When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie….that’s amore!
There’s a reason that song about amore highlights the big pizza pie. It’s the same reason that those who have ever tried one of those pies at an Italian pizzeria will most likely continue to gush about it for the rest of their lives. We at Select Italy are no different – each of us holds dear the memory of our first Italian pizza, whether it be during our childhood growing up in the Bel Paese or the first time we as grown visitors had the pleasure of trying our first bite. Although words are often not enough to describe the joy of eating your first Italian pizza pie, we’ve done our best below to put it down on paper, and want to hear your stories, too!
I’m thinking about this blog post like I am undertaking a step program: I must relive my first time eating the most delicious food created my humans, and then somehow not go out immediately and find said thing (which would normally be the next step for me, but since I foolishly cast off the chains of pizza for 2 weeks, I must suffer this memory for 7 more days… 6, if you count this day as being over already, which I do). I most assuredly had pizza in Italy when I visited in high school for a beatification ceremony, but that entire week is hazed over by organized meals and lengthy sermons, that I don’t count it.
The first time I really HAD pizza in Italy was when I lived in Rome as a student. I was new to the city, in Campo dei Fiori, and I was hungry – not enough to convince a new friend to go find food with me, or trek all the way back to my apartment to have a real meal, but still, enough. Then I look up and see the words “Pizza a Taglio.” My Italian was passable enough to figure out the meaning of the sign, if I had thought about it more than the 5 seconds it took me to walk through the doorway – I honestly saw the word “pizza” and moved at the same time. There, like the finest of jewelry shops, were pans and pans of golden pizza behind glass partitions.
There was every type of pizza I could imagine (and some I hadn’t even dreamed of!): cheese, onion, potato, spinach, sausage and broccoli – and all I had to do was point and it was mine! In what seemed mere moments, my selection was heated up in the oven, wrapped in parchment paper (with the cheese facing, like a sandwich), and handed to me. I sat in that piazza ingesting pure ambrosia, already planning the next time I would come back to get some more, but certainly not thinking that I was having a life-changing meal. Incidentally, the first time I had pizza in Italy was the first time I cried in public in Italy, because as I made my way home that night, I realized that there was a “Pizza a Taglio” on almost every street in Rome, and my happiness could not be contained.
Describing my first pizza is like asking to remember the day I was born. Impossible!
What I do remember though is that as a kid, the most popular pizza among our group of friends was the “Americana,” which basically is a pizza margherita topped with French fries. I recall our parents giving us a “bad look” for ordering such a monstrosity; who could have thought that a simple pizza could have represented so effectively the generation gap? But - let’s be honest – nothing is simple when it comes to Italians and food. After this “rebellious stage,” my taste buds became more sophisticated and the grilled vegetable thin-crust pizza earned a soft spot in my heart. My round-shaped memories (yes, the only pizza I know is round, pizza by the slice is a concept I don’t understand) bring me back to my Sunday nights when my family and I used to pick up our pizza from our local, trusted pizzeria. Sunday, after all, is a day of rest and the weekend is too short to spend the last precious moments of it behind the kitchen stove and all the mamme have the right to enjoy a well-deserved time off.
So although, I’m pretty sure my first pizza was probably a margherita mignon (a kid-friendly size of a margherita), my real experience with this dish goes back to every pizza I shared with family and friends, after all the fondest memories are made when gathered around the table. And every bite shared can be considered to be the the first, as it relates to a unique moment.
The first time I ate pizza in Italy was the same moment I discovered pizza a taglio and even better, Potatoes on Pizza. I went for a three-week exchange program in high school with a group. Our hosts were the families of students we had likewise hosted in the fall. They crammed as much Italian culture into those three weeks as possible. Toward the end of our visit, while shopping in the San Lorenzo Market for souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home, the late afternoon hunger overcame us. Prior to collapsing in the midst of a cash transaction, our Italian hosts shuffled us behind a few of the market stalls to a “pizza by the slice” joint.
Unlike back in Oak Park, IL where the slices were just a typical triangular slice, from the typical round pizza, in Italy we were able to choose from large sheets of pizza. Not only could we choose from a wide variety of toppings, we could select how big a rectangular slice we wanted as it was all priced by weight in the end. They had the standard sausage or pepperoni we were familiar with but they also had bell pepper pizza, margherita, ham and cheese pizza, and half a dozen other “flavors.” My favorite, of course, and the one I would dream about in subsequent years, was the “white” (no red sauce or tomatoes) potato, herb, and cheese pizza. This was heaven for me, combining two of my favorite foods into one tantalizing series of bites. This discovery was made in the last few days of our tour, but we still managed to go back a couple more times.
When I returned a couple years later and then two years after that, it was one of the first meals of the trip each time. After a few years of living in Italy, the novelty wore off a bit, but the fond memories of early discoveries periodically drew me back for a quick bite.
Now it’s your turn! How was your first pizza experience?
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