Some like it thin, some like drenched in sauce. Pepperoni, egg, anchovies, fuck the anchovies, more cheese, no cheese at all! When it comes to the topic of pizza, especially in the holy mecca of this legendary cuisine, everybody seems to have an opinion. But one question has always been at the back of our head was, "Is pizza really better in Italy?"
As a country almost 6,000 miles away from Italy, Singapore has no shortage of pizzas. Thin crust, deep dish, even sweet ones, we've tried it all. Going to Italy felt almost like a pilgrimage. It was our search for the holy grail, the elusive 'authentic' pizza, the way the eternal city enjoyed it hundreds of years ago.
Our search for the real Italian pizza experience started at Bonci. We stumbled into Bonci through an episode of F*ck That's Delicious. Hosted by Action Bronson (who was high as a kite throughout the whole episode), the crew members explored Bonci as one of the pizzariums they visited and and not gonna lie that shit looks dope.
Cool dudes of F*ck That's Delicious (image by VICE)
We were romanced, of course, by the generous portions of ingredients that goes on the pizza. But what sealed the deal for us was the sheer amount of options that Bonci offers. Who knew pizza could have so many different toppings on top? Our pizza dictionary instantly increased in vocabulary. Pomodoro, goat cheese ricotta, eggplants, every ingredient looks juicier than the last.
Founded by Gabriele Bonci, dubbed the 'Michelangelo of Pizza' by US Vogue, the pizzarium was by no means a traditional establishment. It wasn't your regular Neopolitan pizza. Legend has it that Gabriele founded over 1,000 flavours for his pizzarium within a span of one year alone. Upon our first bite, there was no doubting the man's genius. It was as if Gabriele took deconstructed the essence of pizza itself and reconstructed it into something new. The crust of the pizza was thick, yet crispy. Filled with perfectly formed air bubbles that can only come from being nestled in the wood fire ovens for the perfect amount of time.
We ordered the Cheese and Potato Pizza as well the Anchovies and Rocket Pizza. How do we know how to order? We didn't. We simply pointed at the one that catch our eyes and ate it, like a pizza Russian Roulette. Not to sound like a bunch of fan girls, but we were so impressed by both that we couldn't stop talking about it.
Potato and cheese on a pizza, potato and cheese ! How is it possible for these two extremely basic ingredients possibly be so mind blowing. There were onions of course, but our minds were racing, trying to work around the complexity of these incredibly simple ingredients. When I took a bite of the Anchovies and Rocket pizza, I didn't even know what I was eating, but my God, it was wonderful. Salty, but fresh, completely balanced by the cheese and the crust. What is this? I looked through the receipt, my other hand trying to translate it on Google. "Anchovies" it said, I don't even like anchovies but I love this!
By chance (or fate?) in search of the perfect porchetta, we ended up in Bonci again (Panificio Bonci this time) and without thinking twice we ordered the tomato (pomodoro) based pizza and the eggplant pizza. Once again the master did not disappoint. How good can a tomato pizza be? Well I'll tell you, it was amazing. Combined with the right sauce, crispy but not too thin of a base, and a process that respected the ingredients, your regular tomato based pizza was elevated from a cardboard slathered with tomato sauce into an experience. The eggplant pizza was amazing, but not my favourite. My mind was still reeling from that potato and cheese pizza.
Italian pizza are as diverse as the Italian people themselves however, no two are truly alike. Our trip around the corner of our AirBnB proved fruitful and we found yet another version of the pomodoro pizza. Not quite like the ones we saw on youtube videos (which we assume are Neopolitan pizzas), they are rounded rectangular in shape, and had a different dough texture. While this is amazingly good as well, they could hardly surpass the ones that we tasted in Pizzarium Bonci.
Our trip to Florence and Capri, brought us to a different kind of pizza adventure. Pizza as a food is the single definition of what street food should be, simple, delicious, and affordable. But most of all it was inventive, it was the same concept but different. Every permutations carries the essence of a delicious pizza, the dough, the sauce, and the topping, and each place creates something completely new.
Anybody who have watched Parks and Recreation before must have heard of Calzone. Originated in Naples, Calzones are known as salted bread dough, stuffed with salami or ham and mozzarella (different regions have different fillings) it looks like a folded pizza. Legend has it that Calzones makes for better delivery items since they are able to retain the heat longer while the food is being delivered.
So on our last night in Capri, when we spotted Calzone on the menu we decided to order one. When the order arrive, the Calzone was everything we expected and more. Ok, first off, it looks like folded pizza which I guess it pretty much is. The taste and mouthfeel of the calzone is also very close to what a regular neapolitan pizza is like.
However to be honest, other than that it was nothing special. I would still much prefer eating pizza compare to eating calzones. Maybe I should've had more calzones so that I can compare? Probably. But upon first impression I wasn't really sold on it.
Stepping into Mercato Centralo was like stepping into a high end street food market. The price was on the high side for my taste, but the foods were pleasantly diverse that it almost makes up for it. As we stalked around the market, strategizing on what dishes we should order, we stumbled into Trapizzino Testaccio.
Cool dudes of F*ck That's Delicious (image by VICE)
"Oh my god!" I almost shouted "this is also if F*ck That's Delicious" (I guess at this point in time, one can safely assume that I get all of my food inspirations from TV shows). Trapizzino originates in Rome, which has recently seen a surge of street food growth like never before. Though Italy is known to have many food items that are portable, delicious, and one can take small bites from such as paninis and pizza (also known as cibo da strada), recent movement to rebrand and bring back tradional street food has been on the rise. The name Trapizzino is a play on two words, one means sandwich and the other means, well, pizza.
The name , I thought, explains perfectly what the pizza is all about. The exterior of the pizza is thick and pleasantly crunchy. Think OG Pizza Hut crust when you were young and it still had quality. Biting into the crust reminds you of a warm sandwich, with bread fresh out of the oven. Take another bite and it is now mixed with the filling in the centre, and that's when it hits you. This shit is amazing. We ordered the Pollo alla Cacciatora, solely because the others had a 10 minutes waiting time and we were hungry. The chicken was cooked in a roast, perfectly basted with rosemary, garlic, and salt.
So is pizza really better in Italy?
I think so. I feel that much like eating sushi in countries other than Japan, there's nothing quite like eating pizza in Italy. It's wonderful to see that ever since it's very early conception, the dish has metamorphosed into so many wonderful creations. Whether you're young, old, rich or poor (or at least under a very tight culinary budget) there's a pizza out there with your name on it.
Where to get the grubs?
Italy, Rome, Via della Meloria, 43, 00136
Italy, Rome, Via Trionfale, 36, 00195
Gemme Di Pane:
Italy, Rome, Via Aurelia, 48, 00165 Roma, Italy
Italy, Florence, Mercato Centralo, Via dell'Ariento, 50123