How to Eat Pizza in Italy: 12 Tips to Make Your Experience Memorable

Steve Cummings

Woman eating Pizza

When in Rome, as the saying goes, do as the Romans do. If you visit Italy, try some authentic Italian pizza. Thanks to the United States taking pizza and creating its own version, there are many misunderstandings surrounding one of the most famous types of food from Italy. Before you go and potentially make a faux pas, take a look at this guide, which is all about how to eat pizza in Italy like the locals. 

Although some of our tips may surprise you, you will be glad you knew them before arrival.

1. Knife and Fork Rather Than Hands

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So, first things first, how to eat pizza correctly in Italy? Many of you will read this and shout, “With your hands, of course.” While this is not entirely inaccurate, it depends on the region and the type of establishment you are in. For instance, if you are in a fine dining style restaurant and have a sit-down meal, it is better to use a knife and fork when eating pizza.

Generally speaking, there are two main options for ordering pizza—a full round that you order for each person that comes uncut or by the slice, which you can usually take away and eat with your hands. If you are unsure, do as the others sitting around you do. While no Italian restaurant will cross you if you eat pizza with your hands, you may look a little silly. 

2. Always Look for a Pizzeria with a Wood-Fired Oven

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Regarding the history of pizza in Italy: Naples is the place that produces the best pizza, and Pizza Napoletana, or Neapolitan pizza in English, is the type of pizza you should aim to try. However, not all pizza is equal, and if you come across an eatery that does not use a wood-fired oven to cook their pizza, you should avoid it, as it is not likely to be good.

This is why you will find that if you visit Venice, you can only get a decent pizza from a few restaurants because wood-fired ovens are banned there.

It is also worth staying away from many of the restaurants in the busy parts of cities where all the tourists frequent, as they are more than likely tourist traps rather than great dining experiences. To find better cafes, pizzerias, and restaurants, you need to go down the alleyways and smaller back streets, where you will find the places where locals eat. 

3. Don't Expect Pineapple or Chicken on Pizza

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Many people will have a hard time dealing with this tip, but like it or not, I agree with it; pineapple and chicken are never used as toppings on pizza in Italy. Is it illegal to put pineapple on pizza in Italy? No, of course not. Rumors have passed that there is a ban, but that's not true. Pineapple on pizza is simply not something you will find in Italy. 

Pineapple is seen as impractical as a topping to most Italians and pizzaiolos. Similarly, while chicken is eaten a lot throughout Italy in many different ways, contrary to what you may find in the average American diner or pizzeria, chicken is never put on pizza in Italy. 

4. You Don't Choose Your Own Individual Toppings

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Another thing you need to know is that when you order authentic Italian pizza, you will not be given the option to choose your toppings. Instead, the menu will include a selection of pizzas with specific topping combinations. 

You will find options like Pizza Margherita, the most traditional in Italy, topped with beautiful San Marzano tomatoes, creamy, chewy mozzarella di bufala, olive oil, and basil. It is simple and delicious.

Another standard option is Pizza Marinara, a pizza base with tomato sauce, olive oil, oregano, and garlic. 

There are lots of other choices, depending on the region and the particular pizzeria you dine at, but the above gives you an idea of what to expect. 

5. Many Different Styles of Pizza

Unlike in American pizzerias, where you have many different options for the base, things are done a little differently in Italy. The size of the pizza round and the kind of base all depend on the style of pizza you choose or the type of pizza prepared in a particular place. That is how pizza is made in Italy. There is no deep pan, no thin crust. Instead, you usually can choose between some of the following:

  • Pizza Napoletana is considered the best style of pizza, and it's the one that most pizzerias across the country, even outside of its city of origin, Naples, try to emulate. This includes a chewy, thin crust with edges that rise a little. It cooks quickly in around 90 seconds. 
  • Sfincione, otherwise known as Sicilian-style pizza, originates from Palermo, where it is a hugely popular street food. This has a very thick crust and is topped with lots of tomato sauce, olive oil, pecorino cheese, onions, and anchovies. 
  • Pizza alla Romana originates, as you may have guessed, from Rome but is available elsewhere. It is a round pizza on a round plate with a thin crust without the raised edges of a Neapolitan pizza. Extra oil in the dough gives it more bite and crispness. 
  • Pizza al Padellino is “pan pizza,” baked in small, round pans. It originates from Turin, the capital city of the Piedmont region. This is the closest thing you will find in Italy to a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza. 
  • Pizza alla Pala translates as paddle pizza, usually served on a paddle. It is made from a stretched dough with a much higher rise and is the only one on our list cooked traditionally in an electric oven. 
  • Pizza Fritta is fried pizza or another common pizza dish from Naples. The name is self-explanatory, as it is a pizza with fried dough and a coating of traditional pizza toppings. 

