pizza in italy

Pizza in Italy with the Locals: Customs, Sayings & No Nos



PS: This is part 1 of a series of articles about Italian pizza, and it’s all about the pizza culture. If you stumbled across this article wanting to learn more about pizza types and the best pizzerias, check out part 2 here. If not, I suggest you read this one first, and then that one.

Picture yourself strolling down the cobblestone streets of a charming Italian village, the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked pizza dancing in the air. It’s a scene straight out of a dream, where every bite tells a story that stretches back through generations. Pizza in Italy isn’t just a dish; it’s a cultural emblem, a slice of the nation’s heart and heritage.

In this delectable journey, we’re setting out to uncover the secrets that only the locals truly savor. From age-old customs that guide your pizza adventure to playful sayings that tangle your tongue, we’re diving deep into the world of pizza in Italy. So grab your appetite and a sense of curiosity, because we’re about to embark on a culinary adventure that’s as rich in tradition as it is in flavor.

Join us as we peel back the cheesy layers and sink our teeth into the customs, sayings, and unspoken rules that make indulging in pizza an art form in its own right. The tables are set, the ovens are fired up, and a world of pizza magic awaits. Pronti, si parte!

pizza making in italy from the origins of flour to today

Important Events in the History of Italian Pizza

Let’s embark on a delectable journey as we trace the fascinating history of Italian pizza. With a lineage that stretches back through the ages, expect a series of cultural twists, inventive revelations, and doughy delights. 

From Flour to Feast: 

Our voyage commences between the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras, a transformative period marked by agricultural discovery and cereal cultivation. It was during this epoch that humanity witnessed the marriage of flour and water, birthing a dough – an early glimpse into the world of pizza.

The Leavening Leap: 

Millennia later, the Egyptians introduced a pivotal chapter—the concept of leavening, an essential advancement in the realm of bread and crust making. This innovation pushed culinary evolution, leaving an indelible mark on pizza’s journey.

From Bread to Pizza: 

Flatbreads topped with various ingredients were consumed by ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans, laying the groundwork for pizza’s development.

The Origins of the Name: 

The origins of the term “pizza” remain a mystery, giving rise to three intriguing hypotheses. First, it could be traced back to the Latin “pinsa”. derived from the verb “pinsere,” evoking the act of smashing. Alternatively, it might find its origins in the German words “bizzo” or “pizzo”, which refers to a bite or a fragment of bread. The third proposition connects the word pizza to the Arab language, suggesting an evolution from the words “pita” or “pitta”.

First Official Record: 

The term “pizza” made its debut within historical records in Gaeta, Lazio, during 997 AD – an unassuming yet significant appearance in a mill lease document.

Mozzarella came first: 

The 13th century casts a spotlight on mozzarella, at the time known as “mozza” or “provatura.” It was the monks from the sanctuary of San Lorenzo di Capua who started making it. Their kind act of sharing this treasure with pilgrims helped the iconic cheese diffuse throughout Italy.

Tomato arrives in Italy: 

The year 1540 witnessed the tomato’s arrival in Europe, a culinary gift by Hernán Cortés. Although it would take time to weave its way into Italian cuisine, its eventual embrace transformed pizza forever. And we have to thank the Sicilians for being the first to experiment with this fruit.

First Ever Made Pizza: 

The first pizza as we know it today dates back to the 17th century but didn’t include tomato, nonetheless, its description sounds delicious. It was made with a soft dough using lard, and topped with cheese, basil leaves, and pepper. It was called “Mastunicola”, in honor of its creator – Neapolitan Mastro Nicola. Another pizza that became popular in that period was topped with tiny fried fish, and called “ceccinielli”.

pizza rules in italy like eating pizza with cutlery

The Birth of Pizza Margherita: 

In 1889, Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito had the royal pleasure of serving three different pizzas to Queen Margherita of Savoy. Her favorite among the three options was a pizza topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. And that’s apparently how the Pizza Margherita was born.

