Do Italian Eat Pizza with Their Hands?

Pizza is considered one of the iconic Italian foods. But do Italians eat pizza? Is an authentic Italian pizza eaten with the hands?

pizza slices are shared

According to tradition and etiquette, most Italians eat pizza with a knife and fork, but still, it’s not necessarily wrong to eat pizza bare-handed while in Italy.

For more on the ins and outs of Italians eating pizza, read on.

How Do Italians Eat Pizza? A Guide to Pizza in Italy

Italians eat pizza in a number of different ways – there are several different types of preparation, and also different ways to eat pizza in Italy.

Eating a Traditional Pizza:

Traditional pizzas are thin and light, and each person at a table is served a whole pizza. In this setting, many Italians enjoy a piping hot pizza in the safest manner possible: with a knife and fork.

It’s considered polite to eat the entire pizza when served this way.

Group Pizzas:

Serving group pizzas is not a common practice in Italy, but some regional variations do lend themselves to being served this way.

In that case, the pizza slices will be cut out and served by members of the family. Sometimes they’re triangularly sliced, but not always. Once served, individuals can eat with their hands or cutlery, but most restaurants prefer patrons eat with utensils.

Pizza al Taglio:

Translated from the Italian language, this is literally ‘pizza by the cut’ and it’s served as an Italian form of street food. They’re usually served in a pre-cut rectangular slice, but not always.

Pizza al Taglio is meant to be eaten standing up with your hands, often for a quick lunch. It’s often served rectangular because a triangular slice is more likely to lose toppings off the pointed end.

How to eat pizza in Italy according to etiquette (with cutlery)

Traditional Italian pizza isn’t served the way American pizzas are. It’s still a delicious pizza, but the ingredients, the presentation, and the traditional serving methods are different.

Different Pizza Ingredients:

If you’re thinking of an American pizza like a ‘classic’ pepperoni pizza, you won’t find it often, if at all, in Italy.

  • Italians eat pizza that’s either ‘rosso’ – made with tomato sauce or ‘bianco’ – made with olive oil.
  • The crust is usually extremely thin. If there’s cheese, it’s likely to be individual slices of fresh mozzarella, rather than a thick uniform layer.
  • Ingredients are things like fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, or other toppings, but not always what you’d expect.

Proper Traditional Etiquette:

Traditional Italian restaurants, especially the older or more formal ones, have a specific etiquette for pizza consumption. Here are some things you need to know for a traditional Italian pizza experience:

  • You’ll be served your own pizza – traditional Italian restaurants don’t serve sliced pizza for the whole table
  • You’re meant to enjoy your pizza piping hot, so it’s only common sense that you’d use a knife and fork to cut and eat it.
  • If you wait to eat the pizza with your bare hands, you may get dirty looks for letting it cool and lose some of its aroma and flavor
  • A traditional venue doesn’t have containers for leftover pizza. If you can’t finish it, leave it on your plate.
  • Asking for dipping sauces and other such additives are considered an insult to the quality of the pizza.

Italians eat their pizza with a fork and knife

Eating their pizza with a knife and fork just makes sense for Italians, given the way their pizza is made. The toppings they use, combined with the thin crust most variations have, makes a knife and fork a necessity.

For example, with a traditional margherita pizza, the thin crust supports slices of fresh tomatoes, slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. The thin crust won’t support these toppings if eaten like an American pizza.

Plus, Italians enjoy their food, including pizza, fresh and hot. And unlike the American preference, they’re less likely to serve cut pizza to share, and it’s not a thing to ‘grab a slice’ the way American ‘pies’ are served.

When does etiquette allow eating pizza with hands?

If you want to eat pizza barehanded without risking etiquette violations, or ignoring tradition, then here are a few ways it’s permissible.

Highly informal family situations. It’s still not common, but in a less traditional locale or a home situation, you might get pizzas to be shared, instead of a whole pizza to yourself.

Ordering pizza al Taglio will get you a slice, but it’s not likely to be a triangular slice. Al Taglio is usually sold in a rectangular slice to be folded over and eaten with your hands.

How do Italians eat pizza in restaurants?

It’s been said before, but as a refresher – here are the basics of eating pizza in a restaurant in Italy:

  • Expect to get your own pizza – don’t look for a slice.
  • Traditionally, you eat your piping hot pizza fresh from the oven with a knife and fork.
  • There are a lot of different things you can add besides the basics most of which aren’t always considered typical on American pizza – like hard-boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes, or whole basil leaves
  • It’s not always made with tomato sauce – ‘bianco’ means the base sauce will be olive oil.
  • Authentic Italian pizza will be thin and light with fresh ingredients.
  • Leftover pizza won’t get a to-go container – they aren’t generally a thing in Italy.
  • Italians eat pizza without things like dipping sauce – in fact, asking for dipping sauce might be considered an insult.

Italians drink beer with their pizza

Do they drink beer with pizza in Italy? It’s actually a bit of a question.

Some say yes, and some say no. But Italians eat pizza with a number of beverages. Beer, wine, or carbonated water are the most common.

Some travel experts will say to drink beer, as carbonated beverages are said to aid digestion.

Mistakes not to make if you eat pizza at restaurants in Italy

Here are some mistakes you don’t want to make eating at a proper Italian pizzeria:

  • Don’t expect slices – expect whole pizzas for each customer
  • Don’t ask for American-style items like pepperoni pizza – you won’t get what you expect
  • Eat with a knife and fork
  • Don’t ask for things like grated cheese, chili peppers, or dipping sauces – it’s considered insulting, and inappropriate
  • Don’t ask for a to-go container – it’s not common for dealing with leftovers.

How to eat Neapolitan pizza with your hands?

A real Neapolitan Pizza requires a specific type of moist, light dough, and ingredients such as San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, olive oil, and fresh herbs

It’s not really meant to be consumed with your hands, though some street vendors might have a variant that allows it.

Pizza al Taglio

This term refers to street food – and it’s where you’re most likely to see Italians eating pizza without utensils.

In Italy, this is also the closest way to get your pizza ‘to go’ – you can order it by kilo in some cases.

What time of the day is pizza eaten in Italy?

Pizza can be ordered for lunch or dinner, but the style you get may be different.

Pizza made for lunch is likely to be ‘al taglio’, served as street food out of a vendor stand. This will be a heavier slice sold to be folded over and eaten with your hands.

Pizza served for dinner is likely to be an around-the-table affair, which comes with other Italian dishes, and is commonly eaten with a fork and knife.

Final Thoughts:

Do Italians eat pizza with their hands? The answer is – yes and no.

In an informal situation, or when picking a bite at midday – sure. In a restaurant with family and a more family-style dinner – then it’s time to break out a knife and fork.

Andrea Arthur