Rome's greatest street food
When in Rome, find la Pizza Rossa.
This may seem like the most boring of Roman cuisine but trust me, it's the best. Coveted by Romans as their most special, street food snack, it's pizza dough, olive oil, tomato, e basta.
We often talk about Italian food being simple and sublime. High quality, regional ingredients at their best make even a chunk of ciabatta drizzled in Pugliese olive oil the most delicious of things. So, tomato sauce on thinly-stretched pizza dough can be out-of-this-world, especially if eaten just out of the oven. And that's what Romans do.
Seeing as la pizza rossa is made frequently in the arc of a day at panifici (bread bakeries) and forni (street food pizza ovens), everyone is quite happy to wait until the next tray is ready because warm pizza is always worth it and the next tray is never far behind. An Italian queue (bunch of people) may form while the pizza is in the oven but then quickly disperses into the streets as soon as it's sliced up, wrapped in paper and given out warm, ready for the next length of dough to be stretched.
Now, tomato sauce sounds elementary, so does pizza dough. Good olive oil is easy to come by - so what's the big fuss?
But this culinary delight achieves a perfect balance if the tomato is slightly acidic, the dough is cooked crisp, almost burnt, and the inside has just a hint of softness. Easier said than done, but practice makes perfect, and a lot of practice happens here.
This is arguably the most popular street snack in Rome - cooked crisp on a large tray or baking sheet and chopped into squares at any moment of the day, every Roman has their favourite spot for pizza, bread and pizza rossa, called simply 'un forno' - an oven.
Here are a few of the best 'forni' in central Rome, according to locals:
The most 'famous' of pizza rossa forni in Rome.
Roscioli has been around for four generations of fornai, over 200 years, and makes all kinds of incredible bakes, slices, arancini and panettone. Their website menu is incredible but the coolest bit has to be an updated countdown to the next batch coming out of the oven (it's a matter of minutes) so you can time your entrance to get your pizza hot - wow.
If Roscioli is in a small back street,
is right on the square. Only three minutes away, these two forni are the oldest pizza rossa institutions in Rome. Here, the dough is stretched and bubbled right before you. Then, as soon as the red breads come out of the oven, they're sliced, folded in half and handed to you. You take your first bite outside - it's street food after all. Forno Campo de'Fiori is known as one of the most expensive of spots I guess because they're in prime position on Rome's famous market square abuzz with students, locals and tourists all ready for a taste-bud explosion.
Bonci (pronounced Bon-chi) is the bakery of Gabriele, superstar of the bread world. He even has his own series, Pizza Hero, where he travels the land making pizza and testing forni. Gabriele Bonci opened a busy pizzarium (gosh, how Roman) 10 minutes walk away but for the real deal, head to the original Panificio Bonci near the Vatican where you'll find a fluffier pizza rossa. The signature crispness is still there but the dough is cooked into high, airy bubbles under its thin layer of tomato you simply must try.
Antico Forno del Ghetto
In the old ghetto, kosher breads, bakes and pizze have been baked for over 150 years in this unassuming Antico Forno. Maestro bread bakers wield a metre-long pala (paddle) producing a paper-thin and popular pizza rossa in a place few tourists know about.
Stepping out the dimly-lit shop into bright Roman sunshine, cobbled squares, synagogues and columned palazzi are surroundings most of us only dream about.
The locals may take eons of history underfoot and all about for granted, but to stand here with one of the very simplest of foods in the most elaborate of settings is pure poetry.
Does the humble pizza rossa shy before all this grandeur?
But, of course not because to a Roman it's up there, just as much as the Colosseum, maybe even a bit more.