When you think of Italy, you think of pizza right? Many times we’ve arrived in an Italian city after an early flight or tedious airport transfer, really, really hungry. A quick bit of research on the best pizzerias within walking distance, a stop at our accommodation to dump our bags, and we’re heading straight out for a delicious pizza and glass of wine – the first stop of the trip.
Well, a little known fact amongst tourists who visit the more popular and busy Italian locations is that pizza should never be eaten for lunch in Italy. If you find a restaurant that is serving it before the sun goes down, it probably isn’t going to be the best pizza you’ve had – certainly not the best pizza Italy has to offer.
We have had pizza for lunch in some of the bigger Italian cities before we knew any better, like Rome and Venice. They have to bend to the demands of tourists, but it’s only recently when we’ve started visiting locations off the usual tourist lists – like Frascati and Pescara, whose pizzerias flat out refuse to serve pizza in the day – have we discovered that no restaurant in Italy worth eating in serves pizza for lunch. We’ve been left bemused sitting down in the early afternoon, in a well-researched pizzeria, with 10 pages of pizza options on the menu, only to be told ‘No, pizza isn’t available for lunch’. Wait, but we’re in a pizzeria…?
So, why shouldn’t you eat pizza for lunch in Italy?
Outside of Italy, we’re all used to eating pizza around the clock – for lunch, for dinner, at 2am after a night out – but Italians have higher food standards and refuse to eat pizza at just any time of day!
There are three main reasons for this is. According to Italian tradition,
- Pizza must never be frozen – it must be made fresh to order
- Pizza must be cooked by a ‘pizzaiolo’ – a pizza expert, not just any old chef
- Pizza must always, always be cooked in a wood burning oven
A wood-burning pizza oven takes a long time (all day) to get to the best temperature for cooking pizza (around 480º C), so before about 8:30pm, it just isn’t possible get a well-cooked pizza using this method. The oven needs to heat up throughout the day to reach this perfect pizza cooking temperature, so attempting to cook in it for lunch is just waste of time and effort. This is also why many pizzerias stay open late, as their real shift starts about 9pm.
The perfect pizza can’t just be knocked up at home either – very few domestic kitchens anywhere in the world have wood burning ovens that reach 480º C, so going out for a pizza in Italy is a long, social, evening affair, when people don’t have jobs to go back to in the afternoon, where they can stay late with friends and eat in a laid back atmosphere.
So, when you’re in Italy, stick with tradition and don’t expect a pizza for lunch, or if you see any on offer, don’t settle for an average one, save it for dinner – I promise it’ll be worth the wait!