6. Mozzarella – The Best for Authentic Italian Pizza

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Italy is just as famous for its stunning variety of cheeses as it is for its wine and food. However, many of the cheeses in Italy need to be pretty, too. In terms of flavor and texture, mozzarella is the best cheese for authentic Italian pizza. If you are having a cheese pizza, you should have one with mozzarella. Provolone and other stretched-curd-style cheeses will often be used, but in combination with mozzarella to add to its distinctive flavor. 

I'm sorry, but there won't be American cheese on any pizza you order in Italy. But it will taste so much better for it. 

7. Drink Beer, Not Wine, with Pizza

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With most classic Italian dishes, you would order a bottle or glass of wine as the drink unless you were drinking mineral water or soda water. However, with pizza, Italians tend to drink beer. Peroni is the most popular brand, but if you want to save a little bit and buy something more local, you can ask for birra alla spina (beer on tap) unless you know any of the brands. 

It would seem that notwithstanding all the changes and variations we Americans have made to pizza traditions, the old “pizza and beers” thing is entirely accurate. While you won't get into trouble ordering wine with pizza, it's not the done thing. 

8. Pizzerias Usually Have Extended Opening Hours

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One thing you need to be aware of when dining out in Italy is that restaurants around the country are notorious for having restricted opening hours. For example, most eateries are open between 7 and 10.30 pm and do not open earlier. So you won't be able to sit down and have Italian main dishes until later than you would expect back home.

On the other hand, pizzerias are different in that they usually have more extended open times. They will often be open much earlier than other restaurants and eateries and stay open much later into the night.

Therefore, pizza is an ideal option if you find it difficult to get used to the strange opening times and want something to eat earlier. 

9. Use a Translation App When You Order Authentic Italian Pizza

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It's a good idea to avoid many tourist-heavy places, as more often than not, these places do not sell the best examples of authentic Italian pizza. However, avoiding the more touristy areas makes you more likely to find no translations for the menu items. That is why you must invest in a regularly updated translation app. Although your Italian will undoubtedly improve the more you use it during your visit, it will take a lot of work to memorize each pizza topping combination, so make sure your phone is with you. 

The last thing you want to do is make a mistake and pay for a pizza with your least favorite toppings because you got the pronunciation wrong or picked the bad thing on the menu. You can also ask one of the staff members, but they may not speak English very well, especially if you are dining away from the more tourist-heavy places. 

10. Pizza Is Surprisingly Affordable

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You may be used to spending quite a lot of money, especially in a sit-down restaurant for pizza. However, if you are wondering about the cost of pizza in Italy, inexpensive pizza would be an accurate answer. Although it will depend on the region and the place you decide to eat, the average pizza for one person is around the same price as a basic pasta dish, so not too expensive at all. This means you can enjoy a good meal without breaking the bank and still get an authentic Italian pizza experience. 

If you are on the go, plenty of places serve pizza al taglio if you want to avoid sitting down and having a full round or want to eat while you explore. 

11. Give Pizza Bianca a Try. You Won't Regret It!

What if you are not interested in a pizza with tomato sauce or just fancy something different? Don't worry; Pizza Bianca is an excellent alternative to authentic Italian pizza rosso (red pizza with tomato sauce). Although not considered quite traditional, pizza Bianca will be an option on most menus, featuring pesto or cream as a base rather than tomato sauce. 

12. Naples is Home to the Best Pizza

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This is an almost undisputed fact – the best pizza in Italy is in Naples. So, to set your tastebuds alight with delight, you need to head to Napoli. However, given that there are great pizzerias throughout the country, you don't have to worry if you go nowhere near Naples on your trip to Italy. 

Final Thoughts

If you started reading this article thinking it may be a waste of time, we hope we have proved you wrong and shown that there are a lot of quirks related to how pizza is made in Italy and how it is eaten in its home country compared to elsewhere in the world. Many things we have discussed are not hard and fast rules. But if you want to eat like a local and not stand out like a sore thumb (Who does want to stand out like a sore thumb in a foreign country?), it is best to familiarize yourself with the peculiarities of pizza done the Italian way.

Not only are there specifics about how to order pizza, but there are specifics about the type of pizza you can get in Italy. If you have any doubts, you can ask someone. Or if you feel too embarrassed and self-conscious to do so, you could try to copy what the locals around you are doing when they order pizza. 

Are there tips for eating and ordering pizza in Italy that we may have missed? If so, please let us know in the comments section below.

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