From Italy to the US: 

Thanks to the internationalization brought by the 19th and 20th centuries, Italian immigrants traversed oceans, taking pizza to America and forever altering its destiny.

Pizza Goes Global: 

After becoming an International culinary sensation in the 20th century, pizza received UNESCO recognition and became a symbol of international culinary unity.

Fascinating Tidbits About Italian Pizza

Whether you are simply curious to know more about your beloved Italian dish or want to arm yourself with the most interesting conversation starters for your next pizza date, the 11 Italian pizza facts I am about to share will surprise you and anyone who hears them.

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)

Two authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas, the Margherita and the Marinara, hold special recognition as Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) products by the European Union.

Naples’ Pizza Artistry

Naples, the pizza’s birthplace, honors the craft of pizza-making as a very important cultural heritage. Skilled pizzaioli (pizza makers) undergo dedicated training to perfect their art.

Pineapple-Free Zone

Traditional Italian pizza avoids unusual toppings like pineapple.

Slow Food Movement

Italy’s Slow Food movement champions safeguarding culinary traditions, including the cherished practice of crafting pizzas with time-honored methods.

Pizza in Outer Space

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti achieved a cosmic milestone by preparing a pizza in a special oven aboard the International Space Station.

Historical Marinara

The first historically documented tomato-based pizza is the Marinara. Unchanged since 1734, it features tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, and garlic. Interestingly, its nautical name doesn’t stem from fish but rather from fishermen who enjoyed it upon returning to the port in the mornings.

Ancient Pizzeria

The world’s oldest pizzeria, Port’Alba in Naples, is still open since its establishment in 1738. Initially popular among street vendors for takeout, it later became a spot where notable figures like poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, King Ferdinando Borbone, politician Francesco Crispi, and philosopher Benedetto Croce dined.

Pizza Health Benefits

Enjoying a tomato rich pizza once a week can reportedly reduce the risk of esophageal cancer and stroke. “Therapeutic pizzas” like “Vita” for expectant mothers, “Tiresia” to boost metabolism, and “Hercules” aiding athlete recovery are also part of pizza’s unique contributions.

Giant Pizza Records

The world’s largest pizza, Octavia, measuring 40 meters in diameter, emerged in Rome in 2012 with over 9 tons of gluten-free flour. Meanwhile, Naples proudly holds the record for the longest pizza, stretching 1,853.88 meters in 2017 with the combined efforts of 250 pizzaioli.

Sweet Surprises

A delightful dessert pizza graces many Italian pizzerias’ menus – a simple dough coated with Nutella and adorned with pistachios. This treat has captured the hearts of Italian children and adults alike.

Bizarre Requests

The realm of pizza also holds some unconventional requests. One memorable instance involved a young woman ordering a pizza with sausage, chips, and Nutella at Errico Porzio’s pizzeria.

italian pizzeria

Italian Pizza Culture & Customs

In Italy, pizza isn’t just a meal; it’s a cherished tradition that brings people together around a table filled with delicious stories and laughter.

Imagine a place where each person gets their very own pizza, creating a sense of individual delight. While sharing may be out, the joy of savoring diverse flavors isn’t. If you’re looking to explore various tastes, try ordering mixed pizza platters, and you’ll find a spectrum of flavors at your fingertips.

When your pizza arrives, don’t be surprised if it’s not sliced; this is an art in itself. Italians approach their pizza with a fork and knife, savoring small bites while ensuring toppings stay put. The exception is pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice), which embraces the tactile pleasure of hands-on eating, especially since it’s usually enjoyed on the street while standing up.

A unique aspect of the Italian pizza experience is its focus on purity—no sides or dipping sauces are paired with this culinary masterpiece. And while wine may be a classic choice, it’s a beer that reigns as the perfect partner for your pizza adventure, leaving cappuccino as a no-no pairing.

An essential ingredient in crafting the perfect Italian pizza is the wood-fired oven—a crucial element that ensures quality and authenticity. This traditional method infuses each slice with a distinct flavor giving the entire pizza experience a whole new dimension.

