Alright, so you’re (obviously) an American college kid, (obviously) out of your element, and (obviously) in a foreign country without a clue how to even ask for directions. Incidentally, you’re also starving. You stare around in agonized hunger, wondering how far away from your last known location you are and how much further you’ll have to walk to find a menu you can pronounce a few words of. Your belly makes awkward audible rumbles and you’re considering gnawing your left foot off since your feet are killing you anyway and then you see it! There in shining lights is the single word you could never have dared to ask for! Pizza. The only word in Italian that automatically triggers the pleasure center of the American college brain. The empty-fridge fallback, the midnight standard, the game-day staple, the cheap and delicious cure for day-before-payday, stay-at-home movie night blues. You walk inside, patting yourself on the back, stumble your way through an Italian greeting, and sit at a table. You find the pizza section of the menu, and your mouth falls open. Dozens of options! Most of them are so far from phonetically translatable Italian that you don’t even know where to start…
Don’t panic. Go with the margherita. It’s usually at the top of the list, and you’ll be able to translate at least two of the words in the description. These pizzas are simple, with some sort of amazing tomato sauce, some combination of chunks or slices of the best mozarella you’ve ever tasted, and a few leaves of fresh basil (and yeah, you’re supposed to eat the basil). I’ve had it at least four times in the two weeks I’ve been here, and each one is just a little different from the last, but I have not once been disappointed.
Well, now you’ve got your feet wet and can branch out a bit! Pizza bianca (white pizza) is a great snack: it’s just a half-inch thick bit of pizza crust—think pizza pie minus all the toppings. Sounds silly, but I swear they do something to the bread over here. It’ll be soft and a bit chewy, kind of buttery and really delicious. At some point I got brave and ordered something that had “foccaccia” and “salmone” in the same sentence: what came out was a big pizza crust drizzled with olive oil, and it had tender smoked salmon scattered artfully across the top. I’m not sure what I expected, but I loved it. If you’re out walking the streets (read: lost, again, and starving, again), just about every streetcorner has a pizza-by-the-slice shop with the most extraordinary concoctions: you’ll find sausage pizzas and plain pizzas with red sauce, but you’ll also find pizzas with broccoli florets, potato slices, grilled zucchini and eggplant, and any number of weird-looking toppings you can’t quite name (sorry guys, I haven’t found the pepperoni yet). As an added bonus, these places are usually pretty cheap, and you need basically no knowledge of the Italian language to order. The pies are all cooked up in long rectangles; just indicate with the spread of your hands how big of a hunk you want, they weigh it, heat it up, and give you a receipt with the price on it. You pay at the register and you’re free to eat on the run, as you attempt to relocate the nearest recognizable road.