He wore a collared SS Lazio shirt, tucked beneath his round belly with a sweatband and three pairs of glasses on his head. This wacky waiter served more than just pizza—he indoctrinated foreigners on proper Italian dining decorum.
Our desire to experience the Romans’ Rome began our first night, two blocks from the Tiber River in Testaccio at Pizzeria Da Remo, a modest, but lively neighborhood pizzeria that our local contact highly recommended. We didn’t realize we would also be entertained by the pizza patrol.
Suddenly, the quirky waiter blew the referee’s whistle that hung from his neck, then pulled out a yellow card (the international football signal for a blatant foul—halfway to a dismissal), waving it at the American kids at the table next to us who played on iPads during dinner with their family. Their penalty: handing over their devices for the duration of their meal. All of this was communicated to them in Italian, mind you, which they didn’t speak but clearly understood his meaning.
The emphatic waiter’s playful antics on these unsuspecting tourists may have been amusing, but his sentiments were real. Meals are a time for connection. Food brings us together, slows us down, and allows us to appreciate the moment—each other and the meal—without distractions.
Food in Italy commands appreciation equal to the care and detail that go into creating it—no matter how basic, even with a seemingly simple pizza. However, this may not be the pizza you’re used to.
It isn’t an accident that Italy’s food is so delicious. Italians start with high-quality, seasonal products. Just like Italian pasta, true Italian pizza4 celebrates each ingredient with deliberate simplicity. Most only have a couple of quality toppings to not only highlight the flavors but to allow its dough to really shine—a light airy crust is the base for any traditional Italian pizza.
It may surprise you to know that pizza in Rome also comes in various forms. Naples may be the birthplace of wood-fired pizza, but Rome has since created its own revered regional versions with different styles of crust beyond the original Neapolitan-style pizza. (Note that you won’t find thick, heavy deep-dish pies or pizza dripping with grease.)
Toppings in Rome are very different from those on a typical American pizza. Pepperoni doesn’t exist, but rather, peperoni means bell peppers. And Canadian bacon and pineapple are definitely not Italian either—nor are loads of cheese or toppings piled in a complex medley where no single item is distinguishable.
The most basic is pizza bianca, plain crust with nothing but good extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt. Then pizza rossa only has tomato sauce, using the best possible tomatoes, without cheese. Marinara pizza adds garlic and herbs to this tasty tomato sauce, still without cheese. A classic Margherita2 adds cheese, usually fresh bufala mozzarella, to this same high-quality tomato sauce, ideally topped with fresh basil, together representing the green, white, and red of the Italian flag.
Beyond these basics, Romans prefer light, fresh toppings like salmon and arugula, or zucchini flowers and anchovies, or sausage and olive, or prosciutto3 and mushrooms, and don’t be surprised to find an egg in the middle of some.
True wealth is found in good health, goodwill, and enjoyment of our time.
Traditional Roman pizza has an extra-thin slightly charred crust, that is served hot, fresh from the oven, and whole, unsliced, to be eaten with a fork and knife. Options come either rossa, with tomato sauce, or bianca, without sauce, and with only a couple of toppings that extend to the thin outer edge. Pizzerias are everywhere, but the best places get the most crowded.
I loved the Roman favorite, pizza ai fiori di zucca, pizza bianca topped with mozzarella, zucchini flowers, and anchovies. Cole gets excited over anything with bufala mozzarella; Aaron prefers his with sauce and meat; and Caden enjoys a calzone4, a pizza folded in half before cooking.
Pizza al Taglio
As marinated in history as Rome and its food are, Italians are also innovative. In recent years, Pizza al taglio, by-the-slice, has become a classic street food served in many bakeries to be enjoyed as a quick lunch on-the-go (or mid-morning snack) or dinner. Toppings are becoming more experimental on these pre-cut versions, often eaten at room temperature.
There are two methods: teglia, baked in a squared baking sheet; or alla pala, long, hand-formed focaccia fired on the floor of the pizza oven—both pre-sliced. Some of Rome’s favorites are Forno Campo de’ Fiori, and Antico Forno Roscioli, and Bonci1 with his original Pizzarium.
