up at custom, regardless of whether it’s second-hand or not.

You enter the bar first, before walking through to the pizzeria. The Brothers never close. They are open every day, from 7am until midnight, for coffee or grappa in the morning and for pizza or grappa at night. They close only for two weeks in August, during which (rumour has it) they take separate holidays in Thailand. What they do there, one can only guess.

Brother 1 mans the bar and serves as the only waiter. He perches against the counter chatting to anonymous men who sit at the small round tables, drinking alone (it’s not a bar where couples or women go). Behind him there is a tiny radio, fuzzily broadcasting the latest football match.

Entering The Indiani is like stepping back in time. It’s dark, musty, cave-like, the walls are panelled with a dark wood, the ceiling mottled whitewash, the upper part of the walls hung with unidentifiable bits of brass or wooden ‘antiques’. The tables are side-on to the wall, with high-backed wooden benches like choir-stalls. The tablecloths (real cotton - a rarity in Italy) are faded brown gingham, spotted with the occasional tomato stain.

In the far corner is the pizzaiolo in his tiny lair. Behind him a wood-fired oven, in which you can just see a lick or two of orange flame. Brother 2, for it is he, is dressed as always in a grubby, once-white t-shirt which hugs his barrel-belly. His forearms are short and muscular, as befits his trade, and his glasses perch on the end of his shining nose. There are a few beads of sweat strewn across his forehead, as he works the dough with both hands, punching down with his knuckles and then using his palms to stretch and widen each ball of dough into a flat, wide circle.

The handwritten menu hasn’t changed for the last 50 years. Margherita, Napoletana, Salsiccia. In season there are artichokes, sliced to order and black with exposure.

We enter the dining room where a few couples eye us guiltily. Due to the privacy of the seating arrangements, and the whole slightly sinister feeling about the place, The Indiani feels like the sort of place you would go to conduct an illicit affair. Oristano is a small town, where almost everyone knows each other, which can make infidelity tricky.

We sit at our opposing pews, and Brother 1 goes through the motions of handing us our menus, producing his little pen and pad on which to write our orders. We all know this ritual is unnecessary, we are within spitting distance of Brother 2, and we don’t need menus because we always have the same thing. To keep up the show, we ask what specials they have. Brother 1 diligently scribbles in his pad and disappears to slice artichokes, as Brother 2 begins to flatten his dough.

A plate of bitter olives is produced, and the ‘house’ wine, which is fridge cold and rough as hell, as we already know it will be, so it only serves to make us feel at home. Meanwhile the pizzas are being carefully manoeuvred into the oven.

A few minutes later our pizzas are deposited by Brother 1, with a special flick of the wrist particular to him. The dough is simple, the crust thin and crisp rather than thick and doughy, slightly singed at the edges. The cheese in just quantity, the tomato sauce sweet and uncomplicated. The capers on my Napoletana are big and salty, the anchovies small and shrivelled. The pizzas have so little distance to travel between oven and diner they arrive piping hot, which is essential, because pizza – like toast - must either be scalding and scoffed immediately, or totally cold (as when eaten for breakfast the next day), never tepid and lingered over. Without speaking we tear and shovel the scalding mess into our mouths, washing it down with gulps of cold wine. In ten minutes the whole process is over, and we sit and see each other for the first time. Cleaning ourselves up with paper napkins, we comment on the reliability of The Indiani, on the fact that the pizza never changes, that nothing in this dingy, sacred enclave ever changes.

As we leave, Brother 1 offers us a digestif. A liqueur he has made from the Carob pods which grow on the tree in his garden. I get very excited, as I have a tendency to get sentimental about anything home-made. A sip is enough to dispel any romance and drown my sentimentality. It’s fire-water, slightly brown, with a force which hits you right in the gullet, followed by the faint flavour of health-food shops and faux Carob chocolate.

The bill is always the same. Half a litre of house red, a plate of complementary olives, 2 pizzas: 25 euro. We say our thank yous and wave our way out into the lamp-lit street.

As we meander home we consider how reliable The Indiani is, and we wonder why we ever go anywhere else.

The following Saturday, not having booked, we walk around town looking for a space in one of the 10 nearby pizzerias.

I wrote this piece originally for a competition which I shan't win, so I thought I'd add it here. Since writing it I have googled The Indiani extensively and discovered that it's real name is La Lucciola, which means The Firefly. This makes me very happy. Sorry there are none of my own photos, I had to borrow this off the web as I have never taken any inside the Firefly. I will do so, soon.

1 Comment

An entertaining read - can't believe nobody has commented!

There is a kindred pizzeria here, not far from home though on a main road close to the city centre of Sydney. My family & I frequented it under similar circumstances to yours until one evening, whilst incepting a mouthful, I bit into glass.

This is an opportune time to let you know that a recipe recommendation from Jamie Mackay's excellent The Week In Italy brought me to your blog & all it's goodness. So good in fact that after reading a few entries I headed off to purchase what turned out to be, the out-of-stock Bitter Honey, and hence, hurried home with the irresistible La Vita È Dolce.

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