Spring break of my senior year in high school I was lucky enough to go on a trip to Europe with a group from my school. The group from my school was split on two separate flights and my plane arrived in Rome the day before the other one, which all of my friends were on. On the first day in Italy I found myself standing in front of the majestic Pantheon with a group of people I didn’t know all that well and our teacher chaperone telling us that we had a couple of hours of free time to go our separate ways and eat lunch and then meet back there. Under no circumstances were we allowed to split off on our own but had to stay in at least groups of two, but I had other plans. Four years prior to this trip I had spent a week in Paris and felt that I was quite the world traveler and could make it on my own in an unfamiliar place so as everyone headed their separate ways I ducked into an alley and began my adventure.
There is something very freeing about being in a foreign land and just walking the streets, with no destination in mind. The idea of lunch was a lingering thought that I knew must be satisfied at some point but there was never a concrete plan of where I was going or any sort of map involved. The streets I walked along were cobblestone, something out of a painting from the 1700’s with horses pulling the wealthy to parties that would last well into the night. Being that I kept mostly to the alleyways the road was narrow and there were no cars in sight but the sounds and smells of an everyday Italian afternoon surrounded me. After walking for a while I decided to duck into a cafe that had a word I recognized on the sign in the window, pizza. If there is ever a time to try pizza it is in Italy but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I’m almost positive that I was the only customer in the restaurant for the entirety of my meal which is probably because the locals knew that this place had a bad reputation but being a simple southerner from Arkansas, I did not. Of course the menu was in Italian, a language that I did not speak or recognize any words of whatsoever. I ordered by pointing at the menu as I didn’t want to speak and make an idiot of myself stumbling over words I couldn’t pronounce. The way I picked which pizza to order was a method based on my experience in the Untied States where I guessed by the number of ingredients listed and the price that it would be the pizza that I was hoping for. I figured back home at a restaurant such as this I could get a pizza with several kinds of meat and extra cheese for around seventeen dollars, but unfortunately my reasoning was off. The pizza arrived a short time later by a waiter that I remember nothing of and to my dismay there were no bits of bacon lying next to pepperoni and sausage under a layer of extra cheese. In fact there was absolutely no meat at all.
My taste palate was not as open seven years ago as it is now so it was quite unfortunate that I found myself with a pizza in front of me that only had onions and peppers atop the meat and cheese, two vegetables that I didn’t like at that point in my life. It wasn’t even the green or red peppers that I perhaps could have tolerated but rather orange and yellow which contained exotic flavors that I was not a fan of, so as I sat there staring at the pizza and regretting it already it was decided that I would just have to pick the vegetables off and it it plain. It’s never a good idea to stick ur hands into the hot cheese of a pizza to dig out vegetables just minutes after it comes out of the oven but when you aren’t given silverware then you really aren’t given much of a choice. It would have been nice to have some kind of utensil to help in scooping the peppers and onions off the pizza, preventing me from idiotically burning my fingers but it would have been even better to have a fork and a knife to cut the pie which remained an uncut circle before me. I didn’t see the man who had brought the pizza as he was probably in the kitchen but I probably would’ve been too self conscious to attempt a request for silverware anyway.
With a giant circle of food before me I began ripping at the pizza, attempting to at least have something that resembled a slice but actually ended up with a plate full of uneven squares and pieces of crust as the hot toppings had slid from the pie as I tore it apart. The crust was overcooked and was absolutely terrible to the point that I wouldn’t continue to eat it so I settled for picking up handfuls of hot cheese and sauce and slurping it into my mouth like a child. By the time I was done eating I had sauce all over my face and hands and can’t imagine how stupid I looked at the time. I paid the check which somehow jumped from seventeen euros to twenty-four which made it without question the most expensive pizza I’ve ever had in my life. That was the only time I ever had traditional Italian pizza in Italy and it remains one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. While I do regret my choice for lunch that day I look back on that time fondly now because even though the whole dining experience was pretty terrible at least I have this priceless memory of the time I ate pizza in Rome.