Somewhere inside our brain is a place where we create and store imaginary mental images of the places we have heard of but have never actually visited. Mine had a directory full of almost sixty years of images of what Italy would be like. Finally, with the nest at home now empty, I was able to erase and rewrite some of those old temporary files in my brain with newly-created personal visions of the real place. The sub-folder inside my cranium for “Pizza in Italy” also got erased and refreshed. Herewith starts the tale of this exciting journey.
As far as the Snob’s usual advance research goes, this milestone of an adventure surprisingly was given very little. Perhaps it was the feeling of being so overwhelmed that I tried to rationalize with the excuse of wanting to discover things for myself. Regardless, while I now and forever remain loyal to the pizza from my own hood of New Jersey/New York, I made the absolute best of this trip to the land that made my favorite food possible.
Over the course of my five days in Rome (including a side trip to pizza’s birthplace of Naples) and three days in Florence, I learned that the word “pizza” does not mean just one thing in Italy. There are at least four separate and distinct types of pizza that I got to experience. I will say though that you see the words “pizza” and “pizzeria” everywhere you look. It seemed that Italy had as many signs for pizza as it had historic statues.
Mrs. Pie and I arrived mid-day on a pleasant spring Saturday to an Airbnb we leased in Trastevere, a rione (or district) of Rome, just south of Vatican City. Having been in the country only just a few hours, I wasted no time and had my first taste of Italian pizza after walking across the street while scoping out our new neighborhood. My first Italian slice would be at C’era una volta …la Pizza (translated as “Once upon a time…a pizza”).
My first discovery was that the language of pizza is international. Despite my serious ignorance to the Italian language, I found it easy to maneuver my way through the menu board. (Non-verbal communications like pointing works fairly well and most Italians seem to be familiar with some simple English.) The menu was divided into “Pizza Base Bianca” (white) on the left and “Pizza Base Rossa” (red) on the right. The price was €3.00 (Euros) a slice and there was the usual local surcharge (€0.40) to dine on premises.
The first type of Italian pizza we would encounter lay behind the glass of a walk-up counter: an assortment of long uncut sheets of thick “Pizza al Taglio” (translated “by the cut”). I visually selected the prominently-displayed, plain Mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce Margherita. Then, without any real discourse as to how much pizza Mrs. Pie and I needed, the host cut off a slab and asked us “Hot or cold?” After our obvious choice for a reheat (heated out of sight, it only took a minute or two), the final product was served cut into four small savory squares, including three choice pieces with ends of blackened crispy end crusts. We then sat ourselves to eat on the colorful orange chairs out front in the magnificent fresh air.
This absolutely delicious pizza reminded me of some of the best Sicilian slices that I have had back in America. (It had however about only half the usual thickness in its middle bread-like layer.) While the nearly-complete covering of cheese and sauce were superb unto themselves (although not noticeably seasoned, they were far from being bland), the delightfully-charred bottom crust was what I found most appealing about this pizza. The crust was just so fresh and uber-chewy. It tasted almost like something I have never before experienced. Its firmness really gave my jaw a workout while creating a mouth-watering experience that I did not want to end!
Pizza-wise, our trip to Italy was sure off to a magnificent start!
PIZZA SNOB RATING **** 1/2 Nearer Perfection
C’era una volta …la Pizza
Via Portuense, 131 a/b
00153 Roma, ITALY