When the first international burger joints opened in Italy, there was a protest. People stood on Rome’s Spanish Steps and handed out free bowls of spaghetti. This opposition to fast food became known as the Slow Food movement.
But there is no shortage of quality fast food in Italy. It’s just that Italians do fast food differently than Americans. The aim is to make a meal more portable, without skimping on ingredients. Traditional street food, or cibo di strada, shows that fast and affordable can be delicious.
Here are popular versions of Italian fast food that will satisfy any junk food craving and hit the spot when you don’t have the time or appetite for a three-course meal.
1. Pizza al taglio
While pizza tonda, or round pizza, is more recognizable in restaurants, pizza al taglio is a quick lunch staple. Al taglio means “by the cut.” this flat, elongated rectangle of a pizza is massive. To order, the pizza seller holds a knife over the pizza, and you indicate how much should be cut off. Your custom-sized slice is then weighed to determine your price. This means that more toppings will cost you in the end, but the sky’s the limit in flavor combinations.
The slice can be folded over and wrapped in paper to eat on the go. And if you want home delivery? Well then you order by the meter!
2. Pizza Bianca
While the same size and shape of other types of pizza al taglio, pizza bianca is in a category of its own. This “white pizza” is toppings-less. The pizza dough is covered with olive oil and salt. The result is an irresistible snack that has just the right amount of chewiness and fluff.
To turn this snack into lunch, a large square of pizza bianca is cut in two, and stuffed with mortadella (a boloney-like Italian deli meat), to create a type of panino made with pizza instead of bread!
3. Supplí and arancini
Crispy on the outside and filled with cheesy gooey goodness, these fried rice balls are the ultimate comfort food. Stuffed with rice, tomato sauce, and mozzarella and then covered in breadcrumbs, these fried goodies differ more in shape than in flavor. Supplí hail from Rome and are oblong in shape, while Sicilian arancini are more conical and usually slightly bigger. Both go equally well with pizza!
Light and flaky dough is thinly layered to make sfogliatella, a pastry from Naples. They are usually topped with powdered sugar, so consuming the sweet treat on the go is likely to leave the eater dusted with white, but the risk to your outfit and your dignity is worth it.
This meat on a stick comes from the Italian region of Abruzzo. Typically grilled lamb skewers, arrosticini are cooked over an open flame. Politely eaten with a fork and a plate, the skewered kebabs are also easy to eat on the move, making them a simple but satisfying fast food.
6. Fritti Anything
French fries will seem boring after Italian fritti. Fritti means “fried,” and depending on where you are, just about anything qualifies. In the south, you will find pasta fritta – cooked macaroni fried in breadcrumbs and shaped in irregular globes. In Sicily and Tuscany, fried chickpea flour is popular. However, fried fish and fried vegetables are most common, and usually served in a paper cone for a speedy and dangerously good fast food.
With pizza by the foot, sweet pastries, freshly grilled meat, and countless other regional specialties, there is no need to settle for a bland burger ever again!
Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog,An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.