While customization may be limited, the array of toppings offers a delightful variety. Feel free to omit or add, but remember, creating a pizza from scratch might not be on the menu.

When it comes to the eternal question of “pizza rossa” versus “pizza bianca”, let your taste buds guide the way. Pizza rossa, adorned with its fresh tomato sauce, takes the crown as the most popular choice enjoyed across Italy. But don’t hesitate to indulge in a pizza bianca if that’s your style. While pizza bianca has a special place in the North, its delectable simplicity can be savored throughout Italy.

Most Beautiful Italian Pizza Sayings & Quotes

Let’s explore some captivating Italian sayings and quotes that pay homage to the beloved art of pizza-making and eating. These wise and witty expressions showcase the profound connection between pizza and Italian culture. 

1. “Fatte ‘na pizza c’a pummarola ‘ncoppa / vedrai che il mondo poi ti sorriderà.”

   Translation: “Make a pizza with tomatoes on top / and you will see that the world will then smile at you.”

   Attribution: Pino Daniele, from “Fatte ‘na pizza,” 1993

2. “La margherita è la pizza ordinata dai veri intenditori; […]. La semplicità della margherita sottolinea spesso l’erudizione di chi la ordina.”

   Translation: “The Margherita is the pizza ordered by true connoisseurs; […]. The simplicity of the Margherita often emphasizes the erudition of the one who orders it.”

   Attribution: Cristiano Cavina

3. “I napoletani hanno sempre avuto il loro fast food. Si chiama pizza.”

   Translation: “Napoletans have always had their fast food. It’s called pizza.”

   Attribution: Luciano De Crescenzo

4. “Ti offro una bella pizza… i soldi ce li hai?”

   Translation: “I’ll treat you to a nice pizza… do you have the money?”

   Attribution: Totò (Antonio De Curtis), in “Risate di gioia,” 1960

5. “Chiunque dica che i soldi non possono comprare la felicità non ha mai comprato una pizza.”

   Translation: “Anyone who says that money can’t buy happiness has never bought a pizza.”

   Attribution: Anonymous

6. “Non è mai troppo tardi per il gelato e non è mai troppo presto per la pizza.”

   Translation: “It’s never too late for ice cream, and it’s never too early for pizza.”

   Attribution: Anonymous

Pizza In Italian: From Pizza Words To How To Order It

After exploring the rich history, customs, and sayings of Italian pizza, it’s time to dive into the language that surrounds this beloved dish. Whether you’re reading a menu, placing an order, or simply chatting about pizza in Italian, this section is here to guide you.

What’s Pizza in Italian?

I’m sure you’re already aware, or at least I hope so, that the word “pizza” remains the same in Italian; and that’s because pizza’s origins trace back to Italy. Just like numerous renowned dishes and culinary terms, its name has traveled alongside its popularity.

Pizza Pronunciation in Italian

What about pizza pronunciation though, do you know the correct way to say it in Italian?

If you want to pronounce it correctly, like a proper Italian would, here are two fundamental things to keep in mind as you say it. Americans tend to pronounce only one z, whereas the Italian way of saying it emphasizes the double z. Moreover, in English, the first syllable is pronounced quickly whereas Italians say it slowly, lengthening the sound of the i. 

You can hear the difference in the audio clips below.

Audio: Pizza pronounced by a British.

Audio: Pizza pronounced by an Italian.

Italian Pizza Words You Should Learn

In this section, I am going to list all the words that will help you understand the most common pizza ingredients in Italian, as well as few words related to dining and pizza restaurants.

