How to Enjoy Pizza like an Italian: A Guide to the Italian Pizza Tradition

When it comes to food and dining, every country has its own customs and rules. But Italy, with its rich culinary heritage, seems to have a particularly long list of traditions. Just like the famous rule of not ordering a cappuccino after 11:00 am, Italians have specific customs for eating pizza too. So, how do Italians eat pizza? Let’s uncover the secrets of this beloved Italian dish and discover the unique etiquette that accompanies it.

The Art of Eating Pizza in Italy

Italians may eat pizza like everyone else, but they have additional rules and a different level of etiquette. Pizza in Italy is not just a casual fast food; it is treated with the same respect as their world-famous pasta dishes. The traditions and customs surrounding pizza are deeply revered, and locals expect visitors to adapt to these local rules. So, when you find yourself in Italy, embrace the Italian way of eating pizza and experience it like a true Italian.

How Italians Eat Pizza

1. Italians eat their pizza with a fork and knife

If you try to eat your Margherita pizza with your hands in Italy, you may receive some disapproving looks from the locals. The pizzas served in sit-down restaurants in Italy are very thin and delicate in the middle, making it difficult to do the New York-style fold without the toppings falling off. Moreover, most pizzas in Italy, like the iconic Margherita pizza from Naples, are meant to be enjoyed hot and aromatic. Trying to pick up a piece right after it comes out of a 900-degree pizza oven is no easy task. So, the tradition of eating pizza with a fork and knife stems from decades of enjoying these thin and delicate pizzas.

2. One pizza per person

When dining at a sit-down restaurant, it is expected that each person orders and enjoys their own pizza. Sharing a pizza is considered unthinkable in Italy, as Italians take pride in finishing their individual pizzas. In fact, the kitchen sends out whole pizzas unsliced because cutting them in advance is a sign of sharing. So, embrace the Italian way and relish a pizza all to yourself. The only exception is pizza al taglio, which is pizza by the slice. In this case, you can order multiple slices and share them with friends or family.

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3. Start with fried appetizers

Before diving into your pizza, it is customary to begin your meal with some delectable fried appetizers. These can range from crispy carciofi alla giudia (fried artichokes) to fiori di zucca fritti (mozzarella and anchovy stuffed squash blossoms). One popular option is suppli, which are mozzarella cheese and tomato stuffed rice balls that are breaded and fried to perfection. These appetizers set the stage for your pizza feast and are a delightful way to start your Italian culinary journey.

4. Enjoy beer with your pizza

While wine is a beloved accompaniment to many Italian dishes, when it comes to pizza, beer is the beverage of choice for Italians. Wine lists in pizzerias are often tailored to tourists, and locals prefer to enjoy their pizza with a cold beer. Sparkling water or sparkling wine are also acceptable options, as carbonated beverages are believed to aid in digestion. With the rise in popularity of craft and natural beers in Italy, the tradition of pairing pizza with beer is here to stay.

How to Eat Pizza like an Italian

1. Avoid certain toppings and garnishes

In Italy, altering a pizza with dipping sauces like ranch or adding chili flakes is considered a violation of the traditions and authenticity of the dish. Italians believe that a well-made pizza doesn’t need any additional toppings or seasonings. A skilled pizzaiolo knows precisely the right amount of toppings and seasoning to create a perfect balance of flavors. So, refrain from asking for grated cheese, chili peppers, or dipping sauces. Trust in the expertise of the pizzaiolo and savor the pizza as it was meant to be enjoyed.

2. Get to know the Italian pepperoni

If you’re a fan of pepperoni pizza in America, be prepared for a surprise in Italy. Ordering a pepperoni pizza in Italy will not get you the sliced meat you expect. Instead, you will receive a pizza topped with peppers. However, you can still indulge in a similar flavor profile by ordering a Pizza alla Diavola. This spicy delight features toppings like spicy salami, chili peppers, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. It may not be the exact same as American pepperoni, but it offers a distinct and delicious Italian twist.

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3. When it’s okay to eat pizza with your hands

While it is generally considered impolite to eat pizza with your hands in Italy, there is an exception. If the pizza has cooled significantly and the molten hot sauce won’t scorch your hands, you can opt to eat it with your hands. The only style of pizza that is traditionally eaten with hands is pizza al taglio. This is a type of street food that is usually enjoyed while standing. Although it may be served on a plate, utensils are typically not offered, and most places don’t even have tables. Pizza al taglio features a thicker crust that can withstand the weight of the toppings, making it suitable for handheld consumption.

4. No doggy bags for pizza leftovers

In Italy, it is expected that you finish your pizza, so don’t ask for a to-go box or a doggy bag for leftovers. Leaving behind unfinished pizza is part of the tradition, and most restaurants don’t even provide special containers for leftovers. This request is rare because Italians take pride in finishing their entire pizza. So, embrace the Italian way and savor every last bite of your delicious pizza.

Explore the Many Types of Italian Pizza

Italy is home to a diverse range of pizza styles, each with its own unique characteristics and flavors. Here are some popular types of Italian pizza you should try:

  • Pizza al Taglio: This classic Roman-style pizza is a thick, rectangular focaccia-like dough topped with a variety of combinations. It is commonly eaten during lunchtime while standing outside the pizza shop.

  • Pizza Tonda Romana: When dining out for pizza in Rome at night, you will likely encounter this style of pizza. Pizza Tonda features a thin, cracker-like crust made from low hydration dough enriched with extra virgin olive oil. Toppings range from prosciutto to hard-boiled eggs and are often separated on the pizza.

  • Neapolitan Pizza/Pizza Napoletana: Naples is the birthplace of the famous Margherita pizza, which features mozzarella, tomato, and basil. Neapolitan pizza is characterized by its soft, slightly chewy crust and simple yet flavorful toppings. It holds UNESCO world heritage status.

  • Pizza alla Pala: This unique style of pizza can be found in Rome’s bakeries. The dough is rolled out and topped with delicious ingredients before being baked in a hearth oven. Traditionally, these pizzas were served on wooden palettes, but nowadays, they are more commonly served on disposable plates.

  • Pizza Pinsa: Dating back to ancient Roman times, this style of pizza features a distinctive dough made from a combination of grains. It is lighter and easier to digest than regular wheat flour dough. The toppings are kept simple, with tomato sauce being the main component.

  • Pizza al Padellino: Hailing from the northern city of Turin, Pizza al Padellino is baked in a round pan with a generous amount of olive oil. This creates a slightly crispy, fried exterior, contrasting with the light and fluffy dough. Toppings typically include tomato sauce, mozzarella, and salami.

  • Pizza Siciliana: This focaccia-like rectangle pizza from Sicily features familiar ingredients like tomato sauce, anchovies, and oregano, but with unique additions like caciocavallo cheese and breadcrumbs for added texture.

  • Pizza Fritta: This deep-fried pizza is the lesser-known sibling of the famous Neapolitan pizza. During times of scarcity in World War II, deep-frying pizzas became a way to make do with limited ingredients. The fillings for these deep-fried pockets of dough are much more varied, ranging from simple tomato and mozzarella to eggplant and portobello mushrooms.

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The Best Time to Enjoy Pizza in Italy

Pizza is primarily a dinner tradition in Italy. Italians believe that the rich combination of dough and cheese is best consumed in the evening when digestion is aided by a full day’s activities. Moreover, to bake a pizza properly, the oven needs to reach the ideal temperature, which requires hours of preparation. As a result, enjoying a whole pizza at lunchtime is not a common practice. However, an exception to this rule is pizza al taglio, which is commonly served during lunchtime by small kiosks and storefront restaurants. This variety of pizza is designed to be eaten while standing, making it a perfect choice for a quick and satisfying lunch.

Is it Rude to Eat Pizza with Your Hands in Italy?

While it isn’t considered rude to eat pizza with your hands in Italy, it is considered inappropriate in most full-service restaurants. Italians view eating with hands as impolite when dining in a formal setting. However, pizza al taglio is an exception to this rule. Since it is a form of street food, it is commonly enjoyed with hands while standing. So, keep the etiquette in mind and savor your pizza with a knife and fork unless you find yourself indulging in pizza al taglio.

Final Thoughts: Embrace the Italian Pizza Tradition

With so many rules and customs surrounding pizza in Italy, it may initially seem intimidating. However, most of these rules are suggestions based on over a hundred years of tradition. The key is to order your own pizza at night, enjoy it with a fork and knife, pair it with a cold beer, and refrain from adding any condiments. By following these guidelines, you will have an authentic and memorable experience savoring the incredible pizzas that Italy has to offer.

And remember, while pizza is undoubtedly delicious, there is much more to Italian cuisine. Check out our list of the best food cities in Italy and discover their signature dishes. Buon appetito!

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