As a native upstate New Yorker who spent more than a quarter of my life living elsewhere, I am very familiar with the concept of craving a taste of home.
Maria Papa, third-generation steward of the beloved Schenectady institution Perreca’s Bakery, knows exactly what I mean. She even teaches me a new word for this feeling of urgent, emotional hankering – voglia
In its most literal translation, voglia is the Italian word for want or longing. Used in its common Italian-American slang form, pronounced like “woo-lee” or “woo-lee-ahh,” it more accurately means, “I absolutely need to have that, and I won’t be satisfied until I get it.” It's only appropriate for Papa to introduce me to this term for such a specific feeling, considering that she and her family at Perreca's are the purveyors of the most voglia-inducing food I have ever had the good fortune to taste: tomato pie.
“It is just the perfect food. When you get the voglia for tomato pie, you just have to have it,” Papa said.
Even a lifetime of exposure can’t quell the craving. Maria grew up in the bakery, standing on a box at age 8 to work the cash register and greet customers with her signature warmth, all the while surrounded by and regularly eating tomato pie, made from the recipe her grandparents brought from Naples to Schenectady. It has become a staple part of her life and cultural cuisine.
“I thought that I would eventually get tired of it, and put it by the wayside. Oh no. Au contraire. The more you have, the more you want,” she said.
Trying to explain this Neapolitan-style dish to unfortunate outsiders who have never had it can pose a challenge. Served at room temperature, utterly void of a greasy top layer of the typical mozzarella cheese, and bursting with a savory, almost umami flavor, tomato pie is decidedly not pizza.