What pizza means in Rome


I am not a pizza connoisseur. I don’t really know what makes a pizza Neapolitan, or even New York-style at this point, given how saturated New York has gotten with fancy pizza. But I do love it, and even though I ate pizza probably over six times in five days, I didn’t even come close to getting sick of it. It helped that pizza has a multitude of meanings in Rome; all incarnations are delicious.

There is the famous “pizza bianca,” which looks like a rather plain and dry piece of focaccia. It was one of the first things I ate in Rome, at Forno Campo de Fiori, which is consistently named as one of the best places for pizza bianca in Rome.

Later in the trip, I had some pizza bianca from Roscioli that was a little too old and almost too much work to chew, but that first piece I had at the Forno was still warm from the oven. People often put a little prosciutto in between two pieces to make a sandwich, but when it’s fresh, it’s amazing how delicious plain food can be.

We had a piece of pizza with mushrooms and that was tasty, too, as were the cookies I bought for my sister my last morning in Rome.

And then there is pizza al taglio, or pizza by the slice, which in Rome means by weight or, if you speak Italian as poorly as I do, by a wave of your hand and a grunt or two. Pizzarium is famous for their luxurious toppings, but it’s as casual as most pizza al taglio places, a gorgeous counter with an array of pizzas and then just a couple of places to stand with big stacks of napkins. You’ll often see people eating pizza with a fork and knife, but not pizza al taglio.

Zizou found the caponata topping too sweet, but I love sticky-sweet eggplant and pinenuts. The bread was a little doughier than I would have liked, but I would happily have stuck around for a few days to try some more toppings. There was one that was snowy with layers of lardo — I regret a little not trying it.

My favorite Roman pizza, though, was the Roman or Lazio-style pizza, which features a thin and crisp dough, almost like a cracker. It can fool you into thinking you haven’t really eaten that much. We did often see Roman families sitting around, one pizza in front of each person, so maybe they feel the same way. The pizza we had at Dal Paino in the Centro Storico was tasty and certainly convenient, but the pizza we had at Pizzeria da Remo in Testaccio may have been my favorite meal of the trip.

I know a huge part of it was just the atmosphere. It was a Saturday  night and the sidewalk was packed with clusters of friends and families. It’s been discussed on Chowhound, but for one reason or another, there wasn’t a visible tourist presence. It was one of the rare moments in Rome where we felt absorbed into regular Roman life. The crowd was pretty boisterous — kids running around, people talking and laughing — but not at all impatient. The big-bellied owner pacing up and down past the sidewalk tables, almost willing people lingering over their pizzas to leave, so at least we knew the restaurant was trying to seat us.

We didn’t have time to go to a fried fish restaurant, so I insisted we try some of their fried baccala which was hot and wonderful.

But look at the pizza! We got a plain margherita, another with sausage, and then a third with zucchini blossoms and anchovies.

Look how thin the crust is! I thought it was really the perfect complement to the cheesy, salty toppings. It may be blasphemous to say this, but as a kid, I really liked the Pizza Hut Thin Crust pizzas, and these pizzas reminded me why.

We were too full to try any “ice cream to the coconut” or “coffee chocolate italian soft cheese,” but it always gratifies me when I realize non-Korean people also have serious trouble with English translations.

Pizza and beer on a Saturday night — so familiar and yet so new.


6 Responses to “What pizza means in Rome”

  1. Anna Says:

    Wonderful photos and descriptions– it all makes me quite nostalgic. Also, my mind is now crooning, “You put the ice cream in the coconut and mix it all up” to the tune of the old Harry Nilsson song. (That “gelato al cocco” could, strictly speaking, mean “ice cream to the coconut” in addition to coconut ice cream– were one in a situation that called for giving a coconut ice cream– just makes the mistranslation doubly awesome.)

  2. Grace Says:

    Ha ha, I love the idea of giving a coconut ice cream!

  3. Diane Says:

    I love coconut so much. Coconut + ice cream = Happiness!

  4. Leslie Says:

    Did you try the potato pizza? It’s my favorite type that you can get “al taglio”. I forgot to suggest that you try it!

  5. Grace Says:

    I did try it at Pizzarium! I was surprised, I thought the potatoes would be thinly sliced like they are at Grandaisy/Sullivan St. Bakery, but they were big mounds of mashed potatoes. Mmmm, starch! If only I had had more pizza stomach space.

  6. Leslie Says:

    No, no, they should have been thinly sliced like at Sullivan but maybe more layers of potato. Don’t know about the mashed potato version. You’ll have to try it next time.

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