(CNN) – It is known for its ancient ruins, the seat of Catholicism, and one of the best pizzas in the world.
Yes, in Rome, the art of pizza is on a par with the art that built buildings that will last 2,000 years and that of guiding one of the world’s major religions.
Compared to the original Neapolitan style, Roman pizza is thinner, flaky, and crispier as it bakes longer.
The pizzerias in Trastevere, the bohemian neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber River, are hailed as one of the best places in the world to try this preparation.
But now there is another type of Roman pizza, one that comes out of a vending machine.
“Mr. Go “, Rome’s new “pizzaiolo” (pizza maker, in Italian), is a vending machine that prepares four types of pizza for when you have a craving.
For Mr. Go, the weekly closings and free afternoons of regular pizza parlors don’t exist: his tireless metal “hands” turn and roll the dough, add ingredients, and cook it to a crisp 24 hours a day.
The machine is the brainchild of businessman Massimo Bucolo, a Sicilian who lives in Rome.
“There was a gap in the market: although Rome is an important city, there was nothing available [para comer] overnight, “says Bucolo.” We never wanted to compete with a classic pizzeria. “
In fact, Bucolo says it’s not even a real pizza. He calls it a “cross between a pizza and a piadina,” the pizza-sized flatbreads from the Emilia-Romagna region.
And it is that, he admits without qualms, the real pizza, prepared by hand and cooked in a wood oven, does not exactly lend itself to being cooked by a vending machine. Among other things, because the bubble effect, when the dough is inflated with heat, poses the risk of the ingredients slipping.
The base of the piadin would be thicker and more dense than that of the pizza, so what exactly does it taste like?
CNN Travel went to find out.
A ‘shameful thing’
Mr. Go is located in a residential area of Rome, about 15 minutes by car from the Colosseum or the Pantheon, or seven from Termini train station. It is the area called Piazza Bologna, near a hospital and a student area, so it is full of people who spend the night awake (Bucolo says that he looked for a suitable place in Rome). It is a very residential area, so my taxi driver is very confused when I get into the Colosseum with a tourist sunburn and ask to be taken here.
But as soon as I tell him what I want to see, Rome’s latest 2,000-year-old show of innovation, he knows exactly where we’re going. “I saw it on TV!” He says. In fact, he is so excited that when a family member calls him, he tells him that he is taking a foreigner to the pizza vending machine.
Not that Gianni is excited in a good way. He is firmly convinced that this will be a “schifezza”, a thing of disgust, a horror, a thing of shame. He even excuses my behavior to his family member: “Oh no, he has to do it for work, come on,” I hear him say generously.
We arrived. Mr. Go is right off a busy intersection, but he’s not an ugly vending machine – he’s in his own archway, blasting pop music. (This is to create a complete experience, Bucolo says later: “During those three minutes, the place is yours”).
Along with Gianni, a city born and raised Roman who is grimly fascinated by the idea of Mr. Go, I approach the machine.
It’s immaculate: Not only is it cleaned regularly, Bucolo says, but every two to three days it’s completely disassembled, thoroughly cleaned inside, and covid-19-proof disinfected. In addition, it is very well designed, with instructions and notes in Italian and English, which explain the process and show us what to look for.
There are four pizzas for sale: the classic margherita, the quattro formaggi (with four types of cheese), the spicy salami and the pancetta (a type of bacon). Gianni forbids me to order the meat, because he is concerned about the refrigeration. Later, Bucolo will explain to me how meticulously refrigerated everything is behind the scenes, but for now, we decided to go for a quattro formaggi, adventurous but less susceptible to food poisoning. It is the most expensive, at € 6 (US $ 7). (A margherita pizza costs just € 4.50 / US $ 5.30).
A machine made pizza
First things first: pizza is really made from scratch. While the cheapest take-out pizzerias in Italy tend to cook the bases during quiet periods and put the ingredients in when customers call, Mr. Go mixes flour and water (he has enough to make 100 pizzas), presses it into a disk and delicately add the ingredients, all before your eyes.
