A Pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Pizza

Sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Line

Equal parts gooey and crisp, saucy and savory, pizza is the perfect food. And it has held that title for a substantial amount of time, dating all the way back to the Neolithic age. While it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like pizza, it’s (very) easy to discover an opinion on what regional variation is the best. The New York slice. The Chicago deep dish. The California flatbread and Detroit-style pan pizza all come to mind, and all have staunch supporters and defenders. Think of it like sports teams, but way more delicious.

No matter the home team, any pizza-appreciator will concede there’s one place that takes the dish more seriously than anyone else: Italy. The birthplace of modern pizza as we know it, no foodie’s bucket list is complete without trying an authentic Italian pizza. There’s just one hang-up—the regional debate is raging even fiercer in Italy!

While the only way to know for certain what’s the most delicious Italian pizza is to try them all (a wonderful problem to have), it helps to have a game plan heading into it. Here are a few places to start your pilgrimage to pizza’s holy land.

italian pizza

Naples

Naples is the heart of the Italian pizza origin story. When tomatoes were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, it was a common belief that they were poisonous. Fast forward to the late 18th century, and much of Naples’ poorer communities were applying tomato to their flatbreads. The rest of the world quickly noticed, and pizza became a point of tourism to the city—a fact that still stands to date.

Pizza Napoletana (Neapolitan pizza) today is both simple in its composition, and strikingly specific. The two primary ingredients are tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. But, the tomatoes must be either San Marzano tomatoes or Roma tomatoes to be classified as authentic Neapolitan, just as the mozzarella must be from the milk of water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio. The dough must consist of pastry or all-purpose wheat flour, natural Neapolitan yeast or brewer’s yeast, salt and water. The dough must be kneaded by hand or a low-speed mixer. After rising, the dough then must be formed by hand, and must not be thicker than three millimeters. The pizza then must be baked for 60 to 90 seconds in a 905-degree Fahrenheit wood-fire oven. If it checks off all of these requirements, it achieves the formal designation of “Official” from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (The True Neapolitan Pizza Association, or AVPN). Simple!

From here, there are only two “true” variations of pizza: the marinara (tomato, oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil) and the margherita (basil, mozzarella and tomatoes). These three combinations of ingredients make up the doctrine for much of the country’s pizza purists, and anything else is generally considered heresy. Whichever variation you order, expect the dough to be soft and elastic, the outer rim of the crust to have bubbled and charred and the toppings to combine for an utterly savory experience.

While in Naples, it’s honestly harder to find a bad pizza than a good one. But, two venues will likely pop up the most when asking locals where specifically you should eat. The first is Di Matteo, a local-favorite pizzeria that’s renowned for no-frills and a flavorful pizza fritta (Neapolitan fried pizza with ricotta and provola cheese). The second would be L’Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba. Established in 1738 as a stand before converting to a restaurant in 1830, it’s widely respected as the world’s first pizzeria. Today, it’s a cathedral to pizza purists.

Sicily

A common misconception is that Pizza Siciliana is defined solely by its square shape, but the true meaning of Sicilian pizza lies more so in the composition of its ingredients and links to local culture (though a very common trend amongst all is thick crust, blurring the line between it and focaccia). Therefore, there are variations to the Sicilian pizza by the regions of Sicily, further dividing the definition of what is “Sicilian Pizza:”

  • Sfincione originated in the province of Palermo and is the more common variety of Sicilian pizza. Rectangular, thick dough comprises the crust (the translation of Sfincione is “thick sponge”), with a hearty helping of sauce and toppings piled on top—usually strong cheeses, onions and anchovies.
  • Pizzòlu comes from the province of Siracusa and is a round, stuffed pizza. Imagine the crust that you’d expect on the bottom of the pizza also on top—looking like a cross between a pizza and a sandwich.
  • Scacciata is made potentially two different ways if you’re visiting Catania. A layer of dough is always the base, but it’ll either be covered with local cheese and anchovies or potatoes, sausages, broccoli and tomato sauce. With either variation, it’s then covered with a second layer of dough that’s brushed with eggs.
  • Pizza Siciliana in Catania is actually a calzone stuffed with cheese and anchovies. Different, but still delicious!
  • Piduni is a type of calzone found in Messina. Inside you’ll find toma cheese, tomato, anchovies and endive.
  • Focaccia alla messinese is a more traditional-looking pizza, covered with tomato sauce, toma cheese, vegetables and anchovies.

Suffice to say: if you’re visiting Sicily, you have options when it comes to trying Sicilian pizza. Happy hunting!

italian pizza

Rome

Pizza romana is the wild west of Italian pizza: very few set rules. There’s a wide range of pizza doughs in play, and many various toppings to choose from usually. The one steadfast rule to the definition of Roman pizza has traditionally been a crust that is strikingly thin and crisp: a single slice held by the curve will not sag at the point.

Of the many pizzerias Rome harbors, one well worth your consideration is Ai Marmi. While its official name is Panattoni, locals know it as Ai Marmi for its marble counters (which subsequently earned it a third nickname with the locals—L’Obitorio, or “the Morgue”). The ambiance inside is bustling:  Packed cafeteria-style seating is the norm, as both locals and visitors eagerly await a few slices of that satisfying crunch. A prominent favorite of this pizzeria is the salsiccia e fior di zucca, comprised of zucchini flowers and pork sausage.

Is your mouth watering at the idea of scouring the Italian countryside for all the best samples of this delectable dish? Talk to one of our travel agents about starting your Italian pizza pilgrimage. Their professional expertise, immense knowledge and working relationships with leading cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line make them the perfect place to begin turning your dreams into a reality.