Since pizza was invented in Naples and its original form is abundant in Rome, I must also mention the thicker-rimmed Neapolitan-style pizza, like our pizza at Osteria Fratelli Mori.
Many restaurants in Rome serve a fusion of this style. The AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana), however, protects true Neapolitan pizza throughout Italy and worldwide. This non-profit officially designates restaurants like Al Forno della Soffitta as serving authentic traditional Verace1 Pizza Napoletana. To preserve authenticity, their fundamental rules include:
- 22-35 cm (9-13 in) round pizza with a soft 1-2 cm (½-¾ in) raised edge free from burns
- A rising time of at least 8-24 hours, plus 4 hours of kneading
- ¼ cm- (⅒ in-) thick disc is formed as the base under fresh, top-quality ingredients
- Cooked in a 430-480ºC (800-900ºF) wood-fired oven for 60-90 seconds
- The best ingredients create the best results.
The Pizza Crust
I was consistently amazed by how much lighter pizza crust in Europe is over the pizza I grew up with. I never felt heavy after eating it—even after a whole pie. I also loved its simplicity, the high-quality fresh ingredients used, and the passion and art they put into making it.
When asking about the dough, I was told that, in addition to the doppio zero “00” ground soft white wheat flour used by pizzaioli, a long rising time of at least 48 hours, ideally 72 hours, makes the crust so light and airy—and easily digestible. Many pizza makers also maintain generations-old starter cultures of mother yeast.
Thankfully in Rome, the gut-bomb inducing, standard American pizza, which so many of my compatriots enjoy, quickly became a distant memory.
Since wood-fired ovens take so long to reach their extra-hot temperature, pizza has typically been eaten at dinner or as a late-night snack, although today it can be found at all times of the day. It was great to have delicious options to take on-the-go, but my preference was to sit down with a traditional, freshly-fired pizza while fully enjoying the moment.
Romans continue to find a balance between innovation and tradition. Sustainable quality is important to Italian people—in all facets, and for all people—quality in what we do, quality in what we make, quality in the way we spend time (in both work and pleasure).
True wealth is found in good health, goodwill, and enjoyment of our time.
Technology can consume us. How many of us have gotten into a habit of checking our phones throughout a meal or occupying our children with devices during this precious time? How much more meaningful would our time be if we put our devices away during mealtimes to really enjoy the moment and each other?
Our lively pizza authority at Da Remo clearly exuded pride in the quality he served—his pizza commanded full attention. He may have been playful, but I’m sure those American kids won’t forget his lesson. Children don’t need to be artificially entertained at mealtime. We learn so much more when we experience life and directly engage with others.
Italian Language Notes
Notes for English speakers:
Though Standard Italian is the official language of Italy, there are thirty-four historical living languages and dialects throughout the country, such as Romanesco in Rome.
1 Though regional sounds may vary, in Standard Italian, a ‘c’ before an ‘e’ or ‘i’ says [ch], while a ‘c’ before an ‘a’, ‘o’, or ‘u’ says [k], as in cacio [kah’-chyō] and guanciale [gwan-chya’-lay]. For ‘c’ to make a [k] sound before an ‘e’ or ‘i’, an ‘h’ is added as in chitarra [key-tar’-rah] and porchetta [por-kayt’-tah]. A double consonant creates a slightly extended sound.
2 Similarly, a ‘g’ before an ‘e’ or ‘i’ says [j], as in giudea [jew-day’-ah], while ‘gh’ before an ‘e’ or ‘i’, or ‘g’ before an ‘a’, ‘o’, or ‘u’ says [g], as in ghetto [gayt’-toe].
3 And an ‘sc’ before an ‘e’ or ‘i’ says [sh], as in prosciutto [pro-shoot’-toe], while ‘sch’ before an ‘e’ or ‘i’, or ‘sc’ before an ‘a’, ‘o’, or ‘u’ says [sk], as in bruschetta [brew-skayt’-tah]
4 ‘z’ makes a [ts] sound, as in calzone [kal-tso’-nay]; double ‘zz’ slightly extends the sound, as in pizza [peet’-tsah].
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