The Complete History of Pizza
It is local, international, familiar, and exotic all at the same time, depending on what’s on top. From tandoori chicken toppings to a vegemite base people all over the world have made it theirs, and no matter where you are in the world, the sight of a pizzeria can make you feel at home.
But where did it begin? And why has it become so popular?
Read on as we get to the bottom of the history of pizza and why we love it so!
The History of Pizza: How It All Started…We Think
There is no doubt about where to start a story about pizza. Or maybe there is?
You see the history of both flatbreads and delicious things being put on said bread goes back to centuries even before Italy was a unified country.
There is evidence of flatbreads being eaten in ancient Babylon and Persia, with stories of Persian King Darius and his soldiers eating flatbreads with cheese and dates, cooking them by heating their metal shields.
There are also Jewish and Egyptian links along with Chinese equivalents to pizza (we’re looking at you Bing), showing just how much of an international dish pizza has always been.
In the Mediterranean however ancient Romans and Greeks were busy forming pizza into what we recognize it as now.
In the first century, Greeks were chowing down on Plakous, a flatbread that was topped with garlic, herbs, onions, and cheese. The Romans at that time were more than familiar with Panis Focacius, which are the roots of what we know today as Foccacia bread. Again cheese and garlic along with now olive oil were the toppings of choice for the roman soldiers of their day.
Now ancient food often gets a bad wrap, but all of that sounds delicious!
Most of these variants are now long gone, however, you can still take a bite into the past by buying some focaccia, try to make a Spanish Coca, or having a Greek Pita.
However, it is in Italy that the history of pizza starts to take its modern form…with a little help from Central and South America.
Italy Takes Pizza Under Its Wing
If you were to ask 100 people how to make pizza, most would give you 3 main ingredients. The flour for the dough, cheese, and tomatoes.
Yet, given that pizza is without a doubt a Mediterranean dish, it is funny to note that tomatoes are not native to the shores of any Mediterranean nation. So what happened?
Well, when Christopher Columbus set off for what we know as the Americas in the late 15th century, he set in motion a trade exchange that would change the world, and the history of pizza, as we know it.
Everything from turkeys to tomatoes made it over to Europe, with coffee and chickens heading in the opposite direction. Tomatoes started to be widely grown in Italy and given their ability to easily grow anywhere they became popular from the prices to the peasants.
By the 1800’s pizza, meaning pie, had become a standard across Italy, however, it was looked upon as food for the poor. But as we know, the best food is often sold on the street, and those without much means had found a way to make their pizzas even better, adding a tomato base.
How Pizza Became Italy’s Dish
By the time when pizza made the headlines, it was already ready for the big time. Naples was the hub of the tomato-based style, so when King Umberto and Queen Margherita made a state visit there in 1889 there were already over 100 pizzerias in the city. With this in mind, there was only one thing that they wanted to try.
Traditional Neopolitan Pizza.
In a much-fabled tale, they requested a man by the name of Raffaele Esposito, owner of the Pizzeria di Pietro e Basta Cosi, to make a personalized pizza fit for a King and Queen.
Performing the first pizza delivery service, he made three, but the most popular was a patriotic take on the familiar dish. It had basil, mozzarella, and tomato, mirroring the colors of the Italian flag and giving the world what we know today as the margarita pizza.
Pizza then continued to brew in Italy although in varying styles throughout the country. In Palermo, you had what we know now as the Sicilian style, cut into squares with a thicker base and oodles of tomato sauce. In Rome, there was a preference for crispier and thinner bases as well as the al taglio style, twice baked and cut into rectangles.
Knowing this, it makes sense that Italians that made the trip over to the new world would want a taste of home when they arrived.
America Gives Pizza to the World
As much as we think of pizza being Italian, it also shares the history of pizza with the USA.
It was in the US that pizza became the go-to food when you wanted a quick meal on a Friday night. It was in the US where we got used to choosing our toppings and in fairness, it was in the US that it began to blow up.
The still-operational Lombardi’s holds the title of being the first pizzeria to open up in America in 1905. This set off a trend that saw New York claim the title of the world’s pizza capital. The slice is king in the big apple, with its ability to be eaten on the move perfectly encapsulating the fast-paced nature of the city.
But we have to acknowledge the pizza war in America, with anyone from Chicago telling you their pizzas, with thick bases reflecting what could be their Sicilian roots, are the best in the US.
American found a soft spot for pizza after WWII when the returning soldiers ended up in Little Italy to find the delights that they tried when they were at war.
American culture, through TV, music, and film has lead to pizza becoming familiar to us all, and what most of us think of when we think of pizza…just don’t tell the Italians!
We hope our rundown of the history of pizza hasn’t left you too hungry! What kind could you do with right now?
Please check out our other great food articles on our site!