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Five tips for ordering pizza in Italy

The Local Italy
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Five tips for ordering pizza in Italy
Photo by Nik Owens on Unsplash

You may think of yourself as a pizza aficionado, but ordering pizza in Italy can be a more complex process than you might expect. Here are our suggestions for getting it right first time.

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Know your napoletana from your romana...

One of the first questions you'll be asked upon ordering at some Italian pizzerias is whether you'd prefer a pizza napoletana - Neapolitan pizza - or a pizza romana - Roman pizza.

The former is the more traditional version (the dish did, after all, originate in Naples, which in 2017 was awarded UNESCO heritage status for its pizza-making process), and has a thicker, more elastic dough. The latter is a thinner, crispier product.

READ ALSO: Eight surprising pizza facts in honour of Italy’s most beloved export

Sometimes the waiter will refer to Neapolitan style pizza as a pizza alta (tall/thick pizza) and Roman style pizza as a pizza bassa (low/thin pizza).

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You probably won't be given the option to choose between the two in Naples, for obvious reasons - and you'd do well not to request a pizza romana when in the city.

... and your rossa from your bianca

If you grew up on non-Italian pizza, you've probably absorbed the idea that tomato sauce is fundamental to the core identity of a pizza.

In Italy, that's not at all the case: even if pizza bianca ('white' pizza) isn't quite as popular as pizza rossa ('red', tomato sauce-based pizza), it's still very common, and is considered just as much the real deal.

An Italian pizza bianca. An Italian pizza bianca. Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

Some pizzerias clearly divide their menus up into pizza rosse and pizze bianche sections, but others leave the diner to figure out whether their pizza is rossa or bianca  based solely on the individual descriptions.

In these cases it's worth reading the fine print and, if necessary, double checking with the waiter to avoid disappointment. A mention of pomodorini, for example, indicates the inclusion of baby tomatoes on your pizza - not necessarily tomato paste or sauce.

Peperoni isn't a sausage

How many visitors have honed in on the word peperoni on an Italian restaurant menu picturing some delicious, heartburn-inducing salami, only to find themselves tricked into ordering vegetables?

That's right, peperoni in Italian (note the singular 'p') isn't sausage meat - it's bell peppers. 

It's not one of the most common pizza toppings, but you'll sometimes see it included in a special in some of the more gourmet / experimental pizzerias, and it's a popular side dish in Italian restaurants.

If you've never tried peperoni, don't write them off: unlike the more bitter green variety found in other countries, Italian peppers tend to be the sweeter red or yellow type, and are cooked in copious amounts of olive oil till they become extremely tender.

A 'peperoni' pizza. A 'peperoni' pizza. Photo by Emily Powers on Unsplash

If you're looking for pepperoni pizza of the kind you see in US and other countries, you want pizza alla diavola ('devil's pizza'), which contains salamino piccante (spicy salami). 

More common meaty pizzas in Italy, though, are pizza capricciosa, with prosciutto ham, and pizza con/alla salsiccia, with sausage meat.

Step outside your comfort zone

You might have a favourite pizza you always order religiously, and that's fine. But when you're in Italy, considering experimenting with some new flavours.

For whatever reason, there are a number of toppings popular in the pizza's country of origin that haven't really gained traction outside Italy's borders.

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Perhaps that's because many of these toppings are vegetable-based, and most other countries haven't got much further with vegetables and pizza than throwing them on raw and unseasoned at the end as an afterthought.

Italy, on the other hand, knows the value of fresh local produce that's been properly prepared (read: drowned in olive oil) and seasoned: which is why pizza alla parmigiana (aubergine parmesan pizza), pizza con funghi (mushroom pizza) and pizza vegetariana/ortolana (mixed vegetable pizza) are all national favourites.

You may be surprised to find that potatoes are not an uncommon pizza topping in Italy, or that adding uncooked cheeses like creamy stracciatella or crumbly ricotta on at the end is par for the course. Some pizzerias have elevated pizza to an art form, creating their own complex variants.

It's not uncommon to add creamy stracciatella cheese to an Italian pizza after it's been cooked. It's not uncommon to add creamy stracciatella cheese to an Italian pizza after it's been cooked. Photo by Sanchit Singh on Unsplash 

Expand your horizons a little, you may find you leave Italy with a new favourite pizza.

Acquaint yourself with pizza al taglio

Everyone knows pizza isn't really pizza unless it's cooked in a traditional wood-fired pizza oven.

Unless, that is, it's pizza al taglio. 

Pizza al taglio - pizza 'by the slice' - is made in a large metal baking pan and cooked in a baker's oven.

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Pizza ovens can't be beat, but they take a long time to heat up, which is why most pizzerias only open in the evenings. What if you wanted a little snack to tide you over in the middle of the day? Enter the pizza al taglio.

This pizza looks and tastes a bit different from the kind you order in restaurant: because the pans are rectangular, the slices are cut into squares or rectangles rather than triangles, and the consistency is a bit like thinner, crunchier topped focaccia.

Pizza al taglio at an Italian bakery counter. Pizza al taglio at an Italian bakery counter. Photo by Romain Chollet on Unsplash 

You'll typically see pizza al taglio displayed in the counters of bakeries or cafe-bars; if you want to avoid ordering something that's been sitting there for several days, check to see whether there's a kitchen at the back that fresh baked goods could feasibly be coming out of.

Pizza al taglio is more of a snack than a meal - you'll usually be asked if you want it da mangiare qui (to eat here) or per strada (for the road), in which case they'll usually slice, fold and partially enclose it in wax paper for you to munch on as you go on your way.

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Comments (2)

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Anonymous 2022/08/31 10:05
Then there is the Pinsa. Also Roman but very different from the thin Pizza. It has a different flour blend, is oval to rectangular in shape and has a crisp crust with a softer base. In Camaiore, where I am, there is an excellent Pinseria.
Anonymous 2022/08/31 09:32
'check to see whether there’s a kitchen at the back that fresh baked goods could feasibly be coming out of.' lol

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