When you think Italy, you think pizza.
Pizza – a Taste of Tradition
While the history of pizza is long and much debated, it is hard to argue that Italy claims the prize for the best place to eat the best pizza in the world.
In Naples in 1830, the world’s first pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, was opened. In 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy visited the City of Naples and in the Queens honor, a pizzaiolo named Raffaele Esposito created three pizzas, the favorite of the queen was the one evoking the colors of the Italian flag — green (basil leaves), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes). This classic combination is still known as a Pizza Margherita and you can try it at the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba even today.
Neapolitan pizza has a soft, thick crust and is cooked in a wood fired oven. The middle spot is often a delicious, gooey, cheesy, tomatoey mess.
When visiting Naples look for the sign with the distinctive Pucinella holding a pie to be sure you are eating a certified true Neapolitan pizza (Vera Pizza Napoletana). The Association monitors every detail with exacting standards, from using only San Marzano tomatoes grown at the base of the volcanic Vesuvius, to how the basil (for a Margherita) and the garlic and oregano (for a marinara) are placed, to the type of flour – even what water can be used!
Pizza Olympics – Search for the World’s Best Pizza
There is even a pizza Olympics, where people from around the world gather in Naples to compete for the gold in dough and cheese and tomatoes.
Contested with great zeal, the Pizza Olympics are divided into five disciplines, each intended to represent one of the Olympic rings:
1) Pizza Napoletana Classica (according to tradition)
2) Pizza Fantasia (according to the tradition of innovation disciplinary AVPN)
3) Pizza Artistica (sculptures and spectacular pizzas designed with edible ingredients)
4) Fried Pizza
5) Mastunicola (disk of dough with lard or olive oil, basil, cheese and pepper)
The most recent contest was held in July 2012. Naples loves being known as the center of every pizza lover’s world and even has its own Pizza Festival!
Roman pizza has a cracker thin, crispy crust with almost burned edges. Traditional offerings are Margherita and Pizza Diavola, with spicy salami. Another favorite is sausage and chicoria, a local, slightly bitter, green. The most common cheese topping is fior di latte, fresh cow’s milk mozzarella.
In Rome, make sure to order a plate of delicious fried treats (vegetable, zucchini flowers, olives) while you wait for your pie.
Pizza al Taglio – By the Slice
This is also a Roman thing. One place is said to sell two kilometers of pizza bianca a day!
The two classics that you can count on are Pizza Bianca – a chewy pizza base slicked with olive and salt and Pizza Rosso, a thinner base with an oregano flecked tomato sauce. There is no cheese on pizza rosso. There are often other traditional pizza toppings available. Pizza al Taglio is great for two reasons; you order exactly the size you want. You can have just a small slice of pizza bianca for a mid-morning snack on the run or make up a plate of a few different varieties. Don’t worry about your italian, just point at your choices and show how big a slice you want. The other great thing about pizza al taglio is you can find it at just about any time of day. Restaurants in Rome keep fairly regimented serving hours and pizza al taglio is great when you find yourself – or your children – hungry outside of restaurant working hours.
Italian Pizza – What you need to know
Pizza is a dinner thing. It takes a long time to get the wood fired oven going and to the right temperature. For lunchtime or a snack look for Pizza Al Taglio.
In Italy pizza is served individually. You can expect roughly a 10 to 12 inch pie all to yourself.
Menu selections are fairly set. Italians tend to be traditionalists, particularly when it comes to food and it is rare to veer “off menu” and make your own creation.
Pepperoni means bell peppers and not the flavorful sausage American visitors might be used to. Order a pizza diavola if that is what you are craving. Even if it is not on the menu, this is one special order than can usually be accommodated.
Forno al Lego – wood fired oven
Pizza al Taglio – pizza by the slice
tonda – round
Bassa – thin crust
Alta – thick crust
Pizzeria of Note
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – Master Pizzaioli since 1870
Pizzeria Brandi – Also since 1870
Sforno – many call this the best pizza in Rome!
Antico Forno Roscioli – three generations of Roscioli have produced pizza here.
Have you discovered a favorite place in Italy to enjoy real Italian pizza? Perhaps you’ve heard stories of a small pizzeria in Campania called Pizzeria Anna, which really could lay claim to producing the Best Pizza in the World?
Share your tips and discoveries here and help us all to satisfy our craving for Italian pizza.