ItalianEnglishItalian SpellingPronunciation
Salsa di pomodoroTomato saucesal-sa di po-mo-do-roSAHL-sah dee poh-moh-DOH-roh
Parmiggiano ReggianoParmesan par-mi-gia-no reg-gia-nopahr-mee-jah-noh reh-JAH-noh
ProsciuttoItalian hampro-sciut-toproh-SHOO-toh
Olio d’olivaOlive oilo-lio d’o-li-vaOH-lee-oh dee OH-lee-vuh
Rucola Rucolaru-co-laroo-KOH-lah
GorgonzolaBlue cheesegor-gon-zo-lagohr-gohn-ZOH-lah
Forno a legnaWood ovenfor-no a le-gnaFOHR-noh ah LEH-nyah
PizzaioloPizza makerpiz-za-io-lopeet-tsah-YOH-loh
Coca colaCokeco-ca co-laKOH-kah KOH-lah
AranciataOrange sodaa-ran-cia-taah-rahn-CHEE-ah-tah
These Italian Pizza words will come handy when ordering your pizza

Learn about Italian Pizza Names here.

how to order pizza in italy

How to Order Pizza in Italian

Here are the 7 sentences that will help you order pizza like an Italian.

  1. Il menu, per favore. – The menu, please.
  2. Ci porti dell’acqua, grazie. – Please, bring us some water. 
  3. Una bottiglia di acqua naturale e due birre, per favore. – A bottle of still water and 2 beers, please.
  4. Vorremmo ordinare, grazie. – We would like to order, thanks.
  5. Prendiamo una Pizza Capricciosa e una Margherita, grazie. – We’ll take a pizza capricciosa and a margherita, thanks.
  6. Il conto per favore. – The bill, please.
  7. Le pizze erano deliziose. – The pizzas were delicious.

Pizza in Italy vs. America

When it comes to making this illuminating comparison, three distinct differences emerge that set Pizza in Italy and America apart: the pizza-making process, the choice of ingredients, and the unique eating habits that accompany each delicious slice. Let’s explore each one.

Pizza-Making Process: Italy vs America

In Italy, crafting pizza is akin to an ancient art form, steeped in tradition and passed down through generations. Skilled pizzaioli orchestrate a culinary symphony as they meticulously shape the dough, layer it with exquisite toppings, and slide it into wood-fired ovens that infuse each creation with an unmistakable smoky aroma. The process is a tribute to simplicity, allowing the flavors to harmonize and shine.

Across the Atlantic, the American pizza landscape embraces innovation and diversity. Pizzerias likes to experiment with various styles, from the foldable New York slice to the hearty Chicago deep dish. The crust itself becomes a canvas for creativity, offering a plethora of options, from thin and crispy to thick and doughy. Speed and convenience often play a role, reflecting the dynamic pace of American life.

Ingredients: Italy’s Focus on Authenticity

In Italy, the mantra is quality over quantity. Italian pizzaioli meticulously curate their ingredients, sourcing locally grown produce and carefully selecting toppings that complement each other. The emphasis is on using authentic, fresh, and seasonal elements, transforming pizza into an exquisite culinary expression of the region’s flavors.

Meanwhile, in America, the approach to toppings knows no bounds. Pizzerias offer an array of choices, allowing patrons to customize their pies with a variety of creative and sometimes unconventional ingredients. While traditional options remain beloved, the American pizza scene thrives on diversity, enabling diners to tailor their pizzas to their taste.

Eating Habits: A Tale of Two Traditions

Eating habits around pizza diverge dramatically between Italy and America. In the United States, pizza often takes on a casual, on-the-go nature. Slices are often enjoyed by hand, sometimes even folded in half for easier consumption. The American dining experience might include sides and dipping sauces, enhancing the flavors to suit individual preferences.

Conversely, in Italy, pizza is a cherished communal affair that demands time and attention. Italians savor their pizzas with cutlery, relishing every bite as an artful ensemble of flavors. The idea of pineapple as a topping is met with bewilderment, as authenticity and tradition remain paramount. Saturdays often mark a dedicated pizza day, where friends and families gather to enjoy the meal in a relaxed, convivial setting. While customization is celebrated in many culinary realms, Italian pizza holds its ground as a masterpiece crafted by the hands of an expert chef – a work of art meant to be admired and savored just as it is.

How to Eat Pizza in Italy: 10 Rules

Based on the above, let’s recap how to eat pizza like an Italian and avoid the most frequent pizza mistakes.

