Take a bite out of Rome’s new street food scene
Roman cuisine is known for its love of tradition. Now, adventurous chefs and food entrepreneurs are tossing the pizza scene on its head.
“When I opened Pizzarium in 2003, there were only mediocre pizza slices served in Rome. I wanted to make a difference,” says Gabriele Bonci.
And that is exactly what he has done. Signor Bonci has become a living pizza legend that needs no introduction inside Italian borders. Even outside of Italy, Bonci is often referred to as “the Michelangelo of pizza.”
Let’s rewind a few decades. Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) is a ubiquitous Roman take-away snack with a history that dates back to the 1950s. It is usually eaten standing up at a counter or while on the go. Street food at its finest hour.
Bonci doesn’t want to bad mouth the local pizza scene, but he has seen a reduction in the quality of products used by many bakeries. While other bakers use inferior ingredients to save money, Bonci found a niche through using the best artisanal products on the market. This gave him a clear advantage, and soon his pizza was literally on everybody’s lips.
“I use the respected Mulino Marino flour for the dough and buy most of the ingredients from farms, half of them located in the Lazio region. My prosciuttos, as well as the pecorino and parmesan cheeses, are aged and hard to find,” explains Bonci.
The art of pizza
Although top-notch ingredients are part of the success, the ultimate secret behind Bonci’s pizza is the dough. It is made by using brewer’s yeast and left to rise for 72 hours. The slow fermentation makes the pizza base easily digestible. When baked, the dough is soft yet crispy.
When it comes to toppings, he pushes himself far beyond the standard tomato, mozzarella, and basil. In addition to the classics, pizza rossa (tomato pizza), bianca (white pizza) and patata (potato pizza), Bonci is known for experimental toppings that vary according to season. In summer he improvises with eggplant and zucchini; chestnuts, fresh figs, mushrooms and kale can often be found on top of his pizzas in autumn.
Each one of Bonci’s pizzas look like a little rectangular piece of art. Carefully selected toppings are placed beautifully on top of the base, forming a perfect harmony of colour and flavour. Cut into small pieces and eaten with a toothpick standing in a tiny one-room pizza joint, this culinary experience is definitely sublimely unique.
Blending tradition and innovation
Another pizza heavyweight to watch on the Roman pizza scene is Stefano Callegari. He is the founder of two hip pizzerias, Tonda and Sforno, both located on the outskirts of the city.
Whereas Bonci is a true reformer, Callegari is known for his ability to combine tradition and innovation. His dough is slow-leavened and transforms into thick, almost Neapolitan-style pizza bases that are baked in a wood-fired stone oven.
Callegari also likes to introduce bold flavours to his pizzas, using a variety of Italian cheeses. “Cacio e pepe pizza with pecorino and black pepper is styled after a popular Roman pasta recipe. It even has the same mushy texture,” he explains. Callegari has invented a distinctive process to replicate the original dish, through which he successfully retains its signature characteristics.
A trend called trapizzino
Oddly enough, the product that eventually made the crowds sing Callegari’s gospel was not pizza. As the street food trend started sparking interest globally, Callegari wanted to establish something simple, yet creative. He invented trapizzino, of which the name combines tramezzino (triangle-shaped sandwich) and pizza.
The crunchy pizza pocket is stuffed with a generous amount of Roman-style main courses such as chicken with peppers or tripe in tomato sauce. The dough is similar to pizza dough, except that Callegari uses sourdough, which has its origins in the bread-making traditions of Southern Italy.
Callegari’s good friend and hugely experienced restaurateur Paul Pansera helped realise the chef’s innovation into a working business idea. Known for his passion and vision, Pansera has established restaurant and food trends across Rome.
Together, the two gentlemen have introduced the invention to a wider audience and opened two Trapizzino locations in the city. In addition, the concept has been presented at street food events throughout Italy and even in New York.
“People all over seem to love it. It’s all about reinventing tradition,” say Pansera and Callegari.
Text Jenna Vehviläinen
Photos Andrew Taylor