Marilena Umuhoza Delli for NPR
Over the next week we’ll be going over some of our favorites Goats and soda stories to see “whatever happened to…”
In January, we profiled Ibrahim Songne. As a child, freshly arrived in Italy from Burkina Faso with his family, he takes his first bite of pizza. His verdict: “Big and completely tasteless.” But his taste buds changed, and as an adult he opened his own pizzeria in Trento. He ran into anti-immigrant prejudice but his pizza won out and this year his restaurant IBRIS was named one of the 50 best pizzerias in the world by the website 50TopPizza.it. We caught up with Songne this summer to see how he was doing.
The media response to Goats and Soda’s January article on pizza maestro Ibrahim Songne was so strong that he was eventually forced to call a moratorium on interviews.
“The requests have become overwhelming. I’m just a pizza maker,” says Ibrahim. “I continue to personally prepare each slice of pizza that we serve and therefore already almost every hour of my day is reserved. My girlfriend kind of put her foot down. And she was the one who had to do all the English translations .”
Nonetheless, his appreciation for NPR’s coverage was so sincere that he created a “Goats and Soda” pizza in our honor.
It is made with goat cheese, dried figs, Trentingrana cheese shavings, arugula salad, pine nuts and spicy oil – quite a radical recipe by local standards. He couldn’t really bring himself to put on soda on the pizza, however. So the pie is paired with soda instead and was an instant sensation as a spinning special.
NPR’s story also gave a boost to its practice of asking customers to pay for a second pizza, which it gives to a hungry person. “I didn’t realize how huge NPR was until I started getting donations from all over the world,” he says. “I’ve had calls from people from Canada, Ireland…everywhere.”
His pizza charity is inspired by the Neapolitan tradition of hanging coffee (“suspended coffee”) – cafe patrons pay for extra coffee which bartenders later give anonymously to those in need. Like some other pizzeria operators, Ibrahim extended the custom to pizza at the start of the COVID shutdowns.
And even though the pandemic has put some local pizzerias out of business, demand for Ibrahim’s pizza is so strong that he’s secured a lease and started work on a second location with more space and seating. It should open by the end of the year.
During this time, his passion for pastry lives on. In a perpetual quest for “perfection”, he has refined his dough recipe with a longer rise and is also about to develop a pizza dough for the gluten intolerant.
After celebrating the fourth anniversary of his pizzeria IBRIS, Ibrahim has become a fixture in his hometown of Trento. A local theater company plans to stage a play about his life – detailing his story of immigrating from Burkina Faso at the age of 12 without knowing a word of Italian, overcoming a stutter and becoming then a self-taught pizza maker who gained international fame.
Marilena Umuhoza Delli for NPR
His accomplishments have prompted some Italians with African roots to make a pilgrimage to the pizzeria.
Francesco, 9, from the Piedmont region, recently visited his family, who emigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They drove nearly 6 hours east to visit IBRIS. The boy seemed shy but lit up when it came time to pose for a photo with Ibrahim.
“I’ve never seen a black pizza maker before,” he said. “I didn’t even know it was possible. And it’s the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.”
Anna-Maria, 5 and like Francesco a second-generation Italian of African descent, traveled with her mother on a 3-hour train ride from the Emilia-Romagna region to sample Ibrahim’s slices.
She said: “Now that I’ve met Mr. Ibrahim, I know exactly what I want to be when I’m older: a pizza maker….but also a doctor too.”
Ian Brennan is a Grammy-winning music producer (Zomba Prison Project, Tinariwen, The good ones [Rwanda], witch camp [Ghana]) which over the last decade has recorded in the field some forty records by international artists on five continents (Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Asia). He is the author of seven books and his latest, Muse-$ick: a musical manifesto in fifty-nine noteswas published last fall by PM Press of Oakland.