1. Use cutlery, not your hands – it’s an Italian tradition.

2. Savor the flavors – no need for sides or dipping sauces.

3. Forget pineapple – it’s not a topping Italians enjoy.

4. Saturdays are for pizza – take your time with family and friends.

5. Choose from the chef’s creations – pizza is an art to be admired.

6. Relish each bite – it’s a leisurely experience, not fast food.

7. Embrace simplicity – fresh ingredients speak for themselves.

8. Respect the peperoni – in Italy, it’s bell peppers, not a spicy sausage.

9. Opt for beer – the perfect pizza pairing.

10. Order your own pizza, no sharing – it’s a personal delight.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, a mouthwatering journey through the world of Italian pizza that’s left us all craving a slice—or maybe a whole pizza! From the ancient origins that kneaded pizza into existence to the modern-day customs that turn each bite into a celebration, we’ve uncovered the customs, history, and culture that make up this beloved dish.

So, whether you find yourself in a bustling pizzeria in Naples or creating your culinary masterpiece at home, you now hold the knowledge to appreciate every aspect of pizza like a true connoisseur. As you savor each bite, remember the tales of tradition, the skilled hands that bring it to life, and the Italian sayings that capture its essence.

Now it’s time to gather your friends and family, set the table with a crisp cloth, and let the aroma of freshly baked pizza transport you to the heart of Italy. As you enjoy your pizza adventure, remember the age-old wisdom: “Non è mai troppo tardi per il gelato e non è mai troppo presto per la pizza.” After all, life is too short to miss out on the joy that a perfect slice of pizza brings. Buon appetito, and may your pizza journey continue to be as delightful as the first bite!

But hold on, the pizza journey doesn’t end here! If you’re hungry for more pizza knowledge, I have written another article all about Italian Pizza Types, from the classic ones to the lesser-known, but all “buonissime”. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Pizza in Italy

Yes, pizza is extremely popular in Italy, especially in Naples where it originated. Pizza is considered a culinary staple and has a long cultural history in Italy.

What are the pizza rules in Italy?

Some key pizza rules in Italy include: using high-quality ingredients like fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, even better if San Marzano tomatoes; not adding unusual toppings like pineapple; eating pizza with a fork and knife; not sharing pizzas at the table; and pairing it with beer rather than other beverages. 

Is it rude to leave pizza crusts in Italy?

It’s not necessarily rude, but it is uncommon. Italians tend to eat the entire pizza, including the crust, as part of the overall pizza experience. Leaving crusts uneaten would be seen as wasteful.

Do they eat pizza with a fork in Italy?

Yes, it’s customary in Italy to eat pizza with a fork and knife. This allows Italians to savor each bite and maintain the structural integrity of the pizza. Using hands is seen as less refined.

Do Italians put cheese on pizza?

Yes, cheese is a quintessential part of Italian pizza. Mozzarella is the most popular pizza cheese, though others like Parmesan, ricotta, or gorgonzola can be used too. An authentic Neapolitan pizza must use fresh mozzarella.

Is pizza eaten as a dinner in Italy?

Pizza is eaten at any time of day in Italy, but it’s especially popular for dinner, usually on weekends. Italians will often have a sit-down, leisurely pizza dinner with friends or family on Saturdays.

How do you order pizza in Italian?

To order pizza in Italian you would say “Vorrei una pizza…”, specifying the type of pizza you want. Common ones are “Margherita”, “Capricciosa”, “Quattro Stagioni”, etc. You can also customize by saying ingredients like “con funghi” (with mushrooms).

Do Italians put meat on pizza?

Yes, cured meats like prosciutto, salami, and pancetta are popular pizza toppings in Italy. They provide a salty, savory flavor contrast to the cheese and vegetables. Pepperoni is less common in Italy than in the US.

What do Italians drink with pizza?

In Italy, beer is the most popular beverage paired with pizza. Beer cleanses the palate and allows you to fully taste each bite.

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