You’ve been waiting for this post, haven’t you?
Well, let’s get to it. Let’s talk pizza.
On my prior trip to Italy, I had outstanding pizza in Florence (Firenze) and Naples (Napoli). In fact, one of my main reasons for selecting Rome as a place to live is that it’s close to Napoli and the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life. But I’ll write about that later.
Roman pizza differs greatly from the well-known pizza Napolitana and doesn’t get the fanfare it deserves. Some of the best Roman pizza is al taglio, or “by the slice”, with a crunchy, foccacia-like crust. On my first trip to Rome, I saw this pizza everywhere, particularly around the main tourist sites, but I never tried it. I have traveled enough to know if a restaurant is near a major tourist attraction and the signage is in English, it’s best to keep moving.
Now that I’m in Rome for three months, I was determined to have a mind-blowing Roman pizza experience. And I found it in Pizzarium, a tiny stall-like pizza shop tucked away behind the Vatican on Via della Meloria.
I arrived at around 3:30 yesterday afternoon, a good time to go as it’s between the lunch and dinner rush, and I was rewarded with a rather short line. The counter was brimming with colorful pizzas, and the chalkboard behind the counter displayed a long list of that day’s suppli – fried rice balls containing a variety of ingredients. As I approached the line, I asked which pizza was the most popular, and the friendly, multi-lingual staffer pointed out a white potato pizza. I was crestfallen. It looked so bland, sitting next to a slice decorated with what appeared to be edible flowers. But when an Italian gives you a food recommendation, you don’t question it. I selected that one, along with a pizza covered in fresh tomatoes. Flavors here can get pretty exotic (think foie gras), but for a Pizzarium virgin, I opted for basic on my first try.
Pizzas are priced by both type and weight. Each pizza is baked in a rectangular tray, and then you specify the size of slice that you want, and they cut it with scissors, weigh it, add it up, and give you a receipt, which you take to the register to pay. They then heat your slices and call you when ready. They have a pretty eclectic beer selection too. This is not a sit-down place, so the entryway is full of customers sitting on the curb or at one of two tiny counters, munching away. I lucked out and found some counter space to enjoy my tray of pizza.
The potato pizza was the star of my meal. Holy *#&%. The crust was think and crunchy, yet light and airy. The potato was a smooth puree, the top a thin crisp layer of cheese, deliciously charred in a few spots. Crunchy, smooth, crunchy. Every layer of flavor blending into the next. As with so many other Italian food experiences, it blew my mind how something so simple could be so extraordinary.
The tomatoes on the other pizza were so deliciously sweet and refreshing. I relished biting into the crust and seeing a handful of these little gems fall back onto the tray, where I could scoop them up with my fingers.
Mission accomplished. Mind blown. I just might go back today.
And if you don’t believe me, here’s what Anthony Bourdain had to say during his Rome episode of his show The Layover.