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Italy’s the home of the pizza, right? And what could be more simple than buying a slice of this ambrosia?

Well, like everything in Italy, not only is it slightly different to how it is at home, it’s also a little bit more complicated. Here we explain how to get what you want: a delicious slice of authentic pizza.

Left-to-right: zucchini flower; ham; zucchini and tomato; and buffalo mozzarella pizza slices

Left-to-right: zucchini flower; ham; zucchini and tomato; and buffalo mozzarella pizza slices

What is pizza?

That’s a weird question – I mean, pizza’s pizza the world over, isn’t it?

Well in the birthplace of pizza, not quite: ‘pizza’ actually refers to the bread. White pizza, pizza bianca, is actually just a slice of pizza bread with nothing on it, maybe a bit of salt and maybe some herbs – a bit like focaccia bread. Also you may see signs for things like pizza prosciutto e fichi – ham and fig pizza. This isn’t a pizza, it’s a sandwich made with pizza bianca bread cut in half and the fillings stuffed inside (and delicious it is too). There’s even an Easter cake that’s called ‘pizza’.

So if you’re thinking of the hot food with the soft, doughy base, seasoned tomato sauce with oregano, topped with cheese and a variety of toppings (by the way, in Italy peperoni with one P in the middle are actually bell peppers, while the spicy sausage with two Ps that you might be expecting is called salsiccia piccante), yes something similar is available in Italy, but it’s only one of a bewildering array of unfamiliar beasts.

Pizzerie (pizzerias) come in two varieties: one a traditional sit-down restaurant, and the one we’re dealing with in this article, which will have a sign saying Pizza al Taglio (‘Pizza by the slice’) which produces cooked pizza slices to go. In these stores you’ll see big rectangular slabs of pizza with no tomato sauce, or with tomato sauce and no cheese, or with nothing but olives, and many more varieties. There’s also a lot more fresh, uncooked stuff on top of them, added after cooking: arugula, cherry tomatoes, etc. Note that most of these latter varieties are designed to be eaten cold.

How much is a slice of pizza?

We genuinely can’t tell you – because a slice is as big or as small as you want it, and pizza is sold by weight. The price labels you will see are per kilogram (2.2 lbs). Just point to the slab you want and use your hands to indicate how big you want your slice. Then the pizzaiolo will weigh it and give you a ticket with the price on it.

Our friendly local pizzaiolo cutting a slice

Our friendly local pizzaiolo cutting a slice

We just went and bought two slices – for research only, of course – and they cost us €4.20. The price-per-kilo was listed as €16.

Pizzaiola weighing the goods

Pizzaiola weighing the goods

Usually at this point the pizzaiolo will put it back in the oven to warm it up (‘do you want it warmed up?’ is usually said as ‘scaldo?’). If there’s salad or fresh buffalo mozzarella (‘bufala‘) on the slice this is not an option: these varieties are designed to be eaten cold. The pizzaiolo will hand you a receipt, and then you should go off to the cash register and pay while your pizza is heated. You will then be given a receipt which you need to bring back to the counter to get your food.

Folded pizza slice

Folded pizza slice

If you’ve ordered a lot of slices you’ll probably get them in a familiar pizza box to take it away in. If it’s just one slice, the person may indicate if you want it to be cut in half and folded into a sandwich, with the pizza toppings in the middle, which is a handy way to eat it while walking down the street.

However you get yours, you’ll be delighted with the new flavors and textures of genuine Italian pizza!