Published on: 2 April 2013 | Last updated: 13 March 2016
Pizza may be universal throughout the western world, but pizzerias in Italy are different: the most notable difference is that they often don't open at lunch, and you are likely to see types of pizza that you won't see at home.
In a country with a huge range of local dishes and specialities it's the one of the few things you'll find from the far south to the north. A pizza and a beer is usually cheaper than a two-course or three-course meal so pizzas are very popular.
Look for the words forno a legna restaurants. This is the traditional brick oven with a wood fire. A wood-fired oven is no guarantee that the pizzas will be good, but it does show that the restaurant takes pizza seriously - or at least that it wants to be taken seriously.
The downside of wood-fired ovens is that most restaurants only serve pizzas in the evening because it often isn’t worth lighting the oven for an hour or so at lunch (the oven takes time to heat up so that there's an even temperature). This is changing, especially in the cities. Restaurants that do serve pizza at lunchtime will often have a sign saying something like pizze anche a pranzo.
Bear in mind that if you go to a very popular pizzeria on a Friday or Saturday night you may be in for a long wait because the ovens often only take a couple of pizze at a time.
White and red pizzas
In some pizzerias in southern and central Italy you will find the menu divided into "white" and "red" pizzas. White pizzas can have a topping of melted mozzarella with other ingredients - or might just have a topping of ruccola, pomodorini and parmesan. These make a great change on a summer day.
You may see fior di latte listed among the ingredients on the menu in some pizzerias. This is another name for mozzarella. Strictly speaking the word mozzarella should only be used for the cheese produced from buffalo milk. However, most places will use the word mozzarella and put mozzarella di buffala, or simply buffala if they offer the more expensive option of mozzarella made with buffalo milk.
In the south you may come across deep-fried pizza - calzone that have been deep fried. Actually surprisingly good.
If you thought that only non-Italians would come up with dishes like pizza with pineapple you may be in for a shock as there are pizzerias out there who offer pizzas with chips in the topping.
In some places pizzerias will also serve focaccia with different types of topping - I guess this is the origin of the deep-base pizza.
Footnote: the mystery of the pizza fiorentina
For me, one of the great unanswered questions is where did the pizza fiorentina come from? (If you've never come across this, it's a pizza with a topping of spinach with an egg in the middle). It doesn't come from Firenze - and I've checked this a genuine fioretina (person not pizza), and I've never seen it anywhere in Italy.