First of all, we see how the flour and water are turned into dough. Bucolo affirms that it is a complex process; in fact, just a few days before our visit, he personally adjusted the ratio of flour and water in the machine, after being told by customers that the dough was too soft (Romans like pizza crisp, unlike pizza’s Neapolitans, who prefer it softer).
Once the dough is made, visible through a peephole, it is kneaded into a flat disk, collected and passed to the next phase.
Next, the tomato puree is poured on top, followed by the ingredients. According to Bucolo, they have been specifically chosen not to cause a mess, so there are no vegetables, which could fall. Instead, the ingredients for each pizza, including the mozzarella, are premixed and stored on plastic discs, which are kept in the refrigerator.
The chosen ingredient, our four cheeses, for example, is extracted on its disk and placed on the dough. This accounts for the curiously uniform stains of salami and bacon in the photos of the pizzas on offer.
This is followed by the final phase, the “baking” phase, in which it is lifted onto what looks like a cake stand and rotates inside a small oven with bright red filaments.
The batter rises very slightly (not enough for the ingredients to overflow) and the cheese starts to bubble.
Finally it is sent (out of sight) through a kind of conduit, and appears in a giant hand-shaped spatula, which places it in its preheated box.
The verdict of a Roman
It is clean, we found the process hygienic at all times and its appearance is surprisingly attractive. But what does it taste like? Gianni is looking forward to trying a slice. “Not very big!” He insists, eyeing the pizza suspiciously, and I don’t think it’s courtesy.
He takes a bite and says that the dough looks more like a piadina. However, he doesn’t seem horrified; in fact, he seems to try his best not to say that it is better than expected. But, he says, the price is steep. For that same US $ 7 (or less), we could have gotten a “great wood-fired margarita” in Trastevere. In a bar, he says, he would pay half for a sandwich.
Drink some water and move a finger when I offer more. “I just hope you can digest it,” he says grimly as I finish the rest.
His final verdict? “I think pizza should be made by pizzaioli.”
The fact is that Bucolo it is a pizzaiolo. While planning the machine, he tells me that he took a proper pizza making course and accumulated 40 hours of experience.
“This is not going to work in Rome. Go to Trastevere and you will find wood-fired pizza that also takes three minutes,” says Gianni.
But Bucolo insists that his intention is not to compete.
“It would be crazy to say that a machine can make a real pizza in three minutes,” he says. “I’ve received to much critics, But I never said that the whole world was going to love this
It was an idea to create something that didn’t exist: pizza at night. The products can improve, we can change them or change the machine, but it is to meet a need “.
I can attest to that need. Wandering around Rome late at night in July after a Euro 2020 football match, my friends and I were desperate for something to eat, but nothing was open. If we had known, Mr. Go would have been a godsend.
But, says Bucolo, he will gladly accept criticism. “I don’t want to hear criticism of the idea, but criticism [a la pizza] They are fundamental. They make us better. “Like the criticisms that made him adjust the proportion of flour and water (which also, he says, will change according to the season and humidity).
In fact, when I tell him that Gianni and I thought it was a cross between a pizza and a piadina, he tells me that that is precisely the goal. “A pizza would dirty the inside of the machine … I fixed it,” he says.
The future for Mr. Go, says Bucolo, is bright. For this machine, only use high-quality ingredients of Italian origin; for his next hack, he will be selling pre-cooked pizzas of that same quality. “Mr. Go will evolve,” he says.
As for Gianni, we say goodbye with the promise that next time he will take me to a pizzeria in Trastevere: he likes it Ai Marmi.
Me too? I don’t have a Roman palate for pizzas, and the piadina dough surprised me, but I’m not as unimpressed as Gianni. Plus, it’s a fun, local activity in Rome that changes the ancient ruins. Of course, I’d rather take a taxi to Trastevere than to Mr. Go, but the next time I need it after football, I know where to go.