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The Great Pizza Debate: Naples vs. Rome

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TPG Contributor Lori Zaino has graciously packed on the pounds sampling pizza in Rome and Naples — for research purposes, of course. (All photos are by the author.)

Italy is home to what may be the world’s most beloved comfort food: pizza! Naples is known for having some of the best in the world, but many argue that the title belongs to Rome instead. And so the debate rages on: who has the best pizza, Naples or Rome? (Warning: You might not want to read this on an empty stomach.)

The Case for Naples

Neapolitan pizza is the most traditional and the people here take the whole thing very seriously. There’s even a “pizza police,” the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, that certifies pizzerias and gives them the official OK to make authentic Neapolitan pizza. If a pizzeria doesn’t adhere to certain strict guidelines, it won’t be able to call their pizza Neapolitan.

Pizza from Di Matteo in Naples.
Pizza from Di Matteo in Naples.

The requirements are quite extensive, including the consistency of the finished product (soft, elastic and easy to fold), the use of certain fresh tomatoes and, of course, only using certified mozzarella di bufala cheese, among other stipulations. The dough is set to rise at room temperature and is typically used the same day, while the pizza itself is cooked in a wood-fired brick oven. Temperatures inside the oven are extremely hot, at least 800°F, meaning each pizza only needs a minute or so to cook — take that, American fast food!

Pizza in Naples is typically very light and thin, with chewy crust and simple ingredients so you can really taste the freshness of it all. The classic Margherita pizza is one of the most popular, and its ingredients — tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil — represent the colors of the Italian flag: red, white and green. As the story goes, Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito created a special pizza for Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of King Umberto I, who visited Naples in 1889, just 28 years after the unification of Italy. It’s been a favorite pizza style ever since.

Four seasons pizza in Naples.
There’s nothing like the pizza in Naples.

Go To: Di Matteo, a no-frills spot filled with locals, the ivy-covered Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo, or Pizzeria Starita, where Sophia Loren once prepared Montanara Starita, its famous fried pizza, in the film L’oro di Napoli.

The Case for Rome

Roman pizza, on the other hand, is a whole other animal. Many places sell it by the slice for lunch in a rectangular shape, while you can get a whole pie for dinner.

Pizza with zucchini in Rome.
Pizza with zucchini in Rome.

The pizza in Rome doesn’t need to follow a stringent set of rules — it’s slightly more difficult to classify. Generally, the crust is thin-to-medium and tends to be crunchier than the pizza in Naples. Roman-style dough is typically left to rise for about three or four days, then baked at 500°F-600°F — much cooler than the temperature in which Neapolitan pizza is cooked.

A popular pizza style you’ll find here is pizza bianca, or white pizza, which has no tomato sauce and is often doused with oil just after it leaves the oven. Popular toppings include mushrooms, garlic, olives, prosciutto and anchovies. Yum!

White pizza with toppings.
White pizza + toppings = delicious.

Go To: Pizzeria IVO in Trastevere is a favorite among the locals, as is Pizzarium Bonci, recommended by TPG Contributor Christine Cantera, who discovered the spot while living in Rome. Li Rioni a Santiquattro is the spot to hit after a long day of touring the Colosseum — don’t forget to order fried rice balls, or arancini de riso, as an appetizer.

Pizza with rucula, parmesano and bresaola at Pizzeria IVO in Rome.
Pizza with arugula, parmesan and bresaola at Pizzeria IVO in Rome.

So, Which Style Is Better?

As a true pizza-lover, I certainly don’t discriminate — I love them all! We want to know which one you think is best, so weigh in with your own opinion in the comments section, below.

Either Way, Here’s How to Order

If you are hoping for America-style pepperoni meat on your pizza, beware of ordering peperoni in Italy, as it really means peppers. Salsiccia actually means sliced sausage, and usually the Diavola-style pizza will give you a spicier sausage. If you want red pepper flakes on your pizza, order peperoncino or olio di peperoncino (spicy oil).

A Final Tip

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Prestige cards never charge foreign transaction fees, making them ideal to use on vacations in foreign countries like Italy. Check out this article for more fee-free credit card options.

What do you think: Is the pizza better in Rome or Naples? Sound off below!

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