American Travel Stories
Drinks & Culinary

The Story of Italian Pizza and How the Locals Eat it

When you think about Italy, and food, your thoughts may turn to pizza. Italians have their opinions about toppings and size, but they all agree on this: authentic Italian pizza was born in Naples. The Margherita is the basic style, and it features the three colors of Italy’s flag—red, white, and green.

Pizza was a pauper’s dish, born out of leftover dough used for baking bread. Its name came from a misunderstanding of the Greek word, “pitta,” a round bread from Greece. At first, it was topped with simple ingredients from the farm, including olive oil and fresh tomatoes. In 1889 Raffaele Esposito decided to add mozzarella cheese, still one of the main products of the Neapolitan region, and top it with fresh basil.

The creation was named after Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of King Umberto I. The colors were that of the new Italian flag—white from mozzarella cheese, red from the tomatoes, and the green of pungent basil leaves.

How to eat pizza like an Italian

1. Don’t request a slice of pizza. In Italy, unless sold on the street or “al taglio” (sold in rectangular or square slices by weight), it’s always round and served on a plate.

2. You cut the pizza yourself and then eat it with a knife and fork, the most common way, or fold each slice and eat it with your hands. Bear in mind that your pizza will be very hot, so folding and eating it with your hands can be dicey.

3. Don’t expect unusual toppings on your pizza—no pineapple, chicken, no ketchup, and no grated Parmesan for starters. If you want to embrace real Italian pizza, stick to the ingredients on the menu. Italians are serious about their pizza!

4. Never ever ask for dipping sauce. Authentic Italian pizza is an experience—enjoy it.

5. Pizza is rarely eaten for lunch—if a restaurant serves it for dinner, there’s little chance of getting it another time. The secret to good pizza is turning on the oven hours before baking. That’s why most restaurants don’t offer pizza as a choice earlier in the day.

6. The unwritten rule is that wine and cappuccino aren’t ordered with pizza. Beer or sparkling water are the preferred choices. In the area around Sorrento, you’ll be served a small glass of Limoncello with your pizza—and anything else you order.

7. Your leftover pizza is left at the restaurant, not taken home. Doggy bags aren’t common in Italy, and you’ll probably finish it off, anyway. Be prepared for a delicious treat!

8. When you ask for pepperoni pizza, you’ll get pizza with peppers. Pepperoni, in the Italian language “peperoni,” is not salami or cold meat.

9. Italians usually order a few snacks before having a pizza, most of which are fried.

5 places to get Real Pizza in Naples

If you’re in Naples, home of the real pizza, these are some of the places to eat a real Neapolitan pizza, as recognized by the European Union: Pizzeria Sorbillo; L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele; Pizzeria Di Matteo; Pizzeria Starita; and 50 Kalò are five of the best places to sample Italian pizza in Naples.

Italian pizza is unlike American pizza, it’s not doughy, and it’s all flavor.  On your Italy vacation, indulge.  Eat like a local.  And, wherever you are, enjoy an authentic pizza.