Life & Culture

A Jewish pizza from Rome? I need a slice of that

On a study tour of Rome, Karen Skinazi discovers a delicacy from a bakery in the ghetto


The other morning, with hours to go before departing Rome, I packed up my suitcase and set off on an urgent quest. I had to rush over to the ghetto to try a food I had only heard of two days before pizza ebraica,or Jewish pizza.

My discovery of the existence of this uniquely Roman Jewish food, traditionally made in Rome’s Jewish quarter on the occasion of a bris, was happenstance. I did not come to Italy to find Jewish foods or even learn about Jewish life here (the community dates back over 2000 years, making it Europe’s oldest—I guess I did learn something). I was leading twenty bright-eyed liberal arts students from the University of Bristol on a whistle-stop tour of Rome and Naple’s gems. Trevi Fountain? Check. Vatican City? Check? The Colosseum? Pompeii? Elana Ferrante tour? Every gelateria we pass? Check, check, check, check.

My colleague specialises in Italian neo-fascism so we also see things your everyday tourist might not like the EUR district, home to classics of fascist art and architecture, such as a monumental frieze on one building featuring the highlights and triumphs of Roman history from the ancient Romans and the sacking of the temple in Jerusalem through the raising of the obelisk in St Peter’s square, ending with Mussolini astride a horse surrounded by adoring fans.

One lunch break, we did what academics do when they travel: find other academics, in this case an 80 -year-old scholar from Newton, Massachusetts, researching ancient Rome. It didn’t take me more than a few minutes to discern Steven might be Jewish (he threw me at first by leading with a story about getting sick eating mussels on Christmas Eve), so I did my little bageling th ing: “It’s great to be here…as soon as I get home, it will be chaos as we’re having my son’s BARMITZVAH in two weeks…” (What’s this “bageling”, you ask? Originating in the early 90s in Montreal, the term refers to the way Jews subtly hint to people they suspect are Jewish that they, too, are members of the tribe.) At first I got no response, so I moved on to talking about our festival of research at the British School of Rome when Steven suddenly piped up with a bit of advice that let me know my bagel was safely received. “ Go to the Roman ghetto,” he said, “And get yourself some Jewish pizza.” According to Steven, only one bakery in all of Rome sells it. “I’m obsessed with it! I bring back half a year’s supply on every visit. The stuff never goes bad.”

I am highly sceptical of a pastry that never goes bad, but nonetheless, a Jewish food I’d never heard of? Colour me curious! So I set out on my quest. I soon found myself in the Jewish ghetto, constructed by Pope Paul IV in 1555, and once the place where the Jews were confined between the Tiber River and what is now Venice Square. Today the ghetto comprises a couple of streets of Jewish restaurants with punny names like “Bah’ghetto” (a sandwich shop) and a grand synagogue under construction. There were people queuing up outside the tiny, unimposing bakery, Pasticceria Boccione, where they sold pizza ebraica.

I’m not going to lie: Jewish pizza didn’t look great. The pastry was small but heavy, and despite the name, it looked nothing like pizza. It was somewhere between a cake and a cookie, a rectangular shaped dough product stuffed with nuts and candied fruit that appeared to have been left in the oven too long.

Obviously, I bought and ate it anyway. When in Rome…

Here’s my assessment:
Taste: medium-sweet and a bit burnt.
Appearance: Blackened top, uninviting.
Texture: Nice variety, dense dough with full, crunchy nuts and chewy fruit.
Approximate calorie count: 1,000,000.
Cost: £3.50 for one (not cheap!).
Aftereffect: Like I swallowed a rock.
Overall mark: B-

So, there you go. Next time you’re in Rome, check it out for yourself. You might become obsessed and fill your suitcase with a half-year’s supply.
But be prepared to pay overweight baggage charges… This treat is